by Jason Howard Kelly
UFC 214 was, without doubt, the most stacked PPV card that the UFC has ever produced, and it did not disappoint. A fight card that was filled with intrigue and drama delivered one of the best nights of UFC fights in recent history, and it all started with a bang… Literally.
Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jimi Manuwa
This was a fight that could very well have determined who would be next, or at least close to next, in line for a UFC title shot in the light heavyweight division. Oezdemir, the fast-rising Swiss striker vs. Jimi Manuwa, a dangerous veteran in the light heavyweight division who has thunder in his hands.
An excited crowd of MMA fans in Anaheim didn’t have to wait long to see who would land the bigger punch in this fight. Forty-two seconds into the first round Volkan Oezdemir tagged Manuwa with a series of vicious short punches from within the clinch to earn the knockout victory. Oezdemir smartly picked his spot against Manuwa, who seemed to become unusually complacent when he had Oezdemir in the clinch.
Oezdemir is legitimately a real threat in the light heavyweight division with his ability to strike and keep pace with just about anyone in that division. We may be seeing him enter the title picture much sooner rather than later.
Winner: Volkan Oezdemir by knockout
Robbie Lawler vs. Donald Cerrone
Next up was the highly anticipated welterweight bout between two of the toughest and most aggressive strikers in the division. Robbie Lawler is seeking a return to glory after dropping the belt to current champion Tyron Woodley. Meanwhile, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is looking to launch himself into main event status for the first time in his career.
Lawler started the fight aggressively as he came right out with some heavy striking against Cerrone. However, Cerrone did a nice job standing his ground and competently defending with fluid foot movement. Cerrone was eventually able to wear Lawler down and score a takedown towards the end of the first round.
Cerrone continued to settle into the fight as it went on, keeping himself at distance and reaching Lawler with good leg kicks. Lawler, to his credit, stayed aggressive and constantly pushed forward against Cerrone. That being said the disparity between significant strikes in the second round was startling, as Lawler only landed three throughout the whole round.
Shockingly, Lawler was awarded the win by unanimous decision. Cerrone certainly seemed to have an advantage in strikes, but he was also backing up for the majority of the fight while Lawler pushed the action. The fact that the decision was unanimous was perhaps even more surprising, since Cerrone looked incredibly impressive throughout. There is a fair chance that we will see a rematch between these two at some point, though it may not be right away, as Lawler will, no doubt, be looking to re-emmerse himself into the welterweight title picture to earn another shot at Tyron Woodley.
Winner: Robbie Lawler by unanimous decision
Cris Cyborg vs. Tonya Evinger: Women’s Featherweight Championship
After a long wait and an excess of unnecessary drama we were finally gifted a championship fight with the woman the entire featherweight division was built around, Cris Cyborg. She faced Tonya Evinger, who stepped in on short notice after Cyborg’s original opponent, Megan Anderson, withdrew from the fight. Evinger is naturally a bantamweight, so fighting the greatest women’s featherweight competitor on short notice was a daunting task, to put it mildly.
Evinger showed nothing but absolute guts and bravery in this fight as she managed to take Cyborg into the third round, much further than most thought she would go. It was clear from the start that Cyborg was going to have her way with Evinger, however, as she tagged her multiple times with quick, hard shots. Cyborg eventually earned the TKO victory by pummeling Evinger against the fence.
Cyborg showed exactly why so many women want nothing to do with her. She looked smooth, confident, and downright dangerous with every move she made in this fight. Now, it will be interesting to see who challenges her next. Will Megan Anderson come back and get her shot? Will Holly Holm return to the featherweight division to fight her? Either of those women would be a fair test for Cyborg. Until then, however, this is her division to reign over for as long she pleases.
Winner: Cris Cyborg by TKO
Demian Maia vs. Tyron Woodley: Welterweight Championship
The co-main event for this PPV featured two fighters who, stylistically, could not be more different. Demian Maia, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu savant, against Tyron Woodley, a virtual powerhouse on two legs. The difference in styles would play a major role in this fight, and it did not please the Anaheim crowd one bit.
The entire fight, all five rounds of it, was a chess match. Demian Maia was constantly and, at times, desperately looking for a takedown on Tyron Woodley. Unfortunately for him Woodley played perfect defense the entire way through. He never once allowed Maia to take him down and establish any kind of offense on the ground. Meanwhile, Woodley did what he needed to do on his feet by countering Maia any time he attempted to move in. Maia’s only striking offense came in the form of a straight left hand that he continuously threw at Woodley. Every time he threw it Woodley would counter with a powerful right hand over the top which completely negated anything that Maia could or would have done.
This fight set a new UFC record for the least amount of strikes thrown in a UFC fight in history (according to Joe Rogan on the broadcast). That would explain why the crowd was chanting, “BO-RING! BO-RING!” rather boisterously in the final round of the fight. The decision was an absolute no-brainer. Tyron Woodley dominated this fight from start to finish with what was perhaps the greatest display of defensive fighting anyone has ever seen.
Winner: Tyron Woodley by unanimous decision
Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier: Light Heavyweight Championship
At last, it was the fight everyone had been waiting for. The most anticipated fight of 2017 had finally arrived without delay or hinderance (thankfully). Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier really did have that Ali vs. Frazier feel to it. It was an enormous fight that was absolutely must-watch.
Jon Jones came out of the block fast against Cormier, hitting him with a variety of kicks, punches, and elbows at the start of the first round. Jones made it clear that this would be nothing like his fight against Ovince Saint-Preux last year. He meant business tonight. Cormier, ever the professional, stayed calm and weathered the early storm from Jones. As the fight went on Cormier became increasingly calm but also confident, throwing effective striking combinations of his own and tagging Jones up high several times. Cormier even began to lightly taunt Jones midway through the second round as he was really starting to find his groove.
However, all it took was one beautifully timed and perfectly placed head kick from Jon Jones in the third round and that was the beginning of the end for the champion. Cormier tried to run and recover from the kick but Jones carefully pursued and continued to fire away with vicious shots to the head of Cormier. Eventually, the ground and pound attack from Jones was too much for Cormier to handle and the fight was stopped. Jon Jones is once again on top of the UFC light heavyweight division.
Jones won the fight but, perhaps more importantly, he won the hearts of the UFC fans tonight as well. When his name was announced and the belt was strapped around his waist for the first time in several years Jones dropped to his knees, overcome by emotion. He expressed his remorse for his mistakes as well as his gratitude towards his family, friends, and the UFC fans for sticking with him through all of his troubles. He also waxed poetic about his opponent, Daniel Cormier, saying that he has been Jones’ greatest rival while also being an upstanding fighter, champion, father, and role model to everyone.
Everything about this title fight could not have been more perfect. The build up to the fight was phenomenal, and it was some of the best promotional work the UFC has ever done. The fight itself was entertaining, edge-of-your-seat combat that ended in exciting fashion. Lastly, the comments and respect shown by Jon Jones after the fight was incredibly moving, even for those who disliked Jones due to all of his antics over the past few years.
Jones capped off his perfect night by calling out Brock Lesnar, who has been rumored to be returning to the UFC shortly after his WWE contract expires. There is not a single MMA fan who would not gladly pay to see that fight.
At the end of the day having a healthy, sober, and motivated Jon Jones back on top is huge for the UFC, as well as for MMA fans everywhere. He is a remarkably talented fighter, but he is also a fascinating and polarizing character. The UFC needs more stars. It can’t just be Conor McGregor carrying the entire company. Having Jon Jones back in the fold will do wonders for the sport of MMA and, like him or hate him, Jones proved tonight that he is still one of the greatest fighters on this planet today.
Winner: Jon Jones by TKO