UFC 187: Cormier vs. Johnson Preview and Picks


After Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov fell off of this weekend’s UFC 187, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, it quickly went from the best event in recent memory to just another really, really good one with two of the most prestigious titles in the promotion up for grabs.

In the main event, the light heavyweight title stripped from Jon Jones after his alleged hit and run is on the line between Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Daniel Cormier. Johnson, training out of the Blackzilian camp in Boca Raton, Florida has made somewhat of a miraculous career resurrection in recent times. Starting his UFC career as a 170 pound fighter, Johnson struggled to make weight constantly which forced him to move to middleweight. There, though, he again missed weight, lost to Vitor Belfort and was cut from the promotion. That, in hindsight, was the making of him as he reinvented himself as a light heavyweight with World Series of Fighting before coming back to the UFC and winning three straight in increasingly impressive fashion against Phil Davis, Antonio Nogueira and Alex Gustafsson to earn himself a title shot.

Just like Johnson, Cormier has also moved weights in recent times although he has gone down rather than up. Kicking off his career as a heavyweight, Cormier quickly worked his way to the top and, in just his 10th fight, beat Josh Barnett to become Strikeforce grand prix champion just before the UFC amalgamation. There, with his teammate as heavyweight champ, Cormier beat Frank Mir and Roy Nelson before dropping down to destroy Pat Cummins and Dan Henderson at 205 lbs to earn a title shot. As we know, that title shot ended in defeat to Jon Jones but, on Saturday night, he gets an immediate shot at redemption.

When talking about Anthony Johnson, change is usually the buzzword to use both in fight attitude and ability. Coming into the sport as a wrestler with massive power it took Johnson years to mould those attributes into what we see today. Training under renowned striking coach Henri Hooft, Johnson has put an accuracy and intent with his striking that wasn’t there before. Add to that dangerous offensive wresting, a solid chin and good takedown defence and you have one of the most feared men in the promotion.

Cormier might not be as physically intimidating or dangerous but he is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. Being a former two time Olympian, his game is based largely on getting in his opponent’s face and making his night a misery. Training out of AKA, Cormier has a style synonymous with many of his teammates where he puts on pressure, gets in close, boxes on the inside, works a clinch and adds in takedowns – a daunting prospect for anyone.

When coming into a big fight like this, where you have a clear clash of styles, the first round is extra important. Johnson will likely try to keep the fight at arm’s length and throw his bludgeoning hooks from the outside while Cormier will want to avoid those strikes and get into a range where “AJ” is less effective. Whoever can win that battle of range early will go a long way to winning the fight. If Johnson can win it, it will be pretty tough for “DC” to survive eating his power strikes but if Cormier can get his game going look for Johnson, who throws with all his might early, to tire. In a three round fight, I’d probably take Johnson here but over the five round championship distance I think the pace should suit Cormier better. Either way, we’ll have a new light heavyweight champion for the first time in four years.

In the second title fight of the night the middleweight strap will be on the line for the first time in almost a year as the perennially injured champion Chris Weidman takes on former light heavyweight king Vitor Belfort who returns to the cage himself after 18 months away. After initially being scheduled to fight in May 2014 at UFC 173 this bout has had quite a few hiccups before it (touch wood) actually happens. Firstly, Belfort pulled out of the fight after the Nevada state athletic commission withdrew the TRT exemption rule which led to Weidman fighting Machida as Vitor weaned off. Then Belfort failed a drug test but when that was quashed by the NSAC (and his scheduled opponent Chael Sonnen failed a test too) they were scheduled to fight again at UFC 181. Then Weidman broke his hand which caused it to move to UFC 184 before a broken Weidman rib got us to where we are today. Got it? Cool.

Prior to all the cancellations and injuries both of these men were in fine fettle. Weidman, who is still undefeated twelve fights into his career, is coming off of wins over Anderson Silva (twice) and Lyoto Machida in a twelve month period which saw his star rise hugely amongst MMA fans. Speaking of stars, Vitor Belfort has been one for almost twenty years in the UFC. The Brazilian has gone from heavyweight brawler to light heavyweight champion to 2-6 midway through his career before winning 10 of his last 12 with his only losses coming to possible GOATs Jon Jones and Anderson Silva. In his most recent trio of fights, though, Belfort has been more impressive than even with head kick KOs of Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson.

Coming into this fight their are many factors at play. The most important of which is how much of an affect will fighting without TRT have on Belfort. Also important, though, is ring rust for both men as well as the health of Weidman who has had knee, rib and hand injuries of late. We’ll have to wait and see. What we do know is how both men usually fight.

Belfort, like his teammate Anthony Johnson in the main event, is a striker of ungodly power. He will attack hard from the start with combinations of punches as well as high kicks which have been his killer shot of choice lately. Weidman, though, won’t have a problem with that. The New Yorker started off his career as a wrestler but, working under Ray Longo and Matt Serra, his boxing has been moulded into one of the most underrated and effective weapons in MMA. That should lead to some very interesting exchanges early. If needs be, too, that wrestling is always there for Weidman and it may just be the winning of the fight against Belfort who can be put on his back and will tire as the fight goes on. Just like the main event, the Blackzilian here will be looking to finish early and if he can’t, he will probably end up losing. For me, I think Belfort has a huge chance early and this is a closer fight than the bookies are making out, but it’s almost impossible to pick against Weidman at this weight especially against someone with as many unknowns as Belfort.

After the two title fights there are still a number of bouts which have both interest and meaning. Donald Cerrone, Travis Browne, John Dodson and Joseph Benavidez all have favourable match-ups and all could earn themselves a title shot with wins while Dong Hyun Kim, Uriah Hall and Rose Namajunas will be looking to work themselves in that direction too.


Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson – Cormier avoids the power and outstays Rumble
Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort – Weidman weathers a storm, wrestles his way to win
Donald Cerrone vs. John Makdessi – Cerrone drops and taps the bull
Andrei Arlovski vs. Travis Browne – Clean KO for Browne
Joseph Benavidez vs. John Moraga – Mad back-and-forth ends in a JoBe sub

John Dodson vs. Zach Makovsky – Dodson‘s speed and accuracy wins him decision
Josh Burkman vs. Dong Hyun Kim – Burkman talks damage, Dong wins a decision
Uriah Hall vs. Rafael Natal – Hall via vicious KO
Nina Ansaroff vs. Rose Namajunas – Rose via flying triangle

Colby Covington vs. Mike Pyle – Pyle by decision
Leo Kuntz vs. Islam Makhachev – Makhachaev dominates and gets the finish
Josh Sampo vs. Justin Scoggins – Scoggins wins all three rounds


This week’s bet of the week is Cormier via decision and Browne via TKO/KO at 5/1


Early Prelims – Fight Pass 11.30pm

Prelims – BT Sport 2 at 1am

Main Card – BT Sport 2 at 3am

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma

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