Saturday’s UFC 214 event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in Anaheim, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at Honda Center.
1 - Jon Jones
One of the main storylines behind the UFC 214 main event between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones was Cormier’s quest for redemption and to even the score with Jones. But Saturday’s redemption song was sung by Jones, who may have pulled off an impossible trifecta in his stirring third round finish of DC. He not only regained his light heavyweight title, but he re-established himself as perhaps the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time and made people forget the drama and transgressions of his past with a classy tribute to Cormier after the fight. This wasn’t a pretty rivalry outside the Octagon, and while a fight usually heals all wounds inflicted before the bout, Jones and DC needed two meetings in the Octagon to finally but the bad blood to rest, and kudos to Jones for saying all the things that needed to be said after his victory.
As for the fight itself, Jones wasn’t perfect, but that was to be expected after over a year away. But the great ones find a way to win in less than optimal situations, and in the third round, he broke open a close fight and finished it, putting him back on top in emphatic fashion.
The future is obviously bright for a fighter who just turned 30 years old, and while a possible heavyweight fight with former champion Brock Lesnar is intriguing, bouts with either Alexander Gustafsson or Volkan Oezdemir in the meantime are equally appealing. And yeah, now we can talk about Jon Jones’ fighting again. That’s a good thing for him and for the sport.
2 - Cris Cyborg
Though Cris Cyborg hasn’t been pushed to the limit on fight night for years, outside the Octagon she has been tested time and time again by the media, fans and her fellow fighters. So to see her finally wrap UFC gold around her waist on Saturday night was a victory that is a feel good story for longtime followers of the sport because while Cyborg is a fearsome force when the cage door shuts, her journey to the top has been a long one that hasn’t been as easy as she’s made her fights look. It could have been easy for her to get discouraged or distracted, but Saturday night against Tonya Evinger, she delivered a patient performance against a world-class fighter before ending the bout in decisive fashion. Holly Holm next? I’m in.
3 - Volkan Oezdemir
What is there to say about Volkan Oezdemir? There really are no words for the Swiss striker who seemingly came out of nowhere to beat Ovince Saint Preux, Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa in succession. It’s hard to think of another debut year like this, and it’s still only July. So is Oezdemir like that rookie pitcher that blows through the league the first time around simply because no one knows what kind of stuff he has? I don’t think so, because to see a confident striker like Manuwa looking for a clinch early in their fight shows me that the division is well aware of Oezdemir’s power and skill set. The thing is avoiding that power long enough to implement a fight plan. That makes Oezdemir a dangerous threat to anyone at 205 pounds, including the champion.
4 - Robbie Lawler
Robbie Lawler didn’t ease into his Octagon return against Donald Cerrone Saturday night, and his opening blitz had to make fight fans smile because it was the former welterweight champion at his most “Ruthless.” And while Cerrone evened the score in the second round (and arguably won the first round with a late surge), Lawler in the final round of a fight has to be one of the scariest men in the fight game. It was in that round that he pushed and pressed and pulled off the win. In short, Lawler showed no ill effects from his July 2016 loss to Tyron Woodley, and a rematch with the champion is certainly the fight to be made at 170 pounds before the end of the year.
5 - Brian Ortega
Since his UFC debut in 2014, Brian Ortega has only made the walk to the Octagon five times, and after another exciting win, this one over Renato Moicano in the UFC 214 Fight of the Night, we can only hope that those bouts of inactivity end. Clearly one of the top young talents in the sport, the 26-year-old Ortega needs to be active and in front of the fans because with his deadly ground game and a rapidly improving striking attack, he has star potential. And if he keeps going the way he is, he’s a serious threat to the elite in a tough division.