Cormier claims title, calls out Jones at UFC 187
Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
LAS VEGAS — If Jon Jones ever wants his UFC title back, it looks like he’ll have to go through a familiar foe.
Daniel Cormier, who came up short in a light heavyweight title bid against Jones (21-1) at UFC 182 on Jan. 3, claimed the vacant belt on Saturday, submitting Anthony Johnson via rear-naked choke at the 2:39 mark of the third round. The title fight headlined UFC 187 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena.
After dragging Johnson (19-5) into a turtled position near the fence, Cormier hopped on his back and sunk in the choke. Johnson eventually tapped the canvas with the palm of his hand, alerting referee John McCarthy he was done.
The 205-pound title was up for grabs, as the UFC stripped Jones, 27, on April 28 after he was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run incident in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was the first time the UFC has stripped a champion due to disciplinary reasons and snapped Jones’ divisional record of eight consecutive title defenses. He remains under indefinite suspension.
Johnson was originally scheduled to challenge Jones for the title at UFC 187. When the UFC placed Jones under suspension, Cormier was pegged as a replacement.
Immediately after the win, the first comment Cormier (16-1) made was to Jones.
“Jon Jones, get your s— together,” Cormier said. “I’m waiting for you.”
UFC president Dana White was noncommittal about the possibility of a Jones-Cormier rematch, especially in light of Jones’ situation.
“Obviously, we’ve got to see how this thing plays out,” White said. “We’ll figure it out. I don’t like making fights or even thinking about making fights after a fight happens. So, we’ll figure it out soon.”
Cormier’s win was not without an element of drama. Less than 30 seconds into the contest, Johnson floored the former Olympic wrestler with an overhand right.
The punch sent Cormier reeling into the canvas and was the first time any fighter has recorded a knockdown against him. Cormier managed to pop up quickly and latch himself onto Johnson moments later, when “Rumble” stepped forward with a wild, right-hand haymaker.
Cormier slowed the fight down further with a takedown later in the round, but he couldn’t keep Johnson down. After a long stalemate along the fence, Johnson created a small bit of space and threw a left head kick that finally forced Cormier backward. Cormier would secure another takedown before the bell, but it was clearly Johnson’s round.
Johnson’s aggression worked against him in the next frame, however, as Cormier was able to get in under his hips after ducking under a combination. He lifted Johnson clean off the mat and carried him to the center of the Octagon, where he slammed him down and immediately moved into his guard.
The rest of the second round was all Cormier, as he worked for a kimura on Johnson’s left arm before eventually focusing on elbows from the top. He opened a cut with an elbow late while racking up approximately 3½ minutes of control time.
Johnson, who was released by the UFC in 2012 for missing weight, said he expected that type of game plan from Cormier and took nothing away from it.
“He did everything I thought he was going to do,” Johnson said. “He’s beast. He talked a lot, and he backed it up. I have no excuses. He was the better man. I have nothing but respect.”
The third round was mostly one-sided in Cormier’s favor, although Johnson did score a takedown early. Fatigue started to set in on the Blackzilians light heavyweight, though, and he eventually lost the position battle that would lead to the submission finish. It if the fourth time Johnson has been submitted, all of which have come via rear-naked choke.
Cormier, 36, dropped to the 205-pound division last year. He held an undefeated record at heavyweight but did not wish to challenge his American Kickboxing Academy teammate, Cain Velasquez, for the UFC heavyweight title.
Last August, Cormier and Jones were involved in a public brawl while promoting their title fight in the MGM Grand lobby. The Nevada State Athletic Commission eventually fined both men for their participation in the incident. Cormier’s striking coach, Javier Mendez, said there is unfinished business between the two.
“That is not done. Those two are not finished,” Mendez told ESPN.com.