Daniel Cormier will put his light heavyweight title on the line for the first time this weekend as he faces Alexander Gustafsson in the main event of UFC 192 from Houston.
Cormier won the belt in May with a submission victory over Anthony Johnson, and now he’ll look to add Gustafsson’s name to his résumé before hopefully earning a rematch with former champion Jon Jones in 2016.
Unfortunately, the card took a hit Friday when the co-main event between former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks and knockout puncher Tyron Woodley had to be scrapped due to weight-cutting issues for Hendricks.
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Both fighters know a big win on Saturday night could secure the next title shot, so there’s plenty on the line in this welterweight showdown.
Former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans also is back in action this weekend for the first time in nearly two years after dealing with multiple knee surgeries that kept him out of fighting. Evans is finally healthy again, but he’s got a tough test in front of him as he takes on Ryan Bader, who looks to add a fifth win in a row this weekend.
With a title fight, a stacked undercard and a preliminary card filled with top 10 fighters and several “Performance of the Night” winners, UFC 192 promises to be one of the best shows of the year. Even with Hendricks-Woodley scratched, we’ve still got four good reasons to watch on Saturday night (prelims on FS1 start at 8 p.m. ET).
Now that he’s light heavyweight champion, Cormier has a vested interest in the performance of the cards he headlines, and so he’s got plenty of motivation to give viewers a reason to tune in.
The fight will serve as Cormier’s first title defense after his long road to the title finally yielded a championship earlier this year. Now that he has the title, the last thing he wants is to surrender it.
Cormier can’t promise that fans tuning in on Saturday night are going to get a five-round war as much as witness his progression as one of the best fighters in the world.
"It’s compelling to see I’m continuing to get better and I’m distancing myself from this division," Cormier told FOX Sports. "It could be tough if I allow it to be tough. I’m not going to allow him to get into his comfort zone. I’m going to make him fight where he’s uncomfortable for 25 minutes if that’s what it takes.
"If it’s a one-sided beating, it will be on my side. If it’s a war, it will be on both sides, but I will still get my hand raised."
Man of War
While Cormier is predicting a lopsided win in the main event, his opponent, Gustafsson, expects the exact opposite.
Gustafsson is preparing for his fourth consecutive main event, and over his past three fights the Swedish light heavyweight has gobbled up two ‘”Fight of the Night” bonuses as well as a “Performance of the Night” for his fight against Jimi Manuwa.
Gustafsson has no fear of slugging it out with Cormier for five hard rounds, if that’s what it takes, and he actually believes that’s what is going to happen when the two of them finally step into the Octagon to duke it out.
While he might be bloodied up and bruised when it’s over, Gustafsson says the end result is still the only thing he cares about. But he promises a show for everyone watching, and that his hand will be raised in the end.
"A war," Gustafsson said when asked what to expect when he fights Cormier. "A five-round war and they’ve got a new world champion."
No Love Lost
Rashad Evans may like Ryan Bader off the mat, but once this fight starts, it’s all business.
The light heavyweight showdown between Evans and Ryan didn’t necessarily start out with a ton of heat between the fighters, but over the past few weeks, things have ratcheted up a few notches.
It all started on social media, where Evans and Bader took a few pot shots at each other back in early August. Bader probably won the exchange when he posted a picture of Evans out of peak shape and told the former champion that he’s starting to look like he has Cormier’s body.
It continued on Thursday at Ultimate Media Day in Houston when Evans finished an interview, stood up and shouted across the dais at Bader, “I’m going to whoop that ass!"
Evans doubled down on his prediction when speaking to FOX Sports this week, although he said if he wasn’t fighting Bader, he’d probably be rooting for him on Saturday night.
"He’s put together a pretty good win streak. If I didn’t have to fight Ryan Bader, I’d like him. He’s a good dude. I’d normally cheer for Ryan Bader because he’s a wrestler, but I’ve got to beat that ass," Evans said. "I have to."
For his part, Bader fired back at Evans with just as much power and said that the former champion was trying to convince himself he has a shot while probably feeling a little queasy inside about this matchup.
"To me, it’s insecurity. He’s insecure," Bader said. "He’s yelling at me across the media stage for what? He’s trying to copy DC (Cormier) over here."
Prelims on Fire
The preliminary fights taking place on FS1 could all be candidates to land on the main card of any other show this year, with multiple bouts that could headline the early part of the show.
The flyweights will get the marquee position when Joseph Benavidez faces Ali Bagautinov in the prelim main event, but welterweight fighter Alan Jouban believes his bout against Albert Tumenov should have gotten the top spot.
Jouban plans on showing why when he meets Tumenov in the cage Saturday night.
"This should be the main event of the prelims. This is just a barnburner type of a fight," Jouban said. "This is going to be a great fan-friendly fight. We both have a lot of knockouts and we both like to stand and bang."
The strawweight fight on the prelims also promises to be an action-packed affair as Rose Namajunas faces Angela Hill. The two fighters were roommates and training partners on "The Ultimate Fighter" and while they didn’t have a bad word to say about each other, both promised to put on a show when they face off in the Octagon.
Following her last fight against Tecia Torres in June that was largely spent defending takedowns and getting wrestled to the ground, Hill is excited for the kind of fight Namajunas will bring to her at UFC 192.
"Tecia was happy with settling and just waiting out the clock and winning that way. It was a really boring fight and the fans let us know it. It was frustrating being part of such a boring fight because that’s totally the opposite of my style," Hill said. "I think with Rose, she’s always transitioning, even if she’s grappling with me she’s always going for the finish. She’s going to try to do some damage and it definitely makes it a more interesting fight."
Namajunas had an eerily similar breakdown of Hill’s fight with Torres as well as why their fight will look nothing like it.
"It wasn’t surprising to me that Tecia vs. Angela wouldn’t make for the most exciting fight. Just because Tecia is more of an elusive fighter, she dances on the outside, whereas Angela’s more aggressive so it would create more of a cat and mouse type of deal. If the cat can’t catch the mouse, it’s kind of boring," Namajunas said.
"To me, this fight, I’m no mouse. We’re two feisty cats and we’re going to go at it for sure."