Yesterday marked a year since Jon Jones delivered a distinctly unimpressive – by his standards anyway – performance against Ovince St. Preux.
He hasn’t stepped foot in an Octagon since.
On Saturday, it will be two years since he was stripped of the light-heavyweight title after his role in a hit-and-run accident.
He hasn’t held the belt since.
Both are personal nadirs – one inside the cage, one outside of it – with April proving to be an unfavourable month for the 29-yearold.
Yet, this spring feels like the beginning of a potential rebirth for the sport’s most talented star. Indeed, the former 205lbs champion is close to finalising his return to action with UFC 214 in Anaheim his slated comeback with a one-year USADA imposed ban coming to an end in July.
But Jones has been given the luxury of two choices by UFC preisdent Dana White; either take a tune-up fight or finally rematch Daniel Cormier for the title.
Reports this week have suggested he will opt for the latter but for both himself and fight fans, is it really the best option?
First, from his perspective, the win over OSP exposed the reality of ring rust. For the first time in his career, Jones looked human. He hadn’t fought in 16 months – it will be 15 for his next fight – and it showed.
While he won every round, he was victorious in a fight which was competitive and could have been more so were it not for OSP breaking his arm in the second session.
The fact OSP got flattened by Jimi Manuwa in his next fight, then dropped a decision to the unranked Volkan Oezdemir (who fought on late notice) after that, doesn’t particularly reflect well on Jones’ lacklustre display at UFC 197.
Cormier said it best in the aftermath when he explained: “I’m very disappointed that I didn’t get to compete tonight because I do believe that if he showed up in the form that he did tonight, there’s no way that guy can beat me.”
The question marks surrounding Jones remain and have only intensified after another year on the sidelines. Taking a tune-up fight before stepping back into the cage with Cormier would represent a sensible decision because going in undercooked against the champ could have dire consequences.
It’s not just from a competitive standpoint that stepping away from the bitter rivalry would prove beneficial. The feud with Cormier undoubtedly brings out the worst in both men but in particular Jones.
For a man so desperate to portray the image of a clean-living, God-fearing man, he does his best to completely diminish that during his interactions with Cormier.
With him turning 30 in July, Jones is entering the prime of his career and he simply cannot afford anymore slip ups outside of the cage. Ultimately, this is his last run at making the Greatest of All Time argument a defunct discussion.
In an ideal world for Jones, 2017 would see him get back on track in a tune-up fight, take back the belt before exploring a move up to heavyweight to rubber-stamp his pound-for-pound status. But the ones who gain the most from a break from Cormier/Jones are the fans.
It’s fair to say that everyone is feeling fatigued about the theatrics surrounding the pair. There’s an air of apprehension whenever talk of the rematch comes around purely because UFC 214 would mark the fifth time the fight has been scheduled – yet they’ve only fought once.
Even White recognises that given he also said this week that he cannot trust Jones to headline an event after last year’s UFC 200 fiasco.
Taking this all into consideration, the idea of Cormier defending against a fresh challenger – Manuwa is the leading candidate – while Jones takes a tune-up is the much more appealing route.
After all, this is Jones’ final shot at redemption and next April we could either be talking about him as GOAT or contemplating where it all went wrong.
The UFC’s decision to book the No4 ranked Swanson up against the unranked Artem Lobov was met with widespread derision.
But while the victory did not come as easily as anticipated, Swanson avoided a potential banana skin by getting the job done with an impressive performance to keep title aspirations alive.
He landed an absurd 209 significant strikes on the way to a unanimous decision at UFC Nashville for a new single-fight UFC/WEC featherweight record.
Seeing Sanchez folded on the canvas for the second time in his last three fights provoked an uneasy feeling.
At 35 the damage may already be done and while you can have nothing but respect for his warrior spirit, the devastating nature of Al Iaquinta’s first-round knockout in Nashville made clear that it’s time he hung up his 4oz gloves.
Sanchez has always had a good chin but the fact he’s been KO’d in two of the last three suggests its deteriorating. Ultimately, he’s just not that good anymore and in a division of killers, that’s dangerous.
Congrats @ALIAQUINTA straight right from hell good job! I'm ok💪wanted to congratulate you but they said I had to go get a cat scan— Diego Sanchez UFC (@DiegoSanchezUFC) April 23, 2017
Silva’s final fight outside of the UFC
Saturday marked 11 years since Anderson Silva’s incredibly slick reverse elbow knockout of Tony Fryklund, which was to be his last fight outside of the UFC.
It’s one of the most iconic finishes in MMA history and it’s been played over thousands of times.
Silva was coming off a perplexing disqualification in the Rumble on the Rock 175lbs tournament but he got back to winning ways against Fryklund before making his unbelievable run at middleweight in the UFC.
The narrative of 2017 for the UFC has been one of missed weight limits, injuries, suspensions and controversy, so it was no wonder then that UFC president Dana White was in an ebullient mood after UFC Kansas City.
Indeed, the year’s most stacked card came without the pressure of pay-per-view buyrates and unduly delivered were others have failed this year.
With back-and-forth battles, slick submissions, history made and new storylines emerging, the card was undoubtedly a success and White will hope that from this point on it’s nothing but the best on offer.
We pick out the four things we learned from an entertaining night in Kansas City.
Demetrious Johnson is a freak. The flyweight champ joined Anderson Silva on a record 10 straight successful title defences in the main event, and he did it with arguably the most impressive victory of his career.
We are witnessing the evolution of ‘Mighty Mouse’ into the ‘Mighty GOAT’ after his third-round submission of Wilson Reis added credence to his claim as the best ever.
Go on to break the record and he shatters any element of doubt along with it.
Even before tapping out the BJJ black belt practitioner to an armbar – the Brazilian had never been submitted previously – he was simply too fast, too furious and too skilled in every aspect of the fight.
On the feet he was 135 of 216 on strikes while Reis was 18 of 170 – incomprehensible figures. He’s totally wiped out the 125lbs division and with each passing fight, the holes in game become ever smaller.
There is no obvious way to beat him. His energy is unmatched, his striking too fluid, his wrestling too strong and his brain too switched on. With his determination to keep learning and improving, Johnson won’t just surpass Silva’s mark but reach a number no one will touch.
In terms of excitement the women’s 115lbs division is the gift which keeps on giving and in Rose Namajunas lies a talent who keeps on growing.
The 24-year-old put herself in line for another shot at the title after submitting fellow high-rising contender Michelle Waterson in the co-main event.
Namajunas worked her way to the back after a shuddering head kick which dropped Waterson before sinking in the rear-naked choke in the second round.
It was a ruthless display of controlled aggression and sets her up for the winner of the upcoming title fight clash between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Jessica Andrade.
The victor will have a lot on their plate because Namajunas is a more complete fighter since the defeat to Karolina Kowalkiewicz last year and represents the present and future of the division.
The glory in victory and pain in defeat was perfectly encapsulated in Robert Whittaker’s victory over Jacare.
The Brazilian has been forced to wait in the long queue of contenders snapping at champ Michael Bisping’s heels but the second-round stoppage inflicted by the rising Aussie/Kiwi star now means the pair have swapped places.
It was a breakout performance for Whittaker, one of calm domination, which means he now joins Gegard Mousasi and Yoel Romero with legitimate title shots while Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman lurking in the background. Middleweight is murderous.
Firstly it was an honour to fight such a legend of the sport. Thank you @ronaldojacare and secondly this victory couldn't have been done without my team. Henry Perez, Fabricio Itte, Alex Prates, Hugo Nunes, Justin Fitzgerald, Justin Lang, Stu McKinnon, the sponsors that support me outside of the arena and my Family. Without these guys I wouldn't be able to do what I do. Thanks to all the people that believe in me. I'm getting that belt 👊🏼
Jeremy Stephens once proudly proclaimed himself the hardest hitter at 145lbs.
He was quickly shot down by Conor McGregor at the UFC 205 pre-ticket sale press conference and it seems Stephens is struggling to find his identity in the Octagon after dropping a shock decision to Renato Moicano.
He has just one stoppage in his last eight fights and has lost half of them. Hardly a record fitting of the divisions “hardest hitter”.
In the immediate aftermath of stunning knockouts were are quick to claim them as the KOTY.
But Mazo’s will certainly be in the discussion come the close of 2017. She destroyed Jamie Thorton in the closing stages of the first round of their Legacy Fighting Alliance clash, delivering a picture-perfect head kick.
The timing and sound was both sweet and savage as Thornton was sent into the dark realms with haste, landing flat on her back as Mazo wheeled away in celebration.
Danis was in the headlines earlier this month after it was confirmed he would cross over from the Jiu-Jitsu circuit into MMA with his debut coming under the Bellator banner.
The training partner of Conor McGregor has, though, suffered a temporary blow in those preparations after Marcelo Garcia – one of the most decorated BJJ artists of all time – suspended his star pupil from his gym.
It comes amid rumours of his growing presence on social media which is said to have ruffled a few feathers at Garcia’s gym in New York.
misunderstood.— dillon (@dillondanis) April 15, 2017
No changing of the guard
Saturday marked the 11 year anniversary of Tito Ortiz’s Fight of the Year victory over Forrest Griffin at UFC 59.
Griffin was riding a four-fight win streak and was quickly being shaped into the promotion’s latest star.
The next logical step was for a changing of the guard with Griffin replacing Ortiz.
However, the veteran upset those plans as he brutalised Griffin early with ground-and-pound before a tremendous back-and-forth with a takedown in the last session edging a split decision for Ortiz.
A 38-year-old Daniel Cormier sent the 33-year-old Anthony Johnson into retirement. Yes, that statement is the right way around.
The light-heavyweight champion retained his belt, and status among the very best in MMA, after he sunk in a second-round rear-naked choke to defeat Johnson for a second time in the main event of UFC 210 in Brooklyn.
But while Cormier moves on to a potential clash with either the returning Jon Jones or rising contender Jimi Manuwa, ‘Rumble’ is simply moving on entirely.
Indeed, after missing out on a the 205lbs belt for a second time, Johnson shocked the MMA world by announcing his retirement from the sport post fight. Despite being in the prime of a lucrative career, Johnson is keen to pursue his options outside of the fight game.
“It’s just business,” he said. “I want to do something besides going to the gym everyday punching and kicking and rolling around with another dude. That s*** gets old. I’ve been doing this for so long, I’ve been in sports since I was eight, it’s just time to move on to something different. I won’t say better, but just different.”
If the decision to retire is a little perplexing, Rumble’s gameplan on Saturday was even more confusing. Having come into the fight on the back of three straight first-round knockouts limiting him to just seven minutes of Octagon action combined, he opted to try and wrestle an Olympic wrestler.
Instead of staying on the outside and looking to counter with power, he opted to utilise a clinch game and although it worked to some degree in the first session, it proved to be his downfall in the second.
As Johnson again closed the distance, Cormier worked a trip before smothering his downed opponent and transitioning to take control of his back.
From there it was a case of deja vu as Cormier went to work on locking in a choke and once in position, he forced the tap from Johnson just like he did in their first clash at UFC 187. Afterwards, Cormier turned his attentions to two contenders waiting in the wings.
“He’s a tough guy. He punches hard. I like his little thing, ‘One shot, one kill,’” Cormier said of Manuwa. “It sounds cool. He wears sweatsuits. A guy that wears sweatsuits is pretty cool. But Jimi Manuwa can’t do me anything. Dude’s done. Jimi Manuwa would be lucky to get out 10 minutes. Seven minutes. I would demoralise him.”
There is, of course, Jones. Cormier has a legitimate shout in the pound-for-pound discussion but his UFC 182 defeat to Jones still remains the sole blemish on his record.
With Jones set to return from a USADA suspension in July, Cormier is open to setting up the long-awaited rematch as he said: “Of course I’d fight Jon Jones but Jimi Manuwa said that he wants a title fight. “He’s won a couple of fights in a row and looked impressive. I think he’s a good fighter but it kinda depends on what they do with Jones. If Jones wants to fight somebody first then I guess that’s what they’re gonna do. If he’s ready to come and fight me then we would fight.”
The unpredictable nature of UFC 210 was supplanted by the controversy which reigned over the comain event clash between Chris Weidman and Gegard Mousasi.
The Dutchman made it five straight wins but a mixture of bad officiating and a New York State Athletic Commission still in the fledgling stages of overseeing MMA fights, marred his second-round TKO win.
After former middleweight champ Weidman had taken the opening round on the strength of his takedowns, Mousasi came back strong in the second. He blitzed Weidman with sharp combinations before landing hard knees to the head.
However, referee Dan Miragliotta stepped in midway through the barrage and stopped the fight thinking the knees were illegal. He awarded Weidman five minutes to recover but chaos ensued as it was later discovered both knees were legal blows and the contest was ended with Weidman deemed unfit to continue.
The distraught American called for an immediate rematch and Mousasi responded by saying: “If he wants his rematch, I can give it to him. But at the end of the day, I’m chasing the title. If I fight (Michael) Bisping, I think I would be the favorite.
“It’s up to UFC. If they want to make (a rematch), make it in Holland. Sure, why not? The crowd was on his side this time. He fights me in Holland, the crowd would be on my side.”