Last night, UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones defended his title against Olympian Daniel Cormier, Jones's nemesis and the one man many thought could equal him in a cage fight. Shortly after the fight, in the post-fight presser, a defeated Cormier vowed to come back stronger than ever and fight Jones. Shortly after that, he began to cry.
"I've had to rebuild myself a number of times like people can't even imagine," Cormier said. "And this is no different." That's when his voice cracked, and at that moment, you could imagine any number of the personal horrors Cormier has outlasted dancing once more in front of his eyes, all summoned again by Jones. Cormier had said UFC 182 would the culmination of an athletic career spanning 20 years. He came up short. It was tragic to behold, because as tough and hard-fought as the bout was, Cormier never really had a chance.
There are fighting reasons why the baddest motherfucker on Earth beat Cormier last night. Of all his strengths, what's probably most overlooked is Jones's ability to identify his weaknesses.
"Where I strictly was a wrestler growing up," he told me before the fight, "I'm now a complete martial artist, which means I'm a jiu-jitsu practitioner, a judo wrestler, I'm a boxer. I gotta spread my knowledge, spread this brain out."
This was expected to play to Cormier's strengths; the challenger, after all, was a two-time Olympic wrestler, the team captain, and spent every one of the 15 fights he took prior to his title shot ragdolling grown men around the cage. But against Cormier, Jones returned to his roots, and it took all of 40 seconds for the champion to catch a kick and trip the challenger. It was the first time Cormier had ever been taken down in his MMA career, and the opening round was the first he ever lost.
Jones is infamous for unfurling his long legs and connecting with crippling kicks on and around the knee, so Cormier countered that by spending the first three rounds surging forward, staying close to Jones so he didn't have room to kick. He stalked Jones at times, before getting in close, grabbing his head, and throwing short, vicious uppercuts. Some connected, stunned the champion, and even forced him to retreat. One (relative) weakness of Jones's game has been that when backing up, he hasn't had much offense or even a plan outside of extending his arms, palms out, to keep opponents at bay. Last night, though, Jones stopped Cormier short time and time again with combinations off his back foot. We'd never seen Jones do this before, and it allowed him to score wherever the fight was.
But what was more alarming was the psychological violence Jones inflicted on Cormier. No one thought Cormier was the better fighter of the two, but many thought Cormier physically and perhaps even mentally stronger. Those betting on Cormier to win were essentially wagering his wrestling against Jones's, thinking that his Olympic pedigree would be enough to neutralize the champion's kickboxing and allow him to grind Jones down. But Jones, as he said he would, attacked Cormier at his point of greatest strength. He bullied the shorter fighter, leaning on him and wedging Cormier against the cage for minutes at a time. We've seen Cormier reverse that position so many times before, picking up opposing fighters like sandbags, spinning them, and pinning them against the cage while he rested, but he couldn't outmuscle Jones. Not only did it sap at Cormier's strength, but it sapped at his belief.
He couldn't keep up with Jones's pace, and in the seconds Jones took to rest, Cormier still had to carry his opponent's body weight. Cormier won the second round, and narrowly lost the third, but Jones's relentless attack wore him out. By the fourth, the fight was already over.
Jones locked his hands around Cormier's legs twice in the fourth round, and twice picked up Cormier before slamming him again on the mat. When Cormier finally secured his first takedown in the fifth, it felt like a consolation. Jones won unanimously, and two of the three judges only gave the second round to the challenger. This is Cormier's training partner, UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, consoling him after the fight:
The saddest part of all this is that Cormier performed about as well as he could. He was in great shape, had a sound and, for a time, effective game plan, and unlike so many of Jones's previous challengers, he never looked for a way out. He just wasn't good enough. No one is good enough.
Next, Jones will likely face the winner of a matchup between Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson, the latter of whom is the only man ever to give him a fight. Assuming Jones prepares properly—he's said not to have done so ahead of the first Gustafsson bout—he'll likely win in a walk, and then challenge himself against the best heavyweights the sport has to offer. He'll become something more than just the light-heavyweight champion.
For Cormier, the outlook is bleaker. He's 35, and there's no obvious direction for his career. Jones represents an endpoint for light-heavyweight fighters; they can't beat him, and those like Cormier are too good to pair against exciting, rising prospects. This was, realistically, Cormier's last chance at winning, and in a more fair and just world, he would've done so, because in a more fair and just world, Jon Jones wouldn't exist. And that's a good enough reason to cry.