If it had been a normal night, the lead here would be simple: Daniel Cormier defeated Anthony Johnson via a second-round, rear-naked chokehold submission. But this was not a normal night.
Johnson was one of the reasons why. Not only did he decide to retire directly after the loss to pursue “another job,” but it almost looked like he came into the fight with the intention to lose. A second-round rear-naked choke finish felt like a formality as Johnson first crumbled and then broke entirely under the onslaught of Cormier’s relentless wrestling and clinch game.
Amid the raised eyebrows at Buffalo’s KeyBank Center, however, Cormier managed to re-capture everyone’s attention when he called out a very special member of the audience. Yes, Jon Jones (as well as another possible challenger, Jimi Manuwa) was in the building and Jones offered up the kind of stone-faced reaction you might imagine when Cormier won.
“When he [Jones] gets his academics in order, he can return to the classroom,” Cormier said of the still-suspended Jones while speaking to Joe Rogan after the bout. “Sit down, young man. Sit down.”
The rest of the card wasn’t quite so outstanding, but it was still weird, especially the co-main event, a middleweight bout between former titleholder Chris Weidman and the surging Gegard Mousasi, which ended in controversy.
Mousasi landed a pair of knees that the referee initially deemed illegal, halting the fight so Weidman could recover, but the fight was eventually ruled a TKO after it was determined that the knees were, in fact, legal. It was one of the more bizarre occurrences in a fight in the recent past, and it shows just how far MMA still has to go to figure out the proper procedures in a myriad of difficult circumstances.
For full recaps, including round-by-round analysis, as well as a rundown of the prelims, keep reading.
Daniel Cormier def. Anthony Johnson via submission (rear-naked choke, Round 2, 3:37)
The second retirement of the night came as a surprise to fight fans when Anthony Johnson announced he was leaving to pursue “another job.”
“This was my last fight,” he said after tapping out to a rear-naked choke. “I gave my commitment to another job.”
“Time for me to do something else,” the 33-year-old added.
Judging from how Johnson fought on Saturday, it’s hard to disagree with him. His strategy seemed at odds with logic more than once, especially as the knockout artist tried to take the fight with Cormier, a former Olympic wrestler, to the mat. Like, what?
Johnson retiring in the prime of his career is a huge blow to the UFC and one of its thinnest divisions.
Cormier, however, is coming into his own. He clearly weighed his strategic options in the fight and was willing and able to absorb what Johnson had to offer in order to make it his kind of fight. He has lucrative and compelling fights in front of him with either Jones or Jimi Manuwa, and both would be fantastic matchups.
Round 1: Johnson comes out looking to stalk, pushing Cormier back with oblique and round kicks to the thigh. For some unclear reason, Johnson is shoving Cormier against the fence and looking for takedowns, but can’t get anything going and is eating knees to the body for his trouble. When Johnson gets in on his hips and tries to drive through, Cormier easily sprawls and grabs his favored front headlock. Now Cormier is grinding Johnson against the fence, exactly where Johnson doesn’t want to be; he can’t afford to burn energy in exchanges like this. Initiating the takedown was a godawful decision from Johnson and it’s costing him the round. Instead of trying to create space, he breaks off with a combination. The referee breaks them up, and Rumble lands a huge flurry of punches and kicks when they’re back in open space. Again, though, Johnson looks to initiate the takedown. Why? This is nonsensical. 10-9 Johnson.
Round 2: Johnson is breathing a bit heavy to begin round 2 and Cormier’s nose is definitely broken. Now in the southpaw stance, Johnson is peppering Cormier with left kicks and right jabs, but Cormier grabs one and forces Johnson to clinch against the fence. Cormier’s clinch control is outstanding; he’s jacking up an underhook on one side and driving his head into Johnson’s chin and using his free hand to punch. Cormier seems willing to eat every shot and concede takedowns in order to pull Johnson into this kind of grinding wrestling-and-clinch affair. Finally Cormier secures the takedown and immediately transitions to the back. He’s raining down shots on a tiring Johnson, who gives up his neck. Cormier finishes with the rear-naked choke.
Gegard Mousasi def. Chris Weidman via TKO, Round 2, 3:13
Gegard Mousasi defeats Chris Weidman by TKO (knees? doctor stoppage? who knows?) in what turned out to be a disappointing finish to a crackerjack of a fight. The momentum swings and action were wild and fun, and both fighters showcased their skills at a high level. We’ll never know what would have happened had referee Dan Miragliotta not called time, which led to the doctor stoppage, but it’s hard not to feel like we were robbed of something awesome. Let’s run it back again.
Who do u guys have tonight?— Jeremy Piven (@jeremypiven) April 9, 2017
I have Rumble stepping up to take the belt... #ufc210
Round 1: Weidman comes out looking to pressure a bit and eats a sharp right hand for his trouble, then a jab from Mousasi. He counters Weidman’s first body kick with a nice combination. Weidman gets in on his first takedown of the fight, a snatch single-leg, and drops Mousasi right to the canvas. As Mousasi scrambles, Weidman locks in a guillotine choke, but can’t finish it and Mousasi gets back to his feet. Weidman gets in on another takedown and turns the corner beautifully to get Mousasi to the canvas, but again the Dutchman scrambles. Once again Weidman gets in on a takedown, driving Mousasi to the fence, but can’t finish. Weidman tags Mousasi, but Mousasi stays in the pocket and comes right back. Weidman gets in on another single but can’t establish control on the mat and eats a knee as he stands up. Mousasi is uncharacteristically wild and tense here, and Weidman capitalizes on a slip to end the round on top. 10-9 Weidman.
Round 2: Weidman looks a bit tired to start the second frame of the fight: He burned a ton of energy looking for all those takedowns and ate a bunch of shots on his way in. Mousasi is pumping his jab, looking to establish distance, and catches Weidman with a hard combination. The Dutchman is flurrying on a hurt Weidman against the fence and beating him up to the head and body, then shoots for a takedown, but the referee breaks them up. Once again Weidman ducks under Mousasi’s lightning-fast jab and grabs a single-leg takedown, which he finishes and establishes top position. Mousasi is preventing Weidman from getting anything going, though, elevating him with butterfly hooks and disrupting Weidman’s base. Eventually Weidman gets to mount, though, and then the back. Mousasi manages to scramble, though, and lands a hard knee on Weidman as he stands up. Weidman shoots a bad takedown and Mousasi grabs the front headlock, landing a sharp knee. The second knee was illegal, though, as Weidman had both hands on the canvas. On replay, though, it seems that the knee was legal. It’s unclear what’s happening now. The fight has been called a TKO victory for Gegard Mousasi.
Cynthia Calvillo def. Pearl Gonzalez via submission (rear-naked choke), Round 3
The fight that almost didn’t happen due to one fighter’s breast implants (and yes, you read that correctly, resulted in another submission win for Cynthia Calvillo.
Calvillo has only been in the UFC for five weeks, but her talent is obvious. She’s a sharp striker, proficient wrestler, and a lethal grappler, and looked markedly better in this fight than she did in her debut. What’s not to like? Gonzalez was game and hung around, but she got outworked on the feet, outwrestled, and outgrappled. It’s back to the drawing board for her.
Round 1: Gonzalez comes out looking to stalk while Calvillo peppers her with a consistent jab and a nice right-hand followup. Whenever Gonzalez steps into range, Calvillo is dropping hard combinations on her. Not much from Calvillo is getting through Gonzalez’s guard, but she’s not throwing enough in return. Calvillo is picking her way through Gonzalez’s guard now, though, coming up from undernath with a sneaky left uppercut. The two fighters tie up for the first time and Calvillo’s takedown attempt goes nowhere. Calvillo is throwing serious volume, but most of it is bouncing off Gonzalez’s tight double-forearms guard. Gonzalez gets in on a single-leg takedown agains the fence and tries for a trip, but can’t get anything going. Calvillo reverses and slams a couple of knees home in the clinch. Despite Gonzalez’s size advantage, Calvillo is clearly the more technical wrestler, and when Gonzalez finally gets the fight to the ground, Calvillo almost gets her back. Instead, Calvillo locks in a triangle as the round ends. 10-9 Calvillo.
Round 2: Gonzalez looks to pressure again and is following her corner’s advice of letting her shots go more. Calvillo is still putting out more volume, though, and Gonzalez’s increased activity is opening up more avenues for Calvillo to work around her guard. Gonzalez finally hits a clean takedown and passes straight to mount, where she immediately works for an armbar, but Calvillo turns it around and gets on top. She works from side control and turns a single-leg takedown attempt from Gonzalez into a back-take, where Calvillo tries for a rear-naked choke. As Gonzalez tries to escape, Calvillo turns it into mount, then returns to the back. Calvillo’s decision-making in the scrambles is just off the charts. 20-18 Calvillo.
Round 3: Gonzalez comes out stalking again, but she looks tired and hurt, telegraphing her combinations. She still has some pop, though, and when Calvillo is standing in front of her, Gonzalez is landing cleanly. Calvillo looks a little bit tired at this point, but manages to catch a kick and turn it into a takedown, saving her from Gonzalez’s pressure and power-punching. Calvillo looks to pass and then gets to the back, where she sinks in a tight rear-naked choke and gets the tap. Calvillo wins by submission.
Meanwhile, it looks like someone’s come to psych out, er, scope out Cormier.
Thiago Alves def. Patrick Cote via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
An emotional (if not totally surprise) retirement came at the end of this bout, when Cote dropped his gloves in the middle of the cage.
“I think I know what that means, man,” UFC commentator Joe Rogan said during the post-fight interview.
“That was the plan since the beginning,” the former middleweight title challenger replied, choking back tears. “Win or lose, that would be my last fight.”
While the fight didn’t go Cote’s way, it certainly put a proper period on his long and entertaining career. He was always a scrapper and stayed game and dangerous right to the end.
As for the winner, this was the best performance of the last several years from Alves, and from a technical perspective, even better than the prime version who fought Georges St-Pierre for a title almost eight years ago.
Alves is now crafty and durable veteran who could be primed for another few fun fights in the deep and talented welterweight division. Someone like Jake Ellenberger or Matt Brown would make a lot of sense.
Round 1: Alves counters the first right hand Cote throws with a slick two-piece combination, then counters Cote’s next shot as well and finishes with one of his trademark low kicks. Cote is always right-hand dominant and Alves appears to be keying in on that, pulling the trigger on almost every attempt from the Canadian. Cote has his right ready as a counter as well, though, making Alves pay for a low kick and then another shortly after. Neither fighter has yet figured out how to avoid the other’s counters, but Alves is starting to cut more angles, getting off the center line after he throws. Neither man is afraid to exchange. A sharp left-hook counter from Alves drops Cote as he tries for a low kick, and Alves swarms him, getting on top and landing hard shots from half guard. The Brazilian ends the round with a huge flurry on top. 10-9 Alves.
Pitbull @ThiagoAlvesATT connects but @patrick_cote is always durable! #UFC210 pic.twitter.com/MDgsjbJ1gy— UFC (@ufc) April 9, 2017
Round 2: Cote isn’t put off by the knockdown and comes out looking to pressure Alves. He’s putting together combinations and shoves Alves against the fence, but can’t hold him there. They exchange when Alves circles off the cage and Alves gets the better of it, picking better shots and doing a better job of moving his head and cutting small angles to avoid Cote’s returns. Alves really looks excellent with his fundamentals and footwork, and right now, that technical edge is winning him the fight. Cote is having some success backing Alves up, planting a nice right hand on Alves’s chin, but Alves won’t stand there with his back to the fence for more than a moment. Cote backs Alves up again and eats another counter that plants the Canadian on the canvas. Cote survives and gets back to his feet. It feels like Cote’s legendary chin has finally cracked for good, and Alves is finding it regularly with sharp, accurate counters. Alves’ refusal to stand in front of Cote for longer than he has to is the real difference here. 20-18 Alves.
Round 3: Alves is doing an awesome job of staying low in the pocket, moving his head and keeping his guard tight while staying right over his feet to minimize the risk from Cote’s punches. Cote lands a good combination as he backs Alves to the fence, but can’t hold Alves there; instead, Alves spins him around and hits a trip takedown of his own. Cote threatens from his back but can’t get anything going, and Alves eventually stands up. Blood is pouring from Cote’s face now, but he’s still in the fight, pursuing Alves toward the fence and landing hard uppercuts. Alves isn’t rattled, though, and avoids the worst of it, even landing a sharp flying knee as Cote ducks in. Fantastic fight between two talented veterans. 30-27 Alves.
Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas was watching closely.
But before that, UFC announced the recently retired fighter Urijah Faber’s going to the Hall of Fame. Congratulations to you and your fabulous hair, sir.
Congratulations to @UrijahFaber totally deserving of a Hall of Fame Induction #UFC210 #UrijahFaber pic.twitter.com/xJzs8k3GC9— Ryan Cameron (@RyanCameronCS) April 9, 2017
Charles Oliveira def. Will Brooks via submission (rear-naked choke), Round 1, 2:30 of the first round.
The submission finish wasn’t especially surprising, but it was shocking to see Oliveira so easily outwrestle Brooks, who has traditionally showcased rugged takedown defense and a strong clinch game. This is a huge win for Oliveira, who should stick at 155 rather than trying to cut back down to featherweight. He looked fantastic, and there’s a huge array of fun matchups for him at lightweight.
As for Brooks, well, there’s no way around how bad this is. He has lost two in a row, as well as the hype he once carried due to his time in Bellator. This may have been his last UFC fight.
Round 1: The two fighters start out exchanging jabs and kicks. It’s a close matchup on the feet, and the first time they clinch, Oliveira snags a slick trip. Brooks stays calm, keeps his back to the fence, and uses that to stand up, but Oliveira slams him to the mat and immediately transitions to the back. Oliveira slips in a tight rear-naked choke, which Brooks fights, but the pressure is too much and Brooks taps.
And good for Cat Zingano. She got her wish.
Charles Oliveira isn't hanging around! Incredible performance by @CharlesDoBronxs at #UFC210! pic.twitter.com/wHR6x0Owdc— UFC (@ufc) April 9, 2017
Still to come:
Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson
Eight preliminary bouts kicked off the UFC 210 card from Buffalo. Name value wasn’t the strong suit, but on paper, they mostly looked like promising candidates for action. With a couple of exceptions, they lived up to their promise.
The first three fights all went to the judges’ scorecards with varying degrees of excitement. The women’s bantamweight fight between Irene Aldana and Katlyn Chookagian that ended in a Chookagian split decision was a barnburner of a scrap, while the flyweight opener between Magomed Bibulatov and Jenel Lausa was forgettable. Buffalo native Desmond Green took a competitive but clear decision from Josh Emmett in the New Yorker’s long-awaited UFC debut. The highlight of the early prelims was blue-chip prospect Gregor Gillespie’s 21-second knockout win over Andrew Holbrook, a fantastic performance from the former national champion wrestler and four-time All-American.
The Fox Sports 1 prelims were up and down. Patrick Cummins overcame a tremendous beating in the first round to win a decision, and Shane Burgos flattened the tough but overmatched Charles Rosa in the third round with a gorgeous series of counters. Big-time up-and-comer Kamaru Usman snagged the biggest win of his career with a sustained beating of Sean Strickland, and former blue-chipper Myles Jury got back on track after a pair of losses by dominating Mike de la Torre for a first-round finish.
Prelims, 8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
Myles Jury def. Mike De La Torre via TKO (punches), Round 1, 3:30
Kamaru Usman def. Sean Strickland via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26)
Shane Burgos def. Charles Rosa via TKO (punches), Round 3, 1:59
Patrick Cummins def. Jan Blachowicz via majority decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-28)