MMA Review: #509: UFC 187: Johnson vs. Cormier

-So it’s looking like the official DVD releases of the UFC PPV shows are all being scrapped, leaving me slightly stuck in terms of reviewing them completely like I used to, just because I don’t like having to track down all of the fights in the correct order by nefarious means. So instead I’m just going to do the main cards from now on as they’re televised here anyway, and if a prelim card really interests me I’ll catch up on it at some other point. On the plus side it does mean I can get the shows done quicker and should be able to actually catch up on myself for the first time since like 2007 I think, ha.

For those who’ve forgotten anyway this show was a pretty big one for the UFC, with a loaded card initially headlined by Jon Jones’s latest title defense against Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson and backed up by (finally!) Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort. Jones and his shady legal issues cropped their heads up though leaving us with a substitute main event of Daniel Cormier vs. Johnson. Which really wasn’t much of a downgrade, making this probably the biggest card overall since 2014’s stacked UFC 181.

UFC 187: Johnson vs. Cormier

05/23/15
Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Flyweight Fight: Joseph Benavidez vs John Moraga

Bit of an odd opener I thought given John Dodson – the guy they were planning to give the next title shot to – was on the prelims, but that fight turned out to be dull anyway so c’est la vie. Both of these men had of course lost in their respective title challenges, but there’s no shame in a loss to Demetrious Johnson and since that point both were unbeaten with a pair of wins each. My pick? Benavidez, as I don’t think there’s a 125lber alive outside of Johnson that beats him right now. Plus, he has one of the coolest entrances in MMA with Stranglehold, one of the all time best badass tracks.

Round One and they trade some strikes right away. Moraga looks completely fearless here and he swings a head kick, but Benavidez tags him with a combo and he goes down! Joseph pounces and tries to grab hold of the neck to attempt a choke, but Moraga has enough about him to avoid that. Benavidez takes top position from half-guard. Looks like he’s trying to tie him up for a possible guillotine too which is concerning for Moraga. Benavidez slices into side mount, but Moraga really works hard to get half-guard back. Another pass from Benavidez puts him back into side mount and he goes for the guillotine, but Moraga slips his head free and stands. Benavidez tackles him right back down though and escapes a Moraga guillotine to take top position again in half-guard. Butterfly guard for Moraga now and he uses the fence to stand. Nice knee to the body from Moraga inside the clinch and he goes for a takedown, but Joseph defends and they continue to exchange knees. Nice elbow from the clinch lands for Benavidez too. Moraga tries an overhead suplex of all things, but he sort-of botches it and Benavidez escapes, then tries a big shoulder throw that *he* botches and that allows Moraga to take the back! That was an awesome exchange. Scramble from Benavidez puts him back on his feet, and he shakes Moraga off and we’re back to the clinch. Really good knee to the body from Moraga but Benavidez hits a BIG SLAM down to half-guard. Round peters out on the ground as both men look for headlocks. 10-9 Benavidez, great opening round.

Round Two and they circle before Moraga lands a body kick. One-two and a body kick of his own answer for Benavidez. Leg kick from Moraga lands cleanly. These guys are REALLY swinging hard here. Beautiful combo from Benavidez ends in a sharp leg kick. Hard leg kick from Moraga replies and almost takes Benavidez off his feet. Two more quickly follow. Big left hooks glance for both men in a brief exchange. BRUTAL body kick connects for Moraga. He dodges some punches and then glances on a head kick too. Spearing right hand from Moraga sets up a clinch and he lands a knee to the body, but Benavidez muscles him into the fence. Looks like a clash of heads has Moraga busted wide open too. Another hard knee to the body lands for Moraga, but Benavidez drops and takes him down into half-guard. Guillotine attempt from Moraga but it doesn’t look fully locked in and Benavidez frees his head to settle into top position. Side mount now for Benavidez and the crowd are booing something, can’t see that it’d be this fight though as it’s been excellent so far. Mounted crucifix allows Benavidez to drop some elbows, and Moraga looks a bit stuck. Round ends in that position. 10-10 round as I felt the better striking from Moraga evened out the ground control for Benavidez.

Round Three and Benavidez pushes forward early with a glancing combo. Good leg kick sets up another combo that doesn’t land cleanly. Exchange continues and gets pretty frenetic and both men land some REAL bombs and just walk right through them, holy shit. Benavidez gets wobbled by a right hand but as Moraga looks to leap forward a front kick knocks him back. Nice right to the body from Moraga. Big combo lands for Benavidez and Moraga’s got blood pouring from his head now. Body kick from Benavidez and he follows with a knee-tap right into side mount. That was great. Good job from Moraga to get back to full guard, but time’s running out for him now as we’ve got less than two minutes remaining. Couple of elbows connect for Benavidez as it looks like Moraga’s trying to cling on for a stand-up. Benavidez continues to grind away from the top and there’s a ton of blood coming from Moraga’s head now. Seconds to go and it looks like this will be the fight. Round ends with Benavidez continuing to work from the top. 10-9 for Benavidez and I’d call it 30-28 overall. Could see it 30-27 or 29-28 too but either way Benavidez wins.

Judges have it 30-27 all round for Joseph Benavidez. Really fun fight to open the PPV with as Benavidez continues to be consistently the second-best 125lber in the world, although I still don’t think he’s improved enough at this point to challenge Mighty Mouse who seems to have flown past everyone. Moraga held up his end of the bargain to be fair and put up a really great fight, making it exciting, but he seems to be a slight step below the big three (Johnson, Benavidez, Dodson) at 125lbs which puts him in arguably just as awkward a spot as Benavidez. Still, both men are going to be in the UFC for pretty much as long as they want, which is what’s important, right? Fantastic opener.

Heavyweight Fight: Andrei Arlovski vs Travis Browne

When Arlovski returned to the UFC in mid 2014 I don’t think anyone expected him to be in title contention anytime soon, but wins over Brendan Schaub and Bigfoot Silva actually put him right back into the thick of things and he was matched with one of the top contenders in the division in Browne here. Travis for his part was coming off his own – more violent – win over Schaub and wanted to erase the memory of the loss to Fabricio Werdum that cost him his own title shot. Despite Arlovski’s hot streak I couldn’t see him overcoming Browne here and picked Hapa to win by KO.

Round One begins and Arlovski opens with an inside leg kick. Massively wide stance from Browne and he pops out a couple of jabs and avoids a brief flurry from Andrei. Right to the body from Hapa. Big right hook glances for Browne but Arlovski responds with a trio of rights and Travis is wobbled! He stumbles backwards as Arlovski closes in, landing with a flurry as Browne covers up along the fence! Big body shots and a knee from Arlovski but Browne manages to shove him away. He doesn’t look fully recovered though and Andrei tags him again and lands some really hard shots to the body as Browne tries to tie him up. Travis breaks and backs up, bouncing around to try to recover, and he glances on an overhand right. Overhand right misses twice for Andrei and Browne glances on a big left hook. Exchange follows and Browne gets rocked BADLY by a wild backfist! Big right hand follows and Andrei comes over the top with two more and Browne looks OUT ON HIS FEET!~! Somehow he survives again and shoves Arlovski away, but his legs look shot. Another right lands for Andrei but Browne is still standing. He’s putting on his best poker face too, trying to bounce around even though he’s still stunned. Arlovski is showing tremendous patience here. Sharp leg kick from Browne. Action slows slightly and Browne still looks slightly shaky to me. Combo from Arlovski backs him up again but doesn’t land cleanly. Wild right hooks miss for both men but Arlovski NAILS HIM WITHTHE BACKFIST AND DROPS HIM WITH A RIGHT HOOK! Crowd go APESHIT as Browne somehow gets up, but Arlovski is all over him landing BOMBS looking to finish. Browne shoves him off again and Andrei comes forward with another big flurry, but suddenly Browne WAYLAYS HIM WITH A RIGHT HOOK AND ANDREI GOES DOWN! Jesus Christ. Now it’s Browne trying to finish, but somehow Andrei gets back up and STUNS BROWNE WITH A KNEE! He stumbles backwards and Arlovski nails him with a combo but somehow he’s STILL STANDING. Arlovski calmly resets and tags him AGAIN, and Browne is wearing roller skates but STILL won’t go down. Crowd are absolutely deafening. Browne swings back but an uppercut into a BIG RIGHT CROSS finally folds him and he gives up the ghost there, forcing the ref to step in. Unbelievable.

That was an absolute stone cold classic. One of the best one-round fights I’ve ever seen, up there with the likes of Hughes/Trigg 2, Levens/Smith, Kongo/Barry and Guillard/Cerrone. Basically about 99% of Heavyweights would’ve gone out after Arlovski’s first flurry but somehow Browne was tough enough to hang in there, and man, when he somehow managed to drop Andrei while wobbly as hell I thought we were in for a redux of the wild Kongo/Barry finish. It wasn’t to be though – evidently Andrei’s chin is better than most give him credit for! – and Arlovski was smart enough not to get too wild and managed to pick his shots for the finish. Big striking technique guys would probably point out the errors Browne made that allowed Arlovski to land the overhand right over and over but shit, I personally don’t care when it makes for a fight as wild as that. And who ever could’ve seen Andrei Arlovski close to a title shot in 2015 when he looked dead and buried in like 2010? This was incredible stuff and probably a FOTYC too.

Lightweight Fight: Donald Cerrone vs John Makdessi

Originally this would’ve been a pretty awesome sounding match between Cowboy and Khabib Nurmagomedov to decide the #1 contender at 155lbs, but the Dagestani injured his knee again and had to pull out, leaving us with Canadian striker Makdessi as the late replacement. Big bummer there but it’s an injury replacement, what can you do? Makdessi was at least coming off a cool knockout against Shane Campbell. I don’t think anyone expected him to give Cowboy any problems though and so I figured Cerrone would run right through him en route to claiming his long awaited title shot.

Fight begins and Cowboy opens with the left switch kick. Leg kick follows. Makdessi looks tiny compared to Cerrone. Another leg kick connects for Cowboy. Body kick lands too. No slow starting from Cerrone here at all. More kicks from Cerrone and he clips the Canadian with a left hand too. Head kick and a right hand have Makdessi stunned but he manages to stay upright. Leg kick lands hard for Cowboy. Side kick misses for Makdessi. Big head kick glances for Cerrone. He’s landing the leg kick pretty much at will too. Couple of jabs from Makdessi but he eats a knee from Cowboy. He looks horribly outgunned so far. Brutal body kick from Cowboy. Crowd are massively into Cerrone. Right uppercut glances for Cerrone. Jabs to the body land for Makdessi. Cerrone is just spamming the left head kick at this point. Decent right hand connects for Makdessi but Cerrone eats it up and keeps on stalking. Kicks land for both men and Makdessi lands with a stiff jab too. Beautiful combo from Cerrone ends with a hard left hand that wobbles Makdessi. Spin kick lands to the body for Makdessi. Nothing he’s doing seems to be slowing Cowboy down though and he lands with a hard leg kick. Round ends with a nasty right hand from Cerrone. Clear-cut 10-9 round for Cowboy.

Into the 2nd and they exchange jabs and kicks right away before Cerrone tags Makdessi with a combo and forces him to back up. More kicks and a nice left hook land for Cerrone. Makdessi’s got a bloody nose. He keeps swinging back though but Cerrone catches him coming in with a heavy knee to the face and follows with a combo and a head kick. Cowboy is ON here. Trio of leg kicks have Makdessi’s leg buckling but he does land some jabs to the body. Striking exchange continues and Makdessi lands a solid left hook. Combination and a hard leg kick answer for Cerrone. Couple more really nasty leg kicks land for Cowboy. More left hands fire back for Makdessi but he misses a spin kick. Right-left and a lead elbow connect for Cowboy. Couple of left hooks land for Makdessi in reply. Inside leg kick also lands for the Canadian. Exchange continues and Cerrone lands with an elbow and a knee from close range. Another lunging lead elbow from Cowboy and he follows with a hard leg kick. Seconds to go in the round and Cerrone CRACKS him with a left high kick, and Makdessi steps back and calls the ultra-rare VERBAL TAPOUT, apparently due to a broken jaw. Damn.

Pretty cool fight although even with Cowboy involved it couldn’t live up to Arlovski/Browne! Makdessi tried his best and really hung tough, but he was outclassed standing by Cowboy and as a pretty one-dimensional striker that meant he couldn’t really win the fight save for a hail mary knockout that was just never coming. Cerrone’s had better performances but that’s not a knock on what he did here – to shatter a dude like Makdessi’s jaw is impressive however you look at it – and after a long seven months (long for his standards) on the shelf he’ll finally get his title shot next month. And I’ll be rooting for him for sure – how can you not love Cowboy?

UFC World Middleweight Title: Chris Weidman vs Vitor Belfort

Talk about a long time coming – this one had been originally set to main event UFC 173 in May 2014 (!) and was postponed then due to the TRT ban and the controversy surrounding Vitor with regards to that issue. This was its third rescheduling following cancellations at UFC 181 (Weidman injured his knee) and UFC 184 (Weidman injured a rib). Despite all the postponing it was still a massively anticipated fight, mainly because with all the controversy around Vitor – dude was basically using a legal loophole to take steroids in my view – it felt like it’d be cool to see the archetypal good guy in Weidman finally beat him down. I mean yeah, it was still a dangerous fight for Chris but he’d beaten Anderson Silva twice and then Lyoto Machida, and Belfort didn’t exactly look like the same guy who KOd Dan Henderson in 2013, where his skin looked like leather and he appeared to have swallowed all the steroids in South America. My pick? Weidman via first round submission.

Fight begins and the crowd seem firmly behind Weidman, with a lot of USA chants mixed in with the standard Brazilian “you’re gonna die!” ones. Physically Vitor looks deflated compared to how he looked in 2013. Weidman pushes forward from the off and has a head kick blocked. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Vitor, who lands a knee to the body on the way out before stumbling off balance. Weidman charges in to look to capitalise, but Vitor side-steps him and lands with a kick to the body. Big left hand lands for Belfort and now he OPENS UP with one of his trademark flurries! Weidman covers up but he’s taking a TON of shots here but somehow he’s still standing. Big uppercuts land for Vitor but Weidman manages to separate and back up. He looks busted up though. Right hook connects for the challenger but Weidman slows him down with a stiff jab. Two more jabs follow before Weidman avoids a head kick and hits a sweet double leg right down to half-guard. He immediately works to pass and lands some elbows for good measure, and some big hammer fists set up the pass to full mount! And from there Weidman postures up to land punches before Belfort gives his back. BIG SHOTS land for Weidman and Belfort looks doomed. He rolls back into the mount and eats some BOMBS, doing nothing but flailing in response, and Weidman just SMASHES HIM TO PIECES until Herb Dean calls it! Crowd go batshit for the finish.

Amazing fight and Weidman continues to show why he’s a very special talent. If the two Anderson Silva fights showed us that he’s never overawed by the occasion or mind games and could follow a gameplan, and the Machida fight showed us that he could push an insane pace for five rounds, then this one showed us that he can SERIOUSLY take a punch. I know Machida hit him a few times too but Vitor is one of the greatest KO artists in MMA history and Weidman was able to weather a hell of an early storm to take over and beat the Brazilian down like few others have been able to before. Is Vitor the same guy without TRT? Probably not but regardless, he’s still a very dangerous guy and Weidman dealt with him handily in a hugely exciting title defense. Luke Rockhold is of course next and that’s probably the best fight of 2015 on paper that doesn’t involve Conor McGregor. Cannot wait.

UFC World Light-Heavyweight Title: Anthony Johnson vs Daniel Cormier

As I mentioned in the introduction, this should’ve seen Jon Jones – aiming for his ninth straight title defense – taking on Johnson, who earned his title shot by KOing Alexander Gustafsson in January, but when Jones – who was still reeling from the whole cocaine scandal – ended up involved in a horrible situation involving a hit-and-run incident that looked like it could end with him doing jail time, Zuffa decided the best thing to do would be to strip him of the title and temporarily suspend him. That meant he was out of the Johnson fight and fighting in his place – for the vacant title – was Daniel Cormier, who had of course made his own unsuccessful challenge at Jones’s title at UFC 182. This was a tough fight to pick then, especially as Johnson had more prep time (although Cormier was due to fight on 06/06 anyway). Despite Johnson’s incredible run and fight-stopping power I ended up taking Cormier – I didn’t think he’d wilt after one big combination like Johnson’s recent opponents and although Rumble had beaten Phil Davis and stuffed all of his takedowns, Cormier’s wrestling has always translated better than Davis’s and he’s better at stringing his striking and wrestling together too. I was taking Cormier via fourth-round stoppage, setting up the Tyson vs. Bruno-esque rematch with Jones down the line.

Round One and Rumble opens with a jab and a hard leg kick, but he takes an accidental eye poke. He shrugs it off though thankfully and they continue. Pair of jabs set up a HUGE RIGHT HAND from Rumble and DOWN GOES CORMIER! Jesus. He pops up quickly but he’s clearly hurt. Rumble swarms him in an attempt to finish, but he can’t land the killer blow and Cormier manages to get hold of him, catching him off balance to grab a rear waistlock. That’s enough to slow Rumble down and Cormier works for a trip before hitting a suplex. Johnson pops back up, but Cormier drags him right back down and gets one hook in for good measure. Good job by Rumble to stand again but DC drags him down a third time. Again Rumble works back up, but DC switches to a single leg now and forces him into the fence. Rumble hops on one leg and lands a pair of right hands, but Cormier forces him to his knees and grabs a front headlock. Crowd begin to boo for some reason as Cormier continues to look to keep Rumble down. He works back to his feet again but DC still has the front headlock. Johnson escapes and suddenly uncorks a left head kick, but Cormier doesn’t seem affected. Wild swings from both men before Cormier looks for the takedown, but Johnson stuffs it. Cormier looks remarkably calm for a guy who got dropped in the opening seconds. Big head kick misses for Rumble. Trio of lefts from Cormier set up the clinch again and he forces Rumble back into the cage. Crowd boo again as DC continues to grind on Rumble, but with seconds to go he escapes and glances on a big right hand. Round ends there. Close round. Probably 10-9 Johnson for the knockdown but you could give it to DC too.

Round Two and Rumble is noticeably slower from the off. Both men throw out some jabs before Johnson lands with a leg kick and a hard right hand that shakes Cormier’s legs. DC fires back with a nasty body kick, but Rumble replies with a left head kick and follows with two more to send the crowd crazy. Cormier’s still standing though and he catches a body kick and drives Rumble into the fence. Johnson defends initially but Cormier picks him up and delivers a Hughes-style dump to half-guard in the center of the cage. DC grinds on him with some punches and forearms, and it doesn’t look like Johnson has much from his back at all. He’s taking some deep, deep breaths too. Far-side kimura attempt from Cormier and he has Rumble in trouble. Rumble manages to free his arm, but he takes some heavy punches in the process. Kimura attempt again from DC but he can’t quite seal the deal. He’s owning Johnson on the ground here though. More shots land for Cormier and Johnson is absolutely exhausted. Looks like he blew his wad trying to finish in the first and also in defending the takedown and clinch. One minute to go and Cormier is in firm control. More short elbows land for DC and he traps the arm to deliver some punches too. Looks like Rumble is busted open. Round ends with Cormier passing into side mount. 10-8 round for Cormier and Rumble is struggling to even get to his corner, wow.

Round Three and Johnson comes out swinging, but he can’t land the big shot and ends up going for a takedown of his own. Cormier defends it calmly but Johnson keeps going and manages to put him down with a single leg. Cormier pops right back up though and now they’re in the clinch which is his world. Takedown attempt from Cormier but Johnson blocks with a pair of hard right hands. He can’t shake DC off him though and a BEAUTIFUL move from Cormier allows him to transition from a takedown attempt to take the back. Johnson manages to hit a scramble to go for a takedown of his own again, but Cormier sprawls out and takes the back again with some heavy shots. Johnson attempts to stand, but DC keeps hold of him and forces him back down before slapping the hooks in at the same time as SINKING THE CHOKE! Johnson tries to fight it off, but DC’s got it deep and Rumble taps out there.

Great fight and I have no idea why the fans were booing at points, unless the great action beforehand spoiled them. Cormier looked like a beast here, taking the biggest shot that Rumble had to offer before coming back to impose his will entirely, and once Johnson ran out of steam in the second round it was one-way traffic until the finish. As for Rumble, for all the improvements he’s made since moving to 205lbs, this unfortunately looked like the same Rumble we’ve known since like 2007 – absolutely fearsome in the first few moments of a fight but if the opponent can weather that early storm and grind on him, he tends to wilt and gas and then he’s very beatable. This was basically like the Josh Koscheck fight moved up two weight classes in fact. Can’t take a thing away from Cormier though as he dealt with a very dangerous opponent with one of his career-best performances.

Post-fight all Cormier can do is tell Jon Jones to get his shit together, which is pretty telling – while he’s the champion now he hasn’t outright beaten the man as such, but if anyone can do it right now it’s Cormier, as he’s already seen what Jones has to offer once and who knows if Jones is the same guy after all of his issues? That of course will be one of the biggest fights of 2016 for sure. This though was a fitting main event to cap off one of the best cards in recent memory.

And we’ve still got time on the show so it’s PRELIM TIME.

Lightweight Fight: Islam Makhachev vs Leo Kuntz

Both of these guys were making their UFC debuts here and both had excellent records too – 17-1 for Kuntz and 11-0 for Makhachev – but all the hype was on Makhachev as not only was he the latest on the list of badasses coming out of Dagestan, but he was also fighting out of the same camp as Khabib Nurmagomedov and had a fearsome reputation. The clear pick was Makhachev probably by TKO.

Fight begins and they circle before Islam misses a big overhand left. Couple of low kicks and a right hand land for Kuntz. Nice left-right combo from Makhachev sets up a clinch and he forces Kuntz into the fence. Kuntz tries to muscle him off to no avail initially, but then a forearm to the neck does the trick. Left counter connects for Makhachev as Kuntz pushes forward. Pair of overhand lefts set up another clinch for Makhachev and from there he hits a SICK HIP THROW right into back control with both hooks. Whoa. Kuntz is in deep trouble. Body triangle from Islam and he tries to work for the rear naked choke. Tremendous job from Kuntz though and he shakes the Dagestani off and escapes to his feet. Combo from Makhachev sets up a clinch but Kuntz shrugs him off. Left to the body from Makhachev. Head kick also glances for the Dagestani. Nice counter right hook and a left elbow from close range follow. Pair of kicks answer for Kuntz. One minute to go and Kuntz throws out some more kicks that force Makhachev back, but Makhachev comes back by clinching and landing a ton of dirty boxing. Trip follows and Makhachev takes side mount. Kuntz gives his back, but Islam can’t capitalise before the round ends.

Into the 2nd and Kuntz pushes forward, but he misses on some kicks and gets tagged by a few punches from Makhachev. Clinch from Islam and he lands a pair of hard uppercuts too. Left hand follows for the Dagestani. Heavy counter right hook lands for Makhachev as Kuntz steps in with a kick. Awkward counter left lands for Makhachev and it looks like Kuntz might’ve been hurt by it too as he goes down, allowing Makhachev to take his back with both hooks. Looked like the Serra Special to the back of the ear to me. Kuntz is in deep trouble and Makhachev lands some hard punches before looking for the choke. Kuntz does his best to defend, but Islam slaps on a body triangle for better control and finally locks up the choke for the tapout.

Excellent debut for Islam Makhachev who looks like a pretty quality prospect at 155lbs. He’s clearly not the finished article yet as his recent loss to Adriano Martins shows, but his grappling looked fantastic here and his striking didn’t seem bad at all either. Look forward to seeing what this guy can do in the future and shit, it’s another bad dude from Dagestan in the UFC. The place seems to be like a factory for dangerous fighters right now.

-Joe and Goldie sum up the show and then we go to a highlight reel to end the night.

Final Thoughts….

This was quite comfortably one of the best PPV shows the UFC’s put on in recent memory and I’d say it’s up there with the best PPVs they’ve ever done in fact, as none of the main card fights were anything less than pretty awesome, with the obvious standout being Arlovski/Browne, but Weidman/Belfort wasn’t far behind either and Benavidez/Moraga, Cowboy/Makdessi and Cormier/Johnson were all great in their own right too. If you missed this one first time you’re doing yourself a disservice as an MMA fan, to be quite frank. Highest recommendation.

Best Fight: Browne vs. Arlovski
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com