This weekend’s UFC card is the most stacked we’ve seen since last November, when the promotion made its first trip to New York and Madison Square Garden.
That card had three title fights on it and featured Colorado Springs’ own Raquel Pennington (she won and sent Miesha Tate into retirement).
This week’s card in Anaheim, Calif., also has three title fights (Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones, light heavyweight; Tyron Woodley vs. Demian Maia, welterweight; Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino vs. Tonya Evinger, women’s featherweight), a bout between Air Academy High graduate Donald Cerrone and former welterweight champ Robbie Lawler, and a key light heavyweight fight between Jimi Manuwa and Volkan Oezdemir.
In other words, if you’ve got $60 to plunk down on one UFC card the entire year, take this one (or risk waiting until the promotion returns to NYC later this year).
But buyer beware, don’t hit that “Buy” button until right before the first fight on the pay-per-view portion. (You’ll see why below.)
With all of that in mind, here are five things to watch for at UFC 214.
Let's get the bad out of the way first. The biggest drawback of this card is which fight(s) will end up on the cutting-room floor because one or both fighters get hurt, get sick, check into a hospital, get arrested, do something beyond dumb, etc., etc.
They all made weight Friday, so that’s one big hurdle.
The brass at the UFC (and all of the sport’s fans) are holding their collective breath watching the days, hours and minutes tick by, praying that no one has to pull out.
Especially in the main event, a rematch between champion Cormier and challenger Jones.
Cormier pulled out of this fight in April 2016 because of a leg injury. Jones defeated Ovince St. Preux (Cormier’s replacement) in a less-than-stellar performance.
Then Jones was removed from this matchup last July ahead of UFC 200, leaving Cormier to fight Anderson Silva, a bout that drew boos from fans because of the lack of pace.
Jones also pulled out of their scheduled first fight at UFC 178 because of a leg injury.
Cerrone and Lawler have had their fight called off twice, once last fall and again about a month ago, pushing back the fight from UFC 213 to 214.
And Cyborg had two other opponents the UFC wanted her to face before being handed Evinger.
So enjoy the free card on FXX, but keep your notifications on, search vigilantly on Twitter and Facebook, and don’t order until that first fight on PPV gets going.
2. Biggest feud in sports?
OK, maybe it’s not Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants, Broncos-Chiefs/Raiders, CU-Nebraska, or Tom-Jerry, but in the world of MMA, Cormier-Jones is at the top.
These two despise each other.
Cormier doesn’t like Jones because of his repeated run-ins with the law and because of his drug issues.
Jones doesn’t like Cormier because Cormier never passes the chance to remind Jones why he doesn’t like him.
Ahead of their first bout, the two caused a ruckus that turned into a brawl in the lobby of the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas promoting what was supposed to be a fight at UFC 178. (They later met at 182 with Jones winning a unanimous decision.)
Then ahead of a press conference in May, the two nearly went to blows again.
At Wednesday’s press conference, the two did not tear down a stage (even when they faced off), but things did get heated.
Regarding Cormier’s last fight when he seemed to lose .2 pounds in less than a minute in order to make weight (possibly with the aid of a towel), Jones said: “You can forever say you are the 206.2-pound champion of the world.”
Cormier’s response: “There are a lot of things you shouldn’t be. You shouldn’t be sitting up here right now for all the (stuff) you have done. … How can you judge? You have no room to judge nobody. You sit there with your mouth shut, before I walk over there and smack you.”
And that’s the cleaned up version.
2. Nearing the end?
Cerrone is back in action for the first time since losing at home in Denver back in January.
Lawler is fighting for the first time in a year. He lost the welterweight belt to Woodley on July 30, 2016, and steps back into the cage on July 29, 2017.
Both men are in their mid 30s (Cerrone 34, Lawler 35) and have been in multiple wars.
Cerrone (32-8, 1 no contest) has been in 41 fights and one of the busiest fighters in the world. In 2016 he fought four times. Between Feb. 21, 2016, and Jan. 28, 2017, he fought five times, going 4-1.
In fact, he’s fought at least four times in four of the last five calendar years. In 2012 he only fought twice, while in 2011 he fought five times (tied for a UFC record).
Lawler has been in 39 fights (27-11, 1 NC). His battles with Carlos Condit (2016), Rory MacDonald (2015) and Johny Hendricks (2014) were all vicious, five-round affairs (the MacDonald fight ended in the fifth). Before those, he also went five rounds with Matt Brown. But then came last year’s KO loss and a lengthy layoff.
You have to wonder if the loser of this fight – especially if it’s Lawler – might be looking at stepping away for good.
A win for Cerrone would be his 20th in the UFC and tie him with middleweight champion Michael Bisping for the most in the organization.
3. Colorado connections
Cerrone isn’t the only fighter on the card with ties to Colorado and the Springs.
Cormier, a former U.S. Olympian, trained at the Olympic Training Center. He eventually went on to finish fourth at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Then there’s Drew Dober, one of the big favorites this weekend. Dober (17-8, 1 NC) has a lightweight bout with Joshua Burkman (28-15, 1 NC) in a Rocky Mountain Cup battle (that’s an MLS reference for you non-soccer fans).
Dober, originally from Nebraska, trains in Denver with Elevation Fight Team.
As of Friday afternoon, only Cyborg (-1375) and Andre Fili (-400) were bigger favorites to win than Dober (-320), according to 5Dimes.com.
4. Because it’s Cyborg
Regardless of Cyborg’s issues with PEDs, or maybe because of them, (over the winter, she tested positive for Spironolactone, but was granted a retroactive Therapeutic Use Exemption by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and back in 2011 she tested positive for the steroid stanozolol, which accounts for her one no contest), she’s a marvel to watch.
The UFC wanted her to fight inaugural women’s featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie. But de Randamie declined because of Cyborg’s drugged past. The UFC stripped the champ and made the belt vacant.
Cyborg (17-1, 1 NC) has not lost since her debut in 2005 and is 2-0 in the UFC, both wins coming via KO/TKO.
Her opponent, Evinger (19-5, 1 NC), was the reigning 135-pound champion in Invicta.
5. The best fight of the Knight?
Following his last two performances, one of the most talked about fighters in the UFC is featherweight Jason Knight.
And the best part of his fight is that it won’t cost anything to watch him.
Knight (20-2), ranked 15th in the division on UFC.com and rolling on a four-fight win streak, has had another huge test set in front of him.
He’ll face No. 3 Ricardo Lamas (17-5) in the prelim main event on FXX.
Lamas has lost three of his last seven fights. But check out the names who’ve beaten him: Jose Aldo, former featherweight champion; Chad Mendes, former title contender; and Max Holloway, current featherweight champ.
Knight TKO’d Chas Skelly in May and submitted (rear-naked choke) Alex Caceres in January. The two stoppages were his first in the UFC and have people talking.
Now, his stock is rising and could take a huge leap with a win Saturday night.
But it could also be a case of the UFC putting too much too soon in front of a rising star.