Five months after an impromptu, press-conference brawl, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and contender Daniel Cormier return to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on January 3 (10 P.M. EST, Pay Per View), to finally settle their score at UFC 182.
With the 205-pound championship on the line, both Jones (20-1, 14-1 UFC) and Cormier (15-0, 4-0 UFC) will bring finely tuned game plans into the Octagon for one of the most anticipated bouts in UFC history.
Jones, who is fighting for the first time since UFC 172, enters the contest in the midst of an 11-fight win streak, the last seven of which have been part of his record-setting title-defense run. One of the most creative fighters in contemporary mixed martial arts, Jones combines a strong Greco-Roman wrestling base with a varied striking attack that includes spinning elbows, shoulder strikes and axe kicks. He also has an impressive submission game to complement his 84.5-inch reach.
For Cormier, it's all about wrestling, as the undefeated, two-time Olympian takes his first crack at UFC gold on the heels of four straight victories inside the Octagon. Making his first appearance since UFC 173, Cormier has looked sharp at 205 pounds after beginning his career at heavyweight, but he will face his most difficult test to date in Jones, a fighter far more accomplished than his previous opponents.
The story of the fight will likely come down to Cormier's ability to push forward inside of Jones' reach. And while the champion has the tools to keep Cormier at a distance, Jones will likely engage at close range, where his knees and elbows can do effective damage.
Ultimately, this contest will go the distance. And after 25 minutes of brutality, the UFC will crown a new light heavyweight champion, as Daniel Cormier grinds his way to victory on the strength of takedowns and ground-and-pound.
Co-main event: Donald Cerrone vs. Myles Jury
A perennial contender in the lightweight division, Cerrone (25-6 1 NC, 12-3 UFC) has never looked better, after stringing together five consecutive wins, four of which have come by way of submission or knockout. Cerrone now looks to advance up the 155-pound ladder, and a win over the undefeated Jury (15-0, 6-0 UFC) might be enough to secure a title shot in 2015.
Fighting out of San Diego's Alliance MMA, Jury is a versatile striker with solid wrestling and Jiu Jitsu. During his most recent performance, a first-round knockout of former Pride champion Takanori Gomi, Jury demonstrated improved boxing and a higher fight IQ. And against Cerrone, Jury will need to put together his best stuff to take the win.
Expect Jury to push forward to nullify Cerrone's Muay Thai, moving the fight to the cage wall. Jury will pressure and grind against the fence, but in the third round, Cerrone will come from behind to land the knockout kick.
Brad Tavares vs. Nate Marquardt
A battle of middleweights, this contest pits Marquardt (33-13-2, 11-6 UFC), an accomplished grappler, against Tavares (12-3, 7-3 UFC), who is known for exchanging heavy leather.
Marquardt, who returned to the 185-pound division in 2014 after two years at welterweight, is one of the more experienced athletes on the UFC roster, and a veteran of 15 years as a pro MMA fighter.
Tavares, a product of The Ultimate Fighter, has lost two straight and desperately needs a win to remain relevant and keep his job with the UFC.
Look for Tavares to come out swinging early and connect on some big punches. He may even knock Marquardt down, but eventually Tavares will leave a hole open on the ground and Marquardt will score the submission win.
Louis Gaudinot vs. Kyoji Horiguchi
An intriguing matchup at 125 pounds, this battle between Gaudinot (6-3 1 NC, 1-2 1 NC UFC) and Horiguchi (14-1, 3-0 UFC) could likely propel the winner into the flyweight top 10.
For Gaudinot, a win is crucial as his most recent victory against Phil Harris was overturned after failing a drug test. Horiguchi, who is undefeated inside the Octagon, is looking for his fourth straight win in the UFC, after earning a first-round TKO in his most recent outing.
Expect Gaudinot to come out swinging and look for a takedown, while Horiguchi counters and avoids grappling exchanges with takedown defense.
And, some time in the third round, look for Horiguchi to score the TKO.
Hector Lombard vs. Josh Burkman
It's been six years since Burkman (27-10, 5-5 UFC) last competed inside the Octagon, but after collecting nine victories outside the UFC, he makes his return against sixth-ranked Lombard (34-4-1 1 NC, 3-2 UFC), one of the most feared fighters in the welterweight division.
Coming off a dominant decision victory over Jake Shields at UFC 171, Lombard was forced from an August bout against Dong Hyun Kim, citing a herniated disc, and has waited for an opponent ever since.
Burkman appeared to be the only fighter willing to step in against the Cuban, a former Olympian in Judo, and while his return to the UFC is a feel good story of redemption and revival, he will not present much of a challenge for Lombard.
Expect Lombard to finish this fight early, becoming the first person to stop Burkman via TKO.