Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweights Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson will clash later tonight (Sat., May 23, 2015) at UFC 187 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
While Cormier's unbeaten streak ended at the hands of Jon Jones, he's been awarded a second chance at Octagon gold. The stakes are high for Cormier, who looks to finally win the title and avoid a loss streak at the same time.
Meanwhile, "Rumble" has proven himself to be one of the best in the world since his move to light heavyweight. He's unbeaten in this division and has made it a habit to brutally knock his opponents out early and often.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both fighters:
Key Wins: Josh Barnett (Strikeforce: Barnett vs Cormier), Antonio Silva (Strikeforce: Barnett vs Kharitonov), Dan Henderson (UFC 173)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 182)
Keys to Victory: Cormier is an incredibly dominant wrestler and has spent the majority of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career in top position, beating on his opponent. In addition, he transitions quite well between punches and takedowns, making him a dangerous foe for anyone in the division.
In this bout, Cormier's ability to blend his takedowns and boxing will be key. If he's obviously looking to do one or the other, Johnson will counter him painfully.
To avoid that outcome, Cormier needs to constantly be working his level change feints. Johnson will obviously be ready to defend the takedown early on, but if Cormier looks low and comes up with some solid punches, a few effective combinations could really disrupt Johnson's takedown defense.
If Johnson is forced to respect Cormier's punches, "DC" will have a much easier time landing takedowns.
Whenever Cormier does look to land a takedown, he should be ready to chain wrestle. Even if Cormier is not able to score a takedown early on, being forced to continually wrestle will slow Johnson down.
Key Wins: Alexander Gustafsson (UFC on FOX 14), Phil Davis (UFC 172), Andrei Arlovski (WSOF 2)
Key Losses: Vitor Belfort (UFC 142)
Keys to Victory: Johnson is an absolutely thunderous kickboxer. He's very aggressive and routinely stalks his opponent, but Johnson nevertheless is quite smooth with his movement and defense.
In this bout, Johnson needs to keep Cormier on his back foot and stay ready to counter. Few fighters are willing to walk Cormier down due to the threat of the takedown, but Johnson should have the raw physicality and takedown defense to stuff any shots that are not perfectly set up.
Forced to work from his back foot, Cormier will not be nearly as effective with his punches. He'll likely try to turn it around and push Johnson backwards, which will open up counter punching opportunities for Johnson. When Cormier tried to close the distance and dictate the pace, he routinely ate straight shots on the way in.
"Rumble" hits far harder than the former champion. If he can land with half the frequency of Jones, Cormier will become extremely hesitant.
Bottom Line: For the first time since 2011, light heavyweight will have a new champion.
Cormier spent a long time climbing his way to the top of the division, and it resulted in a tough loss to Jon Jones. Now, he's been given an immediate second chance, and the stakes are perhaps even higher for Cormier. While the reward for victory -- a UFC strap -- remains the same, the consequences of a loss are rather severe.
If Cormier loses once again, his title hopes are likely extinguished. Between his lengthy wrestling experience, brutal sparring sessions, and professional career, the 36 year old undoubtedly has some wear on his body. If he loses to a second younger fighter in a row, it's difficult to imagine Cormier climbing the ranks once again only to face an opponent in his prime.
Plus, Jones will be back before long. If there was ever a time for Cormier to win the belt, it's while "Bones" is occupied with legal troubles.
On the other hand, this is Johnson's first attempt to claim the belt. He's proven himself to be an exceptionally dangerous fighter in his prime, as everything seems to be falling into place for the Blackzilian.
Winning the title would cap off an excellent comeback story.
Should Johnson lose to Cormier, all hope is not lost. If Jones returns and takes back his title -- which I believe to be a strong possibility -- then Johnson is one of the few challenges he has yet to face. It would still be a very intriguing match up.
At UFC 187, Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson will scrap over the newly vacated title. Which man will leave the Octagon as champion?