This December, the Octagon will make its first trip to Toronto in over three years. The last three times the Air Canada Centre has hosted a UFC event, the light heavyweight title was on the line, and the same division will headline on December 10th. Jon Jones will not be the one defending the title in the main event however, as his myriad of issues outside the cage have him on the sidelines pending hearings with the NSAC and USADA. Instead, Daniel Cormier will be making the second defense of the belt he won in Jones’ stead. His foe will be the man he captured the belt against in the first place, Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson. While the two men have fought before, their rematch appears to have a different dynamic to it. Cormier is no longer striving to win his first UFC championship, had a difficult battle with Alexander Gustafsson later in 2015, and his only action since was a tepid decision over Anderson Silva in a hastily thrown together match at UFC 200. Still, he has the edge of beating Rumble before, and knowing he was able to survive a level of punching power that few in MMA have been able to. On the other hand, Rumble has looked even more dangerous since losing to Cormier in their first meeting. He controlled Jimi Manuwa with his wrestling for a round before knocking him out, had Ryan Bader terrified from the opening bell and quickly scored a KO with ground strikes, and then demolished Glover Teixeira with a perfect uppercut in just 13 seconds. Their performances could indicate that Cormier has plateaued as a fighter — and at 37, that time is coming if he hasn’t already reached it — while Johnson keeps improving, and coupled with how their first bout went down, makes this a very interesting rematch. The betting odds in their first fight are also worth noting. Cormier opened a slight -130 favorite for their UFC 187 encounter (with Johnson at +110), but it was Rumble was closed the -120 favorite, with the comeback on Cormier at +100. Despite Cormier scoring a finish in that bout, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him close as a slight underdog once again, especially considering just how dominant Johnson has looked in his last three fights. The normal pattern would be that the defending champion — both by virtue of being defending champion, and because of their first result — would get more support this time around, but that remains to be seen. Before the public can take this fight in whichever direction they see fit, the opening odds have been released by MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas today at 5Dimes Sportsbook: ——————– UFC 206 December 10, 2016 Air Canada Centre Toronto, Ontario UFC Light Heavyweight Title (c) Daniel Cormier -115 Anthony Johnson -115 Over 1.5 -175 Under 1.5 +135 ——————– Brad’s Analysis: The first thing to not here is that the opening line is using a 30-cent margin instead of the normal 40. That means for those of you who like to wait for lines to tighten before making any plays, you’ll have to hold off until a week or two before the fight. Anyone looking to get a play in early is at an advantage versus the price you’d normally have to pay though, even if just by five cents. As far as the fight goes, this is just as difficult to call as the last time. I picked Rumble to walk out with the belt at UFC 187 because I was pretty sure that he would land on Cormier, and I didn’t expect ‘DC’ to be able to survive. Well, one of those things happened. Johnson definitely landed, even launching Cormier across the cage at one point, but was unable to score a stoppage. Once that happened, I thought he would give up, but Johnson surprised me by landing big again in round two. Even in round three he was able to score a takedown after absorbing quite a bit of punishment in the second. Eventually Cormier got him to quit in the third and secured the rear-naked choke, but it shouldn’t be a completely disheartening performance for Johnson. Rumble knows he can land on Cormier. We all do at this point. On the feet, DC isn’t exactly a defensive savant, and because of that he excels when he can get into the clinch and grind opponents down, leading to the eventual takedowns and smothering top game. Heading into their first fight, nobody could have known that Cormier had the chin we now know he has. However, at 37 and with a few more tough performances under his belt (including also getting dropped by Gustafsson) will he still be able to absorb the same kind of shots? Johnson would also be wise to mix up his attack in this fight. 90% of his strikes in their first meeting were to Cormier’s head. Changing the target is a good way to open up cleaner strikes to the head, but also remember that Anderson Silva was able to hurt DC with a kick to the body at UFC 200, so there could be bigger dividends. Rumble throwing naked kicks to the body may not be the best course of action, since that could lead to easy takedown opportunities for Cormier, but switching levels with his hands and adding a few kicks to combinations could work if he can’t put DC away early. Of course, this is all moot if Cormier can get inside and turn this into a prolonged struggle like their first bout. Johnson has excellent takedown defense, but DC’s persistence will eventually score him takedowns, and from there he can begin to tire Rumble out. To do that, Cormier has to play with fire trying to close the distance, but we basically know how the fight will play out over the long term if he is able to. Johnson has shown an ability to shuck off takedowns with extreme ease if he’s the one controlling the fight (as we’ve seen in the Phil Davis fight, and several other times in his career), so the key for him will be getting to the point where Cormier tries to close the distance from too far out. That means he has to be the aggressor, as if he lets DC push forward there will be to many entry angles to clinches and takedowns that will wind up with Johnson’s back against the cage getting worn down. I feel like Rumble is capable of making the right adjustments, but it’s difficult to shake this idea that if he can’t put Cormier away early we know how the fight goes. It’s difficult to bet against a very likely path to victory (DC grappling) when we’ve seen the opposing path (Johnson KO) already fail in a previous meeting. So at this point I have to pass on a side and hope we get some big movement one way or another.
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