UFC 214 Round Table: Jon Jones’ Distractions Outside the Cage, Cyborg’s Toughest Test to Date?

Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

UFC 214 is nearly upon us, and it brings with it a host of intriguing fights critical to their respective divisions. Light heavyweight, welterweight, women’s featherweight — UFC 214 is going to leave its mark on all of them.

This is, quite frankly, the event that UFC 213 should have been. Capping this year’s International Fight week, UFC 213 went off with a whimper thanks to fights falling through and frankly questionable booking. UFC 214? It’s star-studded, packed top to bottom with promising match-ups.

So of course, we have questions. More importantly, we have answers. Or at least we think we do. This week, a number of our staff members weigh in, round table style, on four key questions for UFC 214.

4. Will distractions outside the cage be Jon Jones undoing at UFC 214?

Jon Jones has gone through a public shaming due after failing a drug test and being handed a one-year suspension thanks to some off-market “dick pills.” Not to mention the recent loss of his mother, and legal troubles. Meeting arch-rival Daniel Cormier, who now wears the belt Jones once horded over like a dragon over gold, will the distractions outside the cage be Jones’ undoing at UFC 214?

Paarth Pande: Yes. He looked horrible at UFC 197, and he was facing a not-so-highly ranked opponent (Ovince St. Preux) on short notice there. He’s definitely more emotionally challenged this time around. From testing positive to the death of his mother, he’s going through a wide range of emotions. On the top of that he’s facing his toughest opponent to date, Daniel Cormier. I doubt he manages to deal with all of this.

Mike McClory: I don’t think so. I think we are now seeing the real Jon Jones, with less distractions coming into this fight than his last few. Yes, he didn’t look amazing in his return to the cage (against OSP) but I expect him to rise to the occasion, no pills required.

Jay Anderson: His undoing? No. Will they be a factor? Absolutely. Jones lost his mother just last month, after Camille Jones fought a lengthy battle with diabetes. That’s bound to take a huge toll on the fighter, as it would anyone. Then there’s the time away from the cage, brought on by the drug test failure prior to UFC 200 that earned him a one-year suspension. That’s also a factor. It does feel like if Jones is going to lose any time soon, it will be here. You have a motivated DC, a distracted (potentially), emotional Jones, and the ring-rust factor. We saw how Jones looked against OSP. Yet if he does fail, it can’t all be blamed away on distractions. Fighting is just never that simple.

Heath Harshman: If distractions didn’t derail Jon Jones in the past, they won’t now. He’s fought and defeated Cormier once before, and while he’s faced issues since that outing, Cormier has struggled at staying healthy as well. Distractions or not, Jones is the better fighter and that will be evident at UFC 214. 

Harry Davies: I don’t believe so. Jones hasn’t found himself in any sort of trouble outside the octagon for over a year now (fingers crossed). I think this is finally the time we see a Jon Jones entering the octagon on a smooth sailing path rather than a rocky road.

Dan Doherty: Jones will be fine. He’s finally letting his true personality shine and for all we know has had a clean camp. Both of those are good signs. The man is the greatest fighter of our generation and will perform as such on Saturday night.

Eddie Law: Doubt it. His legacy depends on him being ridiculously focused on this fight vs. Daniel Cormier. Now will those distractions be his undoing AFTER UFC 214? Possibly. If he wins and gets his belt back, will he go back to being the old Jones who thought he was untouchable, thought he could do no wrong, thought that the world was in the palm of his hand? Maybe. But be his undoing AT 214, no. DC will be his undoing.

3. Is Tonya Evinger the toughest test to date for Cris Cyborg?

Cris “Cyborg” Justino has been wrecking the competition for over a decade, with no losses in MMA since her professional debut in 2005. She has fought some tough competition to be sure — but is former Invicta FC bantamweight champ Tonya Evinger, who meets Cyborg at UFC 214, the Brazilian striker’s toughest test to date?

Mike McClory: Taking everything into account I would have to say yes. Evinger will be Cyborg’s toughest foe, especially with the added weight of fighting for the belt. I’d still put my money on Cyborg though.

Jay Anderson: My immediate response to this was almost to say yes, but that discounts a few fantastic fighters Cyborg has faced over the years. The biggest name that comes to mind is Marloes Coenen, of course, who Cyborg defeated twice. Then there’s Gina Carano, who actually beat Evinger back in 2007. Tonya has come a long way since then, mind you. Undefeated in almost six years (with the Kunitskaya loss being overturned to a No Contest on appeal). The toughest? Probably not. She’s close, however, easily top five.

Heath Harshman: She may not be the toughest test, as a fighter. But, it may be one of the most difficult bouts of Cyborg’a career. While the standard isn’t sky high, expect Tonya Evinger to surprise those who don’t know her and continue her UFC career. 

Harry Davies: Arguably. The only other opponent in mind is the pioneer of WMMA, Gina Carano, who was 7-0 prior to facing Cyborg in Strikeforce back in 2009. That doesn’t mean Evinger will be a push over because her gritty, grinding style will make it Cyborg’s toughest fight in the UFC to date.

Dan Doherty: She fought prime Marloes Coenen which is no easy task but if you add the pressure of fighting for a UFC belt (even if it’s a fake division) onto the challenges of facing a badass like Evinger, Tonya has to be seen as her toughest foe.

Eddie Law: Tonya Evinger will be the toughest FIGHT but not the toughest TEST. Evinger is nails tough, she can take shots and she loves the grind of a wrestling attack. She’s going to last longer than most of Cyborg’s previous opponents. To test Cyborg you need someone with some “attributes.” Height advantage, reach advantage etc. Evinger will give her problems, but nothing that should stop Cyborg from winning the fight..

Paarth Pande: No. You’re forgetting that Cyborg has faced some of the best female MMA fighters of all time, including Gina Carano, two-time Invicta FC flyweight title challenger Vanessa Porto (who holds a win over Germaine de Randamie),  and former Strikeforce bantamweight champion Marloes Coenen. Is Tonya the toughest challenge of Cyborg in the past three years? Yes. Is Tonya the strongest wrestler Cris has faced? Yes. But most are forgetting that Cris happens to be an ADCC medalist and has her own skills on ground. Her striking simply overshadows her ground game, but that doesn’t mean she cannot defend herself on ground.

2. Does Donald Cerrone make sense for Lawler, or is this a high risk, low reward fight?

Earlier this week, Pat Miletich appeared on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour and said that were he in charge, he would have steered Robbie Lawler clear of the Donald Cerrone fight at UFC 214. Cerrone, in his estimation, is a high risk, low reward opponent. A dangerous fighter better known as a lightweight who moved up and found some success before losing to Jorge Masvidal earlier this year. Agree?

Jay Anderson: That’s the sort of game that managers play, and Miletich has a point. Cerrone is ranked seventh at welterweight; you might expect Lawler to be facing someone in the top five for a quick jump back into title contention. Masvidal or Thompson wouldn’t be a bad fit in that regard. On the other hand, Lawler (and Cerrone of course) are fighter’s fighters — anywhere, anytime sort of guys. In the eyes of the fans, they might just be the biggest names in the division. Arguably, in this light, a win over Cerrone could put Lawler back in the title picture anyway. And the fans win with this one, so I have a hard time finding fault in the match-up.

Heath Harshman: Cerrone makes sense for Lawler given the landscape of the welterweight division. There aren’t a lot of top-tier talents on the verge of a title-shot, and coming off of losing his belt last year, Lawler deserves a high quality opponent. Plus, Cerrone is banged up, while Lawler has had tons of time away. The risk is always high when you fight Cerrone, but getting him at less than 100% makes the reward of getting in the title picture more than worth it for Lawler. 

Harry Davies: It had to be Lawler. Say what you want about Dana White, but he makes the fights fans want to see, and this fight is long overdue. Given what we know about ‘Ruthless’, I’m sure he doesn’t care about who he faces. Coming off a title loss you would have expected Lawler to be given a higher ranked opponent than Cerrone; whether a win puts him back into title contention purely depends on the manner that he gets it.

Dan Doherty: It made sense when it was first announced and it makes sense now, maybe more sense. Cerrone is no longer on his unbelievable run and Lawler has yet to step in the cage since his unlikely title reign was cut short. A win over Cerrone would put Lawler at the top of the surprisingly short list of contenders at 170.

Eddie Law: The Cerrone vs. Lawler fight makes ZERO fight sense. None. Lawler is coming off a title fight loss to Tyron Woodley and Cerrone is a lightweight taking bouts at welterweight. If Lawler wins, he basically stays where he is in the order of contenders. If he loses, he lost to a lightweight who was just TKO’d by Jorge Masvidal who lost to the guy fighting Woodley for the title. MMA math, ladies and gentlemen. That being said, Cowboy vs. Lawler is a FIRE FIGHT. Prepare for fireworks!!!!

Paarth Pande: The fight makes sense. Robbie Lawler hasn’t stepped in the octagon since UFC 201, almost a year ago. If Lawler wants to get back into the list of contenders then he must face someone who is both popular and has credibility backing him. Cowboy had an amazing 4-0 run at Welterweight, before being stopped by Masvidal, and also happens to be one of the most popular UFC fighters so this sounds like a good match for Ruthless.

Mike McClory: My first reaction to this fight was no but, it actually does make some sense. Cerrone and Lawler are both coming off losses and the winner of this will likely be fighting for a shot at the 170lb belt in another fight or two.

1. What’s the fight to watch at UFC 214?

UFC 214 is arguably the most stacked card of the year to date. If UFC 211 was good, then UFC 214 is stellar. Three title fights. Key bouts in multiple divisions. So what’s the fight to watch on this card?

Heath Harshman: Apart from the main card, the Jason Knight-Ricardo Lamas fight must not be missed. Originally featuring the likes of Doo Ho Choi and Chan Sung Jung, this card was loaded. The UFC has done a good job of shuffling the deck and making things work, showcasing their matchmaking skills with Knight-Lamas at UFC 214. 

Harry Davies: Woodley vs. Maia. Don’t be fooled by Woodley’s last performance against Stephen Thompson, as that match-up doesn’t bring anywhere near the best out of both men. This welterweight title fight could go either way, and that’s what makes it so exciting.

Dan Doherty: It would be Doo Ho Choi vs. Andre Fili but unfortunately the South Korean suffered another injury. With that in mind I’ll go with Manuwa-Oezdemir opening up the main card. Two heavy-hitting light heavies vying for the next shot at the title. Their relatively solid striking meeting in the cage will be interesting to watch.

Eddie Law: The fight to watch at UFC 214 is easily DC vs. Jones. Tons on the line for both men. Who goes down as the best light heavyweight ever? Is Jones the GOAT? Is DC the legit champ? Tons of questions need to be answered in this fight. Close second is Lawler vs. Cerrone.

Paarth Pande: Tonya Evinger vs Cris Cyborg. This to be honest is a better match than Cyborg vs. Megan Anderson (which was originally booked then cancelled). Tonya has never been knocked out, and Cris Cyborg has won most of her fights via TKO. Tonya is the toughest challenge Cyborg has faced since beating Marloes Coenen for the Invicta FC featherweight title. Evinger, meanwhile, is known for finishing opponents. In her nineteen career wins she has fifteen finishes. This fight will be the one to watch for.

Mike McClory: I have to go with Lawler vs Cerrone. These two always show up and I expect the pace to be fierce. I’d be surprised to see this one go the distance.

Jay Anderson: That’s a tough one to answer without saying “all of them!” Because even outside the main card title fights, there are a lot of good bouts. I want to see what Alexandra Albu looks like at strawweight. I want to see how Aljamain Sterling fares against former champ Renan Barao. I want to see the outcome of Jimi Manuwa vs. Volkan Oezdemir, which should be a title eliminator but probably won’t be the way the UFC is these days. Ultimately, however, it’s hard to go against DC vs. Jones 2. It’s the biggest grudge match the UFC has to offer, and it’s going to set the course of the light heavyweight division for the next few years.

UFC 214 takes place in Anaheim, California on Saturday, July 29 at the Honda Center. Check back with Cageside Press throughout the week and on fight night for more coverage.