Jimi Manuwa vs Volkan Oezdemir:
Volkan Oezdemir’s ascent to the top of the light heavyweight division continued as he stormed through Jimi Manuwa faster than even Rumble Johnson or Alex Gustaffson could manage. Manuwa never got a chance to display the ferocity that he’s capable of as the two clinched early and Oezdemir landed a short left hook that knocked the contender off balance. It’s rare to see such power from such a short range, but Oezdemir landed hard and right above the ear which sent Manuwa stumbling back before Oezdemir literally ran him over. It took Rumble and Gus two rounds a piece to finish Manuwa, Oezdemir finished the top three light heavyweight in less than one minute.
Oezdemir is in an interesting and fluid situation with this victory. If Jones is chasing a superfight, then Oezdemir could try to get an interim shot with Gus. If Jones does face the Mauler however, there aren’t many match-ups that make sense for the the LHW newcomer. The only opponent that would make some sense would be Rua if he can get past Ovince Saint-Preaux. Oezdemir’s quick knockouts give him the appearance of Rumble Johnson’s heir apparent but they also make his skillset hard to read as a whole. A test with Rua would be a nice chance to show more of his skillset and add a legend’s name to his resume. Meanwhile, Manuwa likely needs a break after the vicious knockout; he was flirting with a boxing match against David Haye but that’s likely out the window. For Manuwa, Cormier might seem like a logical opponent as both are high ranked, just lost and were near crossing each others’ paths anyway. Another intriguing possibility would be Glover Texeira, who recently lost to Alexander Gustaffson.
Robbie Lawler vs Donald Cerrone:
Robbie Lawler and Donald Cerrone put on an early show, just as expected. The only disappointment in Lawler’s split-decision win was that there weren’t two more rounds of action. Ruthless lived up to his moniker to start the fight, absolutely rushing Cowboy to catch the notoriously slow starter. It took Cerrone half a round to regain his bearings and fight back, but when he did it was vintage Cowboy. While the former champion winged power strikes and pressed forward, Cerrone fought with precision and proved comfortable both at distance and up close. Lawler effectively took the second round off, allowing Cerrone to really get a rhythm and pour on offense from all angles but the Ruthless approach returned in the third round. The third round virtually mirrored the first, with Lawler doing heavy damage early and Cerrone fighting back as the round wore on. This was a close decision victory, but Lawler controlling the first halves of two rounds was enough to take the fight. The third round ended with both men trading blows in the pocket however, Robbie’s got an extra gear as wars of attrition wear on and Cerrone looked game for the exchanges. Unfortunately, it was only a three round fight so the potential for yet another classic from the perpetual POTN fighters didn’t quite reach that level of excitement.
Lawler is the logical choice to rematch Woodley for the title by process of elimination. The rest of the top five is coming off of losses to either Woodley or Maia and the next ranked fighter with a victory is Neil Magny who has a similar skillset to Maia. Meanwhile there are two fighters with clear victories over BOTH Woodley and Maia (who I repeat, have cleared out the top five between the two of them) but the UFC let both men walk in the past. Rory MacDonald with even one win would have a more valid claim to a title shot than anyone in the top five of the division, having absolutely controlled Woodley in their first meeting. Cerrone is still very much in the mix of things but has back to back losses to Jorge Masvidal and Ruthless Robbie now. Cowboy could look to fight Maia off of the loss, but why not keep chasing fight of the night bonuses? Carlos Condit is another joy to watch striking and he’s always game for a fight; with Condit overdue for an opponent it seems like a good time to propose Cowboy take on the Natural Born Killer.
The new Featherweight champion called out Holly Holm as her next opponent and that fight seems like a perfect match-up. Cyborg spent years trying to get a catchweight bout with Ronda Rousey who continually dismissed and disrespected the Featherweight. With Rousey all but done in MMA, taking on the woman that knocked Ronda off of the mountain top seems like a fair consolation. Cat Zingano is waiting in the wings as well, but should get back in the octagon and log a victory before getting that shot. Evinger proved herself a worthy opponent here but is a rightful 135 lbs competitor. She’s an Invicta champion who had a 10-0-1 record entering the bout and deserves a top ten opponent as she returns to her rightful weight class. A bout with ninth ranked Liz Carmouche would pit two veterans against each other with a chance to spark a climb up toward the top of the list.
Tyron Woodley vs Demian Maia (Welterwelight Title):
The curious case of Tyron Woodley is one in which he’s equal parts impressive shutting down world class fighters with specializations and equal parts completely boring as he practically never takes advantage of openings or opportunities to shift from a completely defensive fight to being the aggressor. For twenty five minutes, Woodley proved impossible to take down against the best grappler in all of MMA. Woodley stopped over 20 take down attempts but couldn’t muster more than 60 strikes throughout the entire fight. Maia meanwhile had no tools or adjustments to make, instead diving helplessly at Chosen One’s legs but being overpowered every time. Maia couldn’t trap a leg and simply took damage with every attempt. He had no effective striking at distance and ended the fight with an eye swollen shut and not even a moral victory to point to as a sign he could come back and win a rematch some day. This was effectively the end of his title hopes as Dana White was livid at the boring bout and Maia now has claim to two title matches that rank among the least entertaining in UFC history.
The Chosen One was expected to draw George St. Pierre in his next defense, but Dana White rewarded that bout to Michael Bisping in light of the lackluster Welterweight title fight. As previously mentioned, Robbie Lawler is a reasonable opponent only because there’s nobody else. The most interesting opponent for Woodley is probably Jorge Masvidal. Masvidal is a high level striker with a granite chin and great wrestling to boot. He’d provide Woodley with an opponent that won’t stick to a losing strategy for 25 minutes and he has the hands to actually test Woodley, who has been outstruck in his past. Unfortunately Masvidal is coming off of a loss to Maia and has intimated that Stephen Wonderboy Thompson is avoiding a match-up as well. So Masvidal likely needs another win to get the shot. Maia has beaten nearly everyone in the division that isn’t the champion and with Lawler likely in the title fight, Maia is left with Donald Cerrone and Colby Covington as the highest ranked opponents he could challenge next.
Daniel Cormier made every adjustment he could off of his previous loss to Jon Jones. Cormier fought off wrist control, rolled through the takedowns and he used great head movement to force Jones to focus on body and legwork. It simply wasn’t enough for the greatest of all time. Jon Jones showed an incredible gameplan, stepping away and letting Cormier walk onto non-stop kicks to the legs and bodywork. Jones threw hooks, straights, knees and kicks to Cormier’s body for two rounds. In the first round, the leg and body work kept Cormier at bay long enough to take the round. Cormier had moments in the round, knocking Jones’ mouthpiece out with an uppercut and landing heavy blows in the last 20 seconds or so of the bout; but it was a round to Jones. Cormier road that late momentum into an effective second round. Jones stuck to game plan, landing low volume to the head but constantly peppering Cormier with body shots. Jones attempted a single head kick in the first two rounds and just a slight slow down in the second, meant Cormier came on strong and won the round. The third round however saw a turn. Jones opened up even more volume to the lower half of Cormier. He landed a straight left to the body that brought Cormier’s hands down, then followed the separation by letting Cormier walk onto another kick, this time a left kick to the head. Cormier’s heart was incredible as he tried to survive but Jones refused to be denied. Jones knocked Cormier down and used devastating ground and pound to lock up the TKO. It was Cormier looking the best he’s looked in years but Jon Jones proved his status.
Jones quickly called out Brock Lesnar but the logistics of making that fight happen seem questionable thanks to Lesnar not being in the USADA testing pool. The more reasonable answer is for Jones to fight against the one man who some fans believe bested Bones. That means it’s finally time for Jones vs Gustaffson part two and thanks to the classic level of that first bout, it will likely set the MMA world on fire. There’s no need for the super fight with Lesnar, at least not yet. Jones has a rematch with Gus and then perhaps a defense against Oezdemir before he can effectively say that he’s cleaned out two generations of Light Heavyweight contenders including a number of all time greats. Cormier is the fighter who might benefit most from a move up to Heavyweight. He was a dominant heavyweight to begin with, but left the division so his friend Cain could lord over it. Cain Velasquez however, lost his belt to Fabricio Werdum and has been injury stricken ever since. Cormier represents an interesting opponent for all of the top dogs in the Heavyweight division. He’d prove challenging to Overeem, JDS and even the current champion Stipe Miocic. He might not be able to surpass Jon Jones, but there’s a route to undisputed UFC gold if he continues to have a hunger to be the champion.
The month of July started with a fight of the year in Justin Gaethje defeating Michael Johnson and it closed with the conclusion of arguably the greatest rivalry in MMA history. Four titles were handed out by the end of the month and yet it seems like there are major questions about what happens next in some divisions. Michael Bisping is fighting a Welterweight for the Middleweight title because Robert Whitaker is hurt; Tyron Woodley doesn’t have any great match-ups to defend his title; Jones has Gus but the next man in line, Volkan Oezdemir is stuck in limbo; and while those fighters are left in awkward match-up situations, Demetrius Johnson is fighting Ray Borg to Dana White’s blatant dismay. The UFC has let Gegard Mousasi, Rory MacDonald, Phil Davis, Ryan Bader and Kyoji Horiguchi all leave while they were high ranked in their respective divisions. It’s hard to imagine this lack of options for fighters had the UFC focused more on their divisional depth and less on star power from faces like Sage Northcutt, wrestlers like CM Punk or PED scandalized former stars like Brock Lesnar. You can’t have a superfight without an audience and none of the UFC’s champions or up and comers will garner major fame without compelling match-ups. The need for new names is a gift and a curse however. There’s a void to be filled and a fighter like Volkan Oezdemir or Robert Whitaker could make a fast rise thanks to the cracks in the divisions. Brandon Moreno and Sergio Pettis are trying to pull that off for a shot at Demetrius Johnson this weekend. It may be time for a new generation of fighters to rise not just in one division, but across the UFC’s many divisions. Yet while a changing of the guard seems overdue; the pound for pound king has only just returned and his reign might be the last remnant of bygone era when all is said and done.