Daniel Cormier is 3-1 since moving to 205 pounds. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
In what could very well be the finest card of 2015 so far, UFC 192 boasts relevant and entertaining matchups from top to bottom on Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston.
Whether it is blue-chip prospect Sage Northcutt making his promotional debut in the curtain jerker, “The Ultimate Fighter” standout Rose Namajunas battling for redemption on the prelims or Daniel Cormier defending his Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title against Alexander Gustafsson in the main event, every single bout on this card is worth watching.
Let us take a closer look at UFC 192 “Cormier vs. Gustafsson,” with analysis and picks:
UFC Light Heavyweight ChampionshipDaniel Cormier (15-1) vs Alexander Gustafsson (16-3)
THE MATCHUP: I am not a huge fan of this matchup from a divisional perspective. While I have always admired the UFC’s willingness to throw its prospects and contenders in against dangerous competition -- those who think this is not being done need to watch boxing -- I am also interested in seeing those fighters develop into the best possible versions of themselves; better fighters mean better fights.
It worries me when, for the sake of marketability, UFC brass decides to throw Gustafsson into a title fight right on the heels of the worst loss of his entire career; a second such defeat might very well cause irreparable harm to that career. From a fight perspective, however, there are not many matchups more compelling than this one.
At 28, Gustafsson is a regular spring chicken by light heavyweight standards. He is also a tremendously gifted athlete and one of the more skilled strikers in the UFC. Boxing has always been the bread, butter and lutfisk of Gustafsson’s style. He uses a pestering, flickering jab to distract his opponents from a deceptively powerful straight right hand and a right uppercut that Gustafsson has sometimes thrown a little too frequently for his own good. The other areas of Gustafsson’s game are no less impressive, however. As he showed against Jimi Manuwa and Mauricio Rua, his knees are as dangerous as his hands in the clinch. No aspect of Gustafsson’s skill set is more impressive than his wrestling. After being outwrestled and submitted by Phil Davis, Gustafsson famously asked “Mr. Wonderful” to train with him to learn the tricks of his trade. Since then, “The Mauler” has proven to be a wrestling natural, with near perfect takedown defense and a few slick takedown skills of his own, including a very sneaky knee tap. Gustafsson stuffed 10 of Jon Jones’ 11 takedown attempts and remains one of only two men to ever take down the former champion.
The other man to hold that honor is the current titleholder. Cormier’s own failed bid at Jones’ belt was not quite as close as Gustafsson’s. However, “DC” can boast that he claimed the belt soon after by finishing Anthony Johnson, the man who had beaten Gustafsson senseless just four months before. To accomplish that feat, Cormier relied on his tricky wrestling, which centers on the idea of getting around to his opponent’s back, to submit Johnson via rear-naked choke. In addition to a great counter wrestling game, Cormier also has one heck of a high-crotch lift and a knack for finishing takedowns from odd positions and angles, using foot sweeps, knee picks or basically whatever is available at the time. Given the opportunity to link up both hands in a body lock, Cormier can turn himself into one brutally uncomfortable backpack.
Just as Gustafsson’s wrestling is underappreciated, Cormier’s wrestling credentials tend to overshadow a very functional kickboxing game. “DC” throws excellent combinations and, unlike most wrestlers, fancies the occasional head kick to keep things interesting. The downfall of Cormier’s striking has often been that he values volume over effectiveness, often choosing to uncork six mediocre punches and a pair of kicks rather than three or four solid, put-together strikes.
THE ODDS: Cormier (-310), Gustafsson (+260)
THE PICK: Due to the reasons listed above, I have a hard time expecting the best version of Gustafsson to show up in Houston. It was not easy to watch Johnson battering the Swede to bits in front of his home crowd, and it cannot be easy to remember, either -- in more ways than one. Of course, even Cormier’s best right hand is a meager .22 to Johnson’s .50-cal, and so far, no one but “Rumble” has been able to drop Gustafsson. With his squat build, Cormier may very well have more success wrestling Gustafsson than Jones did, and his wrestling attacks are very different from those of “Bones.” Still, the image that continues to run through my mind is that of Gustafsson in his first minute against Johnson, boxing smoothly, sticking and moving and keeping the shorter fighter at bay. If he can do that to Cormier, he can keep him from setting up his takedowns just like he did to Jones, forcing him into a kickboxing match. The pick is Gustafsson by split decision.
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