They call them the “championship rounds” for a reason, and that’s exactly when champion Jon Jones asserted himself as the dominant fighter in the cage at UFC 182 on Saturday night.
In the fourth and fifth rounds – the final two in a championship fight – Jones brought the fight to challenger Daniel Cormier.
Cormier, an undefeated fighter and former two-time U.S. Olympic wrestler who had never been taken down in an MMA fight before, found out what that feels like. Four times.
Jones dumped Cormier four separate times in the fourth round and continued that momentum in the fifth round to win a unanimous decision at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
All three judges scored the bout 49-46 in favor of the light heavyweight champion Jones. Judges Marcos Rosales and Tony Weeks gave the second round to Cormier, with judge Cardo Urso scoring the third round for him.
"Tonight, I tried to do my version of the rope-a-dope," Jones said. "I knew that I could beat him in the cardio department. Not to say he didn't earn the punches he scored, I accepted him expending his energy, and yeah, in the championship rounds, he started to break."
It is the eighth consecutive title defense for Jones, third best in UFC history behind Anderson Silva (10) and Georges St-Pierre.
The build-up for this fight was particularly nasty, with Jones and Cormier getting into a brawl at a press event last summer and then throwing verbal haymakers later that day and in the ensuing months.
"For everybody who bought a 'Break Bones' t-shirt, take it back, you wasted your money," Jones said after the fight. "I'm sorry I'm being classless right now but I don't like DC. That's why I'm being this way."
Amid all the smack talk back and forth leading into the fight, Cormier said he was looking for the man who could push him to the limit and into a war.
"He did that," Cormier said of Jones after the fight. "He did that."
Jones (20-1) entered the fight with a 12-inch reach advantage over Cormier (15-1). For the first three rounds, Cormier was able to get inside and fight in close, negating Jones' range. Cormier landed quite a few good uppercuts inside, with Jones scoring with short elbows.
"He did a good job of landing punches as I was pressuring him," Cormier said. "I didn't expect that."
It wasn't until the fourth round -- the first of those "championship rounds" -- when Jones was able to fight at his desired range. Yes, he took the fight inside as well, as he often fights in his opponents' strength areas to make a statement.
"Now we've seen twice, If you wanna bring a dogfight to Jones, he can do that, too," UFC president Dana White said.
Amid those takedowns, Jones also was able to control the clinch with superior wrist control on Cormier.
"I out-grinded him," Jones said. "I proved that he's not the king of the grind. I'm the king of the grind."
Cormier made no complaints about the final scoring of the fight. He said he fought well in the first three rounds but didn't dispute any of the judges' scoring.
"Fourth round, I took it off," Cormier said. "He won that round going away. In the fifth round, I don't think either one of us did much at all. We kind of just hugged each other."