A story of revenge versus redemption, good versus evil, old versus young – the antagonistic narratives don’t end there but Daniel Cormier versus Jon Jones 2 is undoubtedly the most important fight this year.
The long-time animosity between these two warring light-heavyweights will reach – well, hopefully reach – some sort of climax at UFC 214 next weekend.
And that is said with a caveat because we’ve been here before, days out from the most anticipated rematch in UFC history only to see it scrapped, our hopes for a conclusion dashed.
Indeed, Jones and Cormier have been metaphorically joined at the hip since 2010 – metaphorical of course because in reality any time they are within each other’s air space they invariably turn it blue.
They are two characters juxtaposed yet inseparable, both at the centre of each other’s narratives, married by their hostility and a common detestation.
But the authenticity of their rivalry is rare, even for a sport built on aggression, so few have experienced the tangible heat of Jones and Cormier.
The feud hasn’t decayed despite two cancelled rematches following Jones’ dominant decision victory in their first bout back in 2015.
In fact, after another cooling off period in the wake of the former champ’s year-long suspension for a failed drugs test three days before UFC 200, the bad blood is boiling again.
“I am the champion,” said Cormier during a joint interview with Jones during the broadcast of Saturday’s UFC on Fox 25. “I’m going to remain the champion next week and I can finally put this chapter in a long, storied career behind me.”
Does the chapter end with respect for one another? Jones replied: “F*** DC.”
Cormier laughed then explained: “I have no desire to be friends with him. In terms of respect for his abilities, sure. He’s a great fighter, I’ve always said he’s a great fighter.
“But every time going forward we see each other, there’s still going to be issues. Because either I’m gonna smack him upside his head or something is gonna happen.
“We’re not gonna be friends and we’re never gonna be able to be in the same space, because there are always gonna be issues. Because he’s a punk.”
That resentful exchange is one of many but each one has built what is now the biggest rivalry in UFC history.
While the faux feud between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather dominates the combat sport landscape right now, Jones and Cormier deserves its own mainstream attention.
It’s personal, physical and passionate and it’s just what the UFC needs. Indeed, 2017 has been distinctive in its ordinariness. Injuries have ravaged cards and big name players have been out of the game.
But UFC 214’s main event has all the ingredients required to cure their ailments. Jones is No1, arguably the best to do it, Cormier the champion in his rear-view mirror.
DC has tightened up his game and has looked unshakable in Jones’ absence but his inactivity provides a new layer of intrigue behind the war of words.
From a physical standpoint, this fight is blessed with skill and strategy.
Has Cormier made the necessary changes? Will he let the emotions envelop him again? What version of Jones will we see?
All these questions form part of the foundation for what is the most significant bout of the year.
Let’s just hope they can answer them in the cage because the UFC can’t afford for them not to.
Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor lit the touchpaper for their cross-combat superfight Tuesday, turning the air blue in an expletive-laden face-to-face meeting to launch their global promotional tour for the bout.
More than 11,000 fans crowded into Los Angeles’s Staples Center for a raucous first live showdown between former boxing world champion Mayweather and Irishman McGregor, one of the biggest stars of mixed martial arts.
The two men are set to face each other in Las Vegas on August 26 in what could be the richest fight in history after finally agreeing to climb into a boxing ring following a year-long guessing game over whether they would ever do battle.
Tuesday’s fiery face-off saw the swaggering, cocksure McGregor strut onto stage confidently in a three-piece suit featuring pinstripes made up of an offensive two-word insult.
The immaculately tailored profanity set the tone for a spectacle shot through with an endless torrent of abuse from both fighters, no doubt delighting promoters as they drum up hype for a bout which will demand $10,000 for ringside seats.
The suited McGregor was the first to take the microphone, mocking Mayweather’s decision to show up wearing a Stars and Stripes tracksuit, suggesting it was linked to the American’s reported tax difficulties.
“He’s in a tracksuit, he can’t even afford a suit anymore!” McGregor declared to roars of laughter from the massed ranks of his green-shirted fans crammed into the lower tiers of the famous basketball arena.
McGregor, who will start as an overwhelming underdog against one of the most accomplished defensive fighters in history, was bullish about his prospects of victory. “The 0 has got to go,” McGregor declared, referring to Mayweather’s perfect 49-0 record.
“I’m going to knock him out inside four rounds, mark my words,” McGregor said, to more roars. “On August 26, this man will be unconscious, he’s too small, he’s too frail.”
“I will come out and paint many pictures. I can fight in my styles. I can dazzle him.”
A stony-faced Mayweather meanwhile bided his time before taking the microphone and uncorking his own cascade of expletives.
“I’m going to knock this bitch out,” Mayweather said, to boos from the crowd. McGregor shot back: “You haven’t knocked anyone out for 20 years!”
Mayweather meanwhile responded to the jibes about his finances — he recently filed for an extension to pay his 2015 tax bill — by producing an uncashed check for $100 million from an assistant’s rucksack.
McGregor was again ready with a riposte: “Give it to the taxman!”
Mayweather, 40, was unruffled, vowing to administer a comprehensive victory over the 28-year-old Irishman despite giving away 12 years to his younger opponent.
“I’m not the same fighter I was 10 years ago. Or 5 years ago. Or 2 years ago,” Mayweather said.
“But I’ve got enough to beat you. He can choose which way he wants to go. Either on his back or on his face.”
Mayweather later appeared relaxed during a briefing with print reporters, suggesting his snarling braggadocio on stage had been solely for the benefit of the fans who had flocked to the arena.
“We have to give people what they want to see,” the former welterweight king said.
“That’s what the people wanted to see. To have a sold-out arena like today and give these fans something real smooth and calm? They don’t want that. That’s not what they wanted. These fans want entertainment. They got entertained today by both competitors.”
Unsurprisingly Mayweather declared himself the victor in the verbal sparring, saying McGregor’s incessant trash-talking indicated he had rattled the Irish fighter.
“He’s got to realise, I’ve been here before,” Mayweather said. “He just started this. I’ve been doing this for years. Years after years. He’s upset. He’s ready to kill me now. He’s mad. I was calm, cool.
“I gave him a little bit of his own medicine and he didn’t like it.”
Provided by AFP Sport
On Instagram earlier this month TK MMA posted a picture of Emirati mixed martial artist Mohammad Yahya slumped to his knees and vomiting.
Yahya had just eaten a brutal body shot in training having not long broken fast during the holy month of Ramadan and the caption accompanying the grisly ordeal, said: “So you want to be a fighter?”
It’s an appropriate question because MMA is not a sport for everyone.
It’s certainly not a sport which will have been viewed as a genuine career path for someone of Yahya’s social standing as he began training at 15.
But the 23-year-old is a unique athlete and one the UAE should be extremely proud of as he became the first Emirati mixed martial artist to be signed up to an international promotion after Bellator handed him a four-fight contract this month.
For the uninitiated, it’s a significant step in putting his country on the MMA map as the Viacom-backed promotion are rapidly developing into a genuine competitor in a landscape dominated by the UFC.
Indeed, Bellator have stamped their own authority on a market which is beginning to gain mainstream notoriety with some of the biggest names competing under their banner.
The likes of Rory MacDonald, considered one of the best welterweights on the planet, former UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson and GOAT heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko all head up an impressive roster which Yahya has now joined.
The Emirati is unapologetically ambitious and has no issue articulating his desire to one day fight for the UFC, but the blueprint is clear having been signed by Bellator.
Yahya will fight at lightweight, a division which is one of Bellator’s most talent-rich and has developed notable stars like their former champ Eddie Alvarez who went on to claim the UFC’s 155lbs title.
Although Yahya will humbly avoid the subject, at least for now, he is already something of a pioneer for UAE sport, but in being ‘the first’ there is undoubted pressure.
However, he is not just happy to carry the prestige but also embrace it.
“What can I say? A storm is coming,” he tells Sport360 sweat dripping from his brow and his breathe still broken having just come off the training mat at TK MMA.
“I’m not going to let this slip from my hands. This is my dream and I’ve worked hard for this so I’m going to go in there 100 percent and make sure I get the W.
“Having my country behind me is a huge motivation. Everyone wants to represent their country somehow and I’m representing the UAE in the cage and I hope I can make my people proud and put the UAE on the MMA map.
“Every fighter’s goal is to make it to the UFC and I’m no different.
“I’ve watched it since I was a kid and to be in the Octagon would fulfil a lifelong ambition.
“I’m 23 now and I want to be in the UFC when I’m 25, for sure. That’s the aim, that’s the goal I’ve set myself to be in the UFC in two years time.”
Fulfilling the prophecy requires an immense work ethic simply because of the dextrous nature of MMA.
The new generation of fighters are some of the most complete and well-rounded the sport has ever seen because they are brought up on MMA rather than transitioning from one discipline such as Muay Thai or boxing.
Yahya is demonstrative of the new gen having produced a submission finish to tap out Mahmoud Mohamed in May at Dubai Fight in just his fifth pro bout without throwing a single stand-up strike.
He already has four wins as a professional with his sole loss a controversial early TKO stoppage against Hassan Talal late last year.
But watching his fights, it’s easy to see why Bellator have taken notice and the hope is after a potential American debut in August or September, the promotion will head to Dubai.
“I’ll fight whenever,” Yahya says. “The first fight will hopefully be in America and then we will try to bring Bellator to Dubai.
“Tam (Yahya’s coach and owner of TK MMA, Tam Khan) has been talking to the bosses there and is trying to get a card here so it’d be incredible to be able to fight in front of my home crowd.”
Yahya hasn’t given potential opponents too much consideration – only stating that he will “genuinely fight anyone” in exciting bouts, rather than padding his records to get noticed.
Training out of Dubai at TK MMA, Yahya has a strong team to help nurture his talent. Former fighter Tam Khan is his MMA coach, Benjey Zimmerman, a key member of decorated UFC heavyweight Alistair Overeem’s team, serves as his striking coach while legendary kickboxer Gokhan Saki is on hand to train with, now that the UFC’s latest addition to the 205lbs division trains out of TK MMA.
It’s a “bulletproof” blend, according to Yahya, and the mix of experienced coaching and world-class training partners are married to the support of his country and crucially his family – though that initially wasn’t the case.
“My family didn’t think I was going to pick it up as a career and obviously no mum would want to see their son get punched or kicked in the face so in the beginning they weren’t really supportive,” Yahya explains.
“When they saw that I was winning my fights and I knew that this was what I wanted to do, my mum, my dad and my whole family got right behind me.
“I have my older brother who is not really into sports but he is so supportive and he has helped me a lot.
“He comes to every single fight and he always pushes me and pulls me up when I’m slipping.
“He won’t even let me drink Pepsi sometimes but it’s great to have him so invested in my career.”
Yahya’s parents are yet to see him fight live but he is hopeful that will change when he hits the big stage.
“My dad always want to come but I’m not sure about my mum,” he says.
“I don’t really like the energy of having my family there, though.
“For such an intense environment you want good energy around you and of course because she is so nervous it’s not great for my focus.
“One day when I reach the very top I hope they will come to see me fight.”
Yahya is under no illusions of the challenge ahead, but he is both inspired and motivated by the image of making his walk to the cage on a world stage draped in the UAE flag.
“There’s a lot of pressure of course but when I put that flag around me it sends chills down my spine because I know then that I am doing this for my country,” he says.
“I just want to put the UAE on the map and Bellator is one of the biggest stages in the world for me to do just that.”
“I used to love Chuck Liddell because of his knockouts but my favourite fighter is Rashad Evans. In his prime he was the most complete fighter I’ve seen in the UFC with takedowns, striking and the way he puts it all together.“
“I’ve already seen a lot of trash talk on the regional circuit so I’m well prepared for that.
“I’ve been trash talked a lot by Gulf fighters and they’re the worst trash talkers ever.
“One guy made a video about me and it went viral. It’s actually my biggest win in terms of shaping my career because Ali Al-Naemi was cussing me on YouTube and calling me Baby Face. Then I made him give up as he didn’t come out for the third round.”
“I love Conor McGregor and marvel at what he’s done but I don’t actually think he’s the best fighter in the UFC.
“Obviously he’s one of the top fighters and I really appreciate his movement and timing.
“Every fighter should master their movement because it’s so key to what we do.
“With Mayweather, I obviously want him to win but he has no chance. He’s in it for the money and he knows it himself but you can’t knock him for that.”