Before Spike TV, Fox Sports, UFC Fight Pass, Facebook, and any other channels the UFC has shown preliminary fights on, pay-per-view events used to be judged just by the fights that took place on the main card. By that scale, UFC 187 was the best PPV in a long, long time. Each of the five PPV bouts delivered in one way or another. In the main event, Daniel Cormier withstood some heavy strikes from Anthony Johnson early in the first round before getting his grappling game going. The second round followed a similar pattern, with ‘Rumble’ landing some heavy kicks before the former Olympian was able to close the distance and really assert himself. By the end of the second round, the outcome of the bout seemed clear, and even Johnson’s cornerman Henry Hooft was imploring him to keep fighting. His please fell on deaf ears however, as Cormier was able to do as he pleased in the third round, which ended up being the fight’s last. After taking his opponent’s back for a second time in the round, Cormier locked in the rear-naked choke and finished the bout.
The biggest thing gleaned from this fight was that Cormier possesses an incredible chin. He bounced right back up after being dropped early, and ate big shots from ‘Rumble’ at several other points in the contest, including some heavy head kicks. It seems unlikely that any fighter can stop Cormier by TKO if it didn’t happen in this bout. Beating him will require winning at least three rounds. Of course, Jon Jones was already able to accomplish this, and that’s the spectre hanging over the title Cormier currently holds. Until the former champion returns and Cormier rematches him, the “undisputed” tag attached to his title is very much disputed. In the meantime, Ryan Bader seems perfectly willing to step in as a title challenger, taking full advantage of Jon Jones’ absence and creating quite the scene at the post-fight press conference. Cormier/Bader is a fight that was already booked, and Cormier was approximately a -700 favorite, but add a little drama to the mix and suddenly it becomes a much more palatable fight for Cormier in the interim. On the other hand, Chris Weidman’s next title challenger — whether it be Luke Rockhold or ‘Jacare’ — will inspire far more interest. Weidman bested yet another Brazilian legend, this time absorbing an early salvo from Vitor Belfort before scoring a first round takedown and making it academic. Much was made about Belfort’s changed physique from his 2013 head-kicking spree, but he took much the same approach with Weidman as he did during that stretch, blitzing the champion early and looking for the knockout. Much like Cormier, Weidman is blessed with a granite chin, and simply allowed Belfort to get his shots off and wait for the flurry to subside. Once that happened, he finished a takedown beautifully, quickly transitioned to mount, and unleashed ground-and-pound that forced Belfort to turtle up and wait for Herb Dean to step in.
Either Rockhold or ‘Jacare’ would be a far more compelling challenger for Weidman than Belfort was in the eyes of many, as each possesses dangerous striking but also the grappling game that Belfort so clearly lacked in comparision to the champion. Rockhold is the more likely choice for the title shot, as he presents the bigger drawing potential and there seems to be some animosity built up already. Rockhold’s injury history is a bit disconcerting, but that’s where ‘Jacare’ is a more than capable second option. Facing a late replacement in John Makdessi, Donald Cerrone was absolutely clinical, destroying his opponent’s lead leg with kicks before moving upstairs and catching Makdessi with several head kicks. The Canadian landed some good jabs of his own, but his flaw was in his approach. Letting Cerrone lead a fight is going to be a recipe for disaster for almost every lightweight out there. Next for Cerrone should be a lightweight title shot, as he is the only top contender at 155 who can stay healthy aside from Benson Henderson, and Cerrone got the judges’ nod when those two fought earlier this year. Cerrone’s first fight with Rafael dos Anjos was competitive, and I see no reason the return match between the two wouldn’t be. By far the best fight of the night, and perhaps the best fight of the year thus far, was the one round slobberknocker between Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne. The former heavyweight champion continued his amazing resurgence by rocking Browne early and often in their bout. Browne managed to withstand a tremendous amount of punishment, trying to answer back whenever possible, and actually rocking Arlovski at one point. Browne was so compromised from the damage he took that he couldn’t even maintain his balance to ground and pound Arlovski. Once the Belarussian got back to his feet, he landed pinpoint combinations on Browne against the fence, culminating in a brutal right uppercut, right straight combination that crumpled the Hawaiian. It is very possible that Arlovski could have earned a title shot with this victory, given his popularity and the story the UFC could sell with him in the title bout.
Opening up the PPV card was a fun fight between Joseph Benavidez and John Moraga. The fifteen minute affair was punctuated by some heated exchanges on the feet, and Benavidez getting and controlling top position to seal rounds. Moraga was competitive throughout, but this fight showed the clear divide between the elite of the flyweight division, and merely the very good. Benavidez has long belonged to the former group, and Moraga falls in the latter group. Having lost twice to Demetrious Johnson already, it’s unlikely Benavidez will get a title shot coming off this win, so he’ll continue to serve as a bit of a gatekeeper to title shots. Anyone who can manage to best Benavidez will instantly earn a chance at the belt, but I’m not sure who in the division fits that description. Next up for the UFC, is a trip down to Brazil for UFC Fight Night 67. The odds for the main card of that event have already been released, and the full betting odds will follow early in the week.