UFC 182: Jones vs. Cormier Crystal Ball Predictions

This Saturday’s UFC 182 card will be headlined by perhaps the most real and heated grudge match in UFC history, between two of the most skilled and athletic fighters in MMA history. The co-main event will feature two lightweight contenders who each badly want to take the next step towards a title shot.

Beneath that, there is bout after bout with exciting veterans and rising stars, both. Simply put, the UFC is starting out 2015 with a huge, potentially thrilling pay-per-view, and we can’t wait.

Check out our analysis and predictions for some of UFC 182’s biggest matchups below, and then let us know who you’re picking in the comments section and on Twitter!

Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier

No one will try to keep Jon Jones (left) and Daniel Cormier from locking up Saturday at UFC 182. 

Each time I run this fight through my head, I come out with a different idea of who might win. On the one hand, the two-time Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier would seem like a nightmare for Jones, because the champion’s entire MMA game is based on his wrestling being superior to his opponents’.

Jones is able to strike with abandon, often throwing away the advantage of his UFC record reach and working inside, because he doesn’t believe his opponent can take him down. He’s largely been right.

With the exception of Alexander Gustafsson, no UFC opponent has been able to take Jones down. And no other opponent other than Gustafsson was also able to defend Jones’ own excellent takedowns.

It would appear that Cormier might be only the second man to be able to take away from Jones the power of deciding where the fight takes place because of his own amazing wrestling technique. However, this fight will likely not be as simple as that.

For obvious starters, Cormier is much shorter with a much shorter reach than Jones. Despite being a light heavyweight, Cormier is only about as tall as many UFC lightweights.

It wasn’t, after all, simply that Gustafsson had improved his wrestling technique in order to out-wrestle Jones. Gustafsson’s takedowns were set up with his excellent punches, which peppered and cut Jones open early, and which (along with his constant footwork) allowed him to catch Jones off guard and set up his own takedowns through most of the first four rounds.

Daniel Cormier has superior striking skills over Jones, in that he throws his hands more fluidly and in combination. The champ uses powerful, but mostly single, shots.

Will DC be able to get close enough to the much larger and longer Jones to consistently land his quick punches, or will Jones once more be able to jab (both with his hands and feet), poke and push his way out of danger, with his great striking timing and superior reach?

If Cormier can get inside on Jones, it is likely that "Bones" will make him work more to get the takedown than any of the Olympian’s past opponents, at either heavyweight or light heavyweight. Jones never went to Iowa State to wrestle, as planned, but he is one of the most effective wrestlers for MMA in the sport’s history.

Jones has never fought a wrestler as good as Cormier in the UFC, but the 36-year-old Cormier has also never faced as good of an MMA wrestler as Jones before.

If Cormier gets Jones down, it may be difficult to ride the much larger man as effectively as he did, say, the way-undersized Dan Henderson. Jones will likely be able to stand up if taken down, and Cormier hasn’t showed the same ability to lock up and sink in fight-ending submissions from the types of positions he hopes to get Jones in, as the champ himself has.

If Jones gets on top of Cormier, however, he’ll likely have a natural size and submission advantage. That’s important because scrambles may end up being key in this battle of wrestling-based fighters.

Neither man may be able to hold down the other for very long, but if one of them can snatch a neck or limb as the other tries to scramble to his feet, that could decide the fight. Right now, it would appear that only Jones has that type of submission ability.

Jones is also likely the more powerful ground striker. His punches and elbows are as mean on the ground as anyone in MMA.

However, Cormier’s steady pace, both on the feet and grapping and striking on the ground, could very well allow him to overcome Jones’ great cardio, as well as his youth advantage. The challenger will have to stay out of trouble long enough to employ a patient game plan to be successful, however.

Jones loves to pepper, frustrate and hurt opponents from the outside, before seizing openings to strike hard or go for takedowns. If Cormier lunges in without setting things up, or out of frustration, he’ll walk right into Jones’ hands.

Cormier will have to be as quick against Jones as he was against heavyweight opponents, in order to press the champ backwards with prudent aggression. Jones largely backs straight up when attacked, instead of angling out.

If Cormier can hit angles on Jones and press him backwards, the champ will open himself up to takedowns and strikes.

If Cormier were four inches taller, we’d pick him to upset the champ. As is, he still stands a great chance of beating Jones.

But it is hard to pick against the younger, larger, more experienced champion here.

Prediction: Jon Jones wins via unanimous decision.

Donald Cerrone vs. Myles Jury

The young Myles Jury (left) hopes to upset the surging vet Donald Cerrone.

The UFC 182 co-main event is another tough one to call because it is full of X-factors. Will Donald Cerrone’s breakneck pace and constant activity over the last year and a half make him sharper than Myles Jury, or simply more worn out?

Can Jury move around Cerrone and pot-shot him as effectively as he has many other opponents? Does Jury have the power to hurt Cerrone, if he connects?

Cerrone would still seem to be the better all-around striker in this fight, but if Jury proves to be even a little bit quicker or on his toes, that could make up the difference. In the end, we’re picking the man who we think may respond better to frustration and initial failure if plan "A" doesn’t pan out — the far more experienced "Cowboy" Cerrone.

Prediction: Donald Cerrone by unanimous decision.

Nate Marquardt vs. Brad Tavares

Can former world title challenger Nate Marquardt climb the middleweight ranks again?

After doing what many fighters do following a rough patch and dropping down a weight class, Nate Marquardt is back up at middleweight. His last fight snapped a three-fight losing streak at welterweight.

Marquardt claims that he feels more energetic and strong back up at middleweight, where he once challenged for a world title, and he looked like it in submitting James Te Huna with an arm bar in June.

Tavares will no doubt look to make Marquardt’s job difficult, as he has all the extra motivation he could possibly need in attempting to end a two-fight losing streak to some of the best in the 185-pound division.

Tavares is a gritty, young, strong fighter, but more than anything, he’s simply a winner. The Hawaiian has usually found ways to come out on top, but he’d likely need to wrestle Marquardt down for that to happen, and the 35-year-old’s solid wrestling will make that a tough mission.

This should be a grueling, close affair, but we’re picking Marquardt to decide where the fight goes and edge it out.

Prediction: Nate Marquardt by unanimous decision.

Hector Lombard vs. Josh Burkman

Will Hector Lombard continue to rise in the welterweight division?

Hector Lombard has looked scary since dropping down from middleweight to welterweight. He knocked Marquardt out and dominated former title challenger Jake Shields.

That said, Burkman has been one of the most consistent top welterweights in the world for the past few years. Since 2012, he’s lost only once, and has also beaten the likes of former title challenger Jon Fitch, Aaron Simpson and Gerald Harris.

Burkman is back in the UFC for the first time in over six years, and he looks to accomplish some new goals before he hangs up his gloves. Lombard is a rude welcome back, but also a huge opportunity to leapfrog contenders in the welterweight division.

Lombard should have the advantage with striking power and takedowns, but not by much. Burkman has one-punch KO power, slick submissions and some solid wrestling.

It’s anyone’s fight, but Lombard should be able to beat Burkman — in much closer fashion than most people anticipate.

Prediction: Hector Lombard by unanimous decision.