UFC pound-for-pound superstar Jon ‘Bones’ Jones recaptured the undisputed light-heavyweight title with a stunning knockout of champion Daniel Cormier, then turned his sights on former heavyweight champion and WWE superstar Brock Lesnar.
American pair Jones and Cormier battled toe to toe through two closely contested rounds at UFC 214 in Anaheim before the challenger made the crucial breakthrough in the third to hand the former Olympic wrestler the first stoppage loss of his career.
A huge head kick from Jones sent Cormier staggering across the octagon and, once the shaken champion fell to the canvas, Jones rained down a torrent of ground strikes to force referee John McCarthy to stop the contest at 3:01 of the third round.
Daniel Cormier has been a model champion, a model husband, a model father, a team-mate, leader, and I aspire to be a lot more like that man because he’s an amazing human being.Jon Jones
It capped a remarkable redemption story for Jones, who was stripped of his title after being involved in a hit-and-run incident in 2015, and then stripped of the interim title a year later after failing an anti-doping test at UFC 200.
After his stunning knockout win, an emotional Jones said: “It feels unbelievable. It’s a surreal moment.
“I know it hasn’t been easy to root for me, but I have had the most loyal fans ever. I love you all, thank you so much.
“We know that he likes to dip his head to the left and we were banking on him to instinctually dip that way sooner or later. I didn’t throw many high kicks, but I surprised him with that one and it did the job.”
Despite the heated rivalry between the pair, Jones looked to bury the hatchet after two years of bad blood.
“I want to take this time to thank Daniel Cormier for being my biggest rival and motivator,” he said.
“He has absolutely no reason to hang his head. He has been a model champion, a model husband, a model father, a team-mate, leader, and I aspire to be a lot more like that man because he’s an amazing human being.
“Unfortunately, we were opponents, but outside of that he is a champion for the rest of his life.”
I don’t even know what happened. I guess I got kicked in the head. Ah man, I’m so disappointed.Daniel Cormier
A tearful and still wobbly Cormier fought back tears as he struggled to come to terms with his defeat.
“I thought the fight was going well,” he admitted.
“I don’t even know what happened. I guess I got kicked in the head. Ah man, I’m so disappointed.
“I guess if he wins both fights there is no rivalry, so I don’t know [what’s next].”
Jones certainly knew what he wanted next, however, as he returned to the microphone to call out WWE superstar - and former UFC heavyweight champion - Brock Lesnar.
“Brock Lesnar. If you want to know what it feels like to get your a** kicked by somebody who weighs 40lbs less than you, meet me in the octagon!” he declared.
In the night’s co-main event, chants of “boring” rung around the arena as Tyron Woodley cruised to a unanimous five-round decision win against Demian Maia to retain his UFC welterweight title.
Maia failed to land a single takedown in 21 attempts as Woodley’s defensive wrestling nullified the Brazilian’s jiu jitsu attack in a tactical bout that saw just 86 total strikes landed across the 25-minute contest.
And in the third title fight of the night, Brazilian powerhouse Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino claimed the vacant UFC women’s featherweight title with a third-round stoppage of American Tonya Evinger.
Justino dominated from the start, landing punishing strikes with hands and feet throughout the contest. But bantamweight Evinger, who stepped up 10lbs to take the title fight at a higher weight class, showed grit and heart in abundance as she soaked up the punishment for two full rounds in a bid to take the fight into the championship rounds.
But a huge knee to the face in the third round finally broke her resistance as she dropped to the canvas and referee Mike Beltran waved off the bout, crowning Justino UFC champion in the process.
Elsewhere on the card, fan-favourite American veterans Robbie Lawler and Donald Cerrone served up a three-round thriller, with Lawler edging the decision on the scorecards.
But it was a night to forget for British light-heavyweight star Jimi Manuwa. The world number three was knocked out in just 42 seconds by surging Swiss contender Volkan Oezdemir in the opening bout of the main card.
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