It's late in the afternoon on New Year's Eve when I get a hold of Chael Sonnen. The West Linn, Oregon resident is a day away from making his now regular trip to Bristol, Connecticut, to ESPN headquarters for his upcoming analyst duties for this weekend's UFC 182 fight card (see it here), but I caught him at a good time.
"I leave tomorrow and it's a whole weekend deal," he says. "It''s a full 11-hour travel day, layovers, changing planes and then get in a car and drive for 90 minutes. We start working right when we get off the plane. Two days there and Sunday and then travel all the way back home."
His wife usually travels with him, but she is expecting and sometimes plane travel isn't a positive, so she won't be making the trip with him. And this interview is actually talking time away from their evening together before he heads East, but Sonnen is a man of his word and if he says he has time for you, he does.
Over the next 20 minutes, we dove into a myriad of topics concerning the match up between Jon Jones and Cormier. And Sonnen broke down techniques, wrestling, strength, as well as intangibles. The former UFC middleweight title contender has been in the Octagon with Jones and sparred with Cormier, thus adding a great first-hand perspective on the UFC 182 light heavyweight title fight.
If he were a betting man:
"Okay. If you are a betting man you are going to have a system. You are going to walk up to a window, you are handicapping in Las Vegas, you have your little system. And and on my system/little check list, when I go down that list, I check every box for Jon Jones: youth, speed, length, and experience. And Daniel will argue that experience, but what I'm talking about is five-round, main event, world-title-fight experience. Daniel has never done that. Jones has done it six times or seven getting ready for seven or eight. He's been there and he's tested it out. Jon Jones has far more ways to win. And the biggest problem you run into when you fighting Jones and you can study all the tape you want and every single fight -- it never fails -- every fight Jon Jones comes out with a move that we've never seen. And that move changes the fight.
"Think about the night he fought 'Rampage' Jackson and he debuted the oblique kick, where he started kicking him right above the knee, barely legal, and he starts hyperextending Quinton's knee. This is on a Saturday and come Monday afternoon, all over the country, we are all throwing oblique kicks because we've never seen them before. So, we never know what he is going to do and that is the problem."
"I think if you are a betting man it is very hard to go against Jon Jones. It is hard to close your eyes and see how he loses the belt."
How Cormier can win:
"Now if you are Daniel Cormier, the ultimate competitor, the ultimate winner. This guy has never even been tested. Now he was fighting at heavyweight and in this sport, heavyweight gets all the praise because they are big guys. But the reality is that's the worst division we got. If you are talking skill for skill, move for move, that's the money division and there are some big rugged guys, but move for move and skill for skill, the bigger you get, the worse the product.
"So, the point I'm getting at is Daniel did have some incredible fights, but he did it at heavyweight. A lot of people are going to argue how that adds to it. Now he gets to fight a guy smaller than him. The smaller guy always has the advantage in the fight. You are never to find me a fight where the big guy has the advantage. He is going to be a little bit slower, a little bit less athletic, he gets tired a little bit quicker. It's always the guy one weight class under you that is going to give you your biggest problem. So let's throw that out.
"So now, how does Cormier win? And he can win. But he has to pressure him. He has to close that distance. He can't circle with him. The length alone takes that ability away. Plus we saw Vitor do that, it doesn't work. No matter how good of a striker you are, if you're not in range to strike it doesn't count. Cormier understands this concept. And Cormier will close the distance and start to fight from there and he will throw hard punches, very hard. He will get to that clinch position and push him into the fence. Can he keep him there? That is the question. Cormier believes he can keep him there. He's prepared to hear the crowd boo. He's prepared to ignore those boos and just win the round the same way he won against Frank Mir. That is straight from Daniel's mouth and I believe him. That makes sense and I believe him.
"He also argues that he can take Jon Jones down whenever he wants. He's wrong about that. Jon Jones is very hard to take down. I do think if Daniel gets him there he can keep him there, but in boring fashion. Daniel is not known for his ground and pound. He's known for getting you to the ground, but he's not great at posturing up and dropping bombs from there. He has done his best work on his feet. So, even if Daniel gets him to his premier position, I'm not sure he can inflict enough damage to end the fight and I'm not certain he can do enough to even win the round should Jon scramble back to his feet."
"I think they are pretty close and I think people are missing the boat on that. If you are going to throw them in a weight room Daniel is going to make him look like a kid, but Jon Jones with that height, has incredible leverage. I was always a very strong guy compared to other athletes and I took that real serious from the time I was about 12 years old. I really enjoyed lifting weights and trying to get stronger and I did. And when I got in there with Jones -- forget what the scale says that we both weigh the same thing -- he was huge. I mean he was the biggest man I ever fought. I may have outweighed him on fight night I have no idea. But his height and his leverage, I couldn't even deal with it. He pushed me into the fence like I was a kid. And I couldn't figure out how to circle off and then the next thing he is coming with that spinning elbow. He is just a lot to deal with and with that leverage his strength is incredible."
Will Jones try to play Cormier's game and attempt to take him down? Wrestling and MMA wrestling:
"Yeah and he might succeed. The wrestling that Jon Jones does in MMA is not wrestling. He will pick one leg up and step behind and trip a guy. I coach kids wrestling. If one of my kids did that I would stop and tell them they have to do 25 push ups to get that habit out of their heads. And what he does is very sloppy, but he can get it to work. The posture is totally different. He is in that upright MMA position as opposed to the bent over at the weight wrestling position. The stuff that you can't do with that posture, you can do in MMA and he does it better than everybody.
"His wrestling is like what you would see at one of my family gatherings when my cousins get together and we go in the backyard. It's just this roughhouse style of wrestling. He has that head to the outside single leg. Only two guys in MMA are having success with that technique and it's not made for MMA, but he and Chris Weidman -- the two best guys in MMA -- are having success on a single leg and frankly so is Cain (Velasquez). But it is very rare that we see a single leg in MMA. If you are going to shoot it's always have two legs. Have two legs or have some upper body. Don't hang out on a leg.
"Daniel Cormier is a better wrestler than I am. If we wrestle 10 times, he wins all 10, but they're close matches. I give him problems. He is going to beat me by two. He is going to beat me by six. He is going to beat me by five. But he is not blowing me away. And Jon Jones blew me away. I wasn't even close. It was like ‘how fast can the referee get in here and stop this one because I've already figured out how this ends.' That is not a good feeling, but it is a good job of being objective about yourself in a bad situation. Daniel is the better wrestler, but Jon has never had a problem with any wrestler.
"Jon can get his power bar -- think of it like a video game -- he can get his power bar down a lot and he still out wrestles Cormier. It comes down a little more and maybe 'DC' drags him down. This isn't like when I was fighting Anderson Silva and one guy is a great wrestler and one guy sucks at it. Jon sucks compared to Daniel Cormier, but he doesn't suck enough to not know how to wrestle and he does know how to wrestle."
Intangibles, training partners and preparation, and Gatsalov:
"If you want to look at other factors, they do favor Daniel. Who works harder? Daniel Cormier. Who takes better care of their body and doesn't go out partying, smoking, drinking and doing God knows what? Daniel Cormier. He is at home with a wife and a kid. He is in the gym many more hours. He has the better training partners. He has the heavyweight champion of the world. He has the number-one contender of the lightweight division and he himself, is the number-one contender of the light heavyweight division. It doesn't get any better.
"He brought in this wrestler named Gatsalov, who is arguably the greatest wrestler to ever live; a five-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist, who won world championships in two different weight classes (Khajumurad Gatsalov defeated Cormier in semifinals of 2014 Olympics). It is a totally different level of wrestling. You start talking Olympics and you are on a whole other level of State or National or Junior college or MMA. It's the cream of the crop. As great as Daniel is, he is not as great as Yoel Romero and Romero has struggled to get people to the mat. MMA has just evolved to a point where wrestling is not enough. And that pains me to say that because I'm a wrestler and it used to be, but it's just not anymore."
Cormier's only shot at a title/Desire to win the title vs. desire to keep it:
"The one thing no one is discussing, is this is Daniel Cormier's only shot. If Daniel Cormier doesn't get the job done, he never fights for the strap again. He is 36 years old and as a company we can't get behind a 36-year-old granddaddy. We just can't. We need Anthony Pettis. We need Jon Jones. We need guys that we can get shelf life out of for another 10 years. That is how we really build an empire, on star power. You just don't run Daniel Cormier back out there. This is his one shot.
"Desire trumps everything in sports. Everything takes a back seat to desire. I think Daniel Cormier has the desire. I know Jon says he has it, but in theory Jon has already climbed that mountain six times. Been there, done that, made the money, had the glory. You can say you are hungry to do it again, but the truth is you are just not. You are not as hungry as the first time you did it. I think that could tip in Daniel's favor. I don't know if the gap between who wants it more is significant enough to actually affect the outcome."
Someone is getting their ass kicked:
"I will tell you this though and I know I'm jumping on both sides, this is a fight I just don't know. I fought Jon Jones and I sparred Daniel Cormier and I can tell you Jon Jones is a hell of a lot better. Their skill sets aren't even close, but the few things that Daniel does, no one can stop."
"But I would like to make this final point, because I don't think anyone else will. This is not going to be a close fight. This is either going to be takeboxing, as I like to call it, instead of Jon Jones kickboxing. I like to call it takeboxing when he does it because he just takes you away. He will kick you in your gut. He will kick you in your thigh. He will leg chop you. He will be over here and drop down and punch your body like he did with 'Shogun.' He will just kickbox you to death until there is nothing left and you fall down.
"If that doesn't happen, Cormier is going to run through him like a bull. He is going to charge him, push him into the fence like he says. Stomp his feet, knee his body, punch his head, pull him off that fence, pick him up and slam him on his head and start punching him in the head, wear him out and making him looking really bad.
"At the end of the night, the shock is going to be how easy the winner wins the fight. One of these guys is going to impose... Forget the fact that Jon has good wrestling, the same as you can forget that Cormier has good striking. It's not dominant. Cormier is either going to succeed at grinding him, closing that distance and fighting him from that close clinch space, either on their feet or on the ground, or he's not.
"If he succeeds in that he is going to kick Jones' ass. If he doesn't succeed in getting into the close quarters, he is getting his ass kicked. It's not going to be competitive. One guy is going to run away with this thing. I do believe it goes all five rounds. I don't see any quit out of either one of those guys. I definitely don't see knockout power or a submission hold, but I think someone is getting their ass kicked for five-straight rounds. I think it's lopsided."
Who takes it?
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For much more on tomorrow night's UFC 182 mixed martial arts (MMA) extravaganza, check out our complete "Jones vs. Cormier" news archive by clicking here.