Jon Jones reclaims UFC title with TKO of Daniel Cormier

Jon “Bones” Jones celebrates after stopping Daniel Cormier in the third round of their light-heavyweight fight at UFC 214 at Honda Center.
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Jon Jones took many steps on his road to redemption, and the most important one set up his Saturday night reunion with the UFC light-heavyweight belt.

Jones saw an opening on a movement by his bitter rival, Daniel Cormier, and stepped forward to deliver a kick to the head that rocked Cormier and set up a string of creative and destructive blows that led to Jones’ third-round technical-knockout victory at Honda Center.

“I made it back, man,” Jones, 30, said in the octagon after a 30-month absence from a title fight caused by self-induced damage that included a car crash and performance-enhancing drug use. “I let my family, my parents, my co-workers down … as long as you don’t quit, it’s never over.”


Jones (23-1) was tested deeply by his replacement champion Cormier (19-2), who took over after Jones was stripped of his belt following the April 2015 car crash.

But after absorbing some heavy punches to the head by the 38-year-old fighter from San Jose — who had continually berated Jones for his personal slips — Jones answered by leaning on the universal skills that made him the youngest-ever UFC champion at age 23, who had successfully defended his belt for an eighth time by defeating Cormier by unanimous decision in January 2015.

“If you don’t win, it’s no rivalry,” an upset Cormier said.

Jones’ head kick was followed by a left kick to the gut that backed Cormier to the cage. Cormier fell down on a leg kick, and Jones pounced, hammering Cormier with 18 left-handed blows to Cormier’s head on the canvas, mostly punches. Referee John McCarthy stopped the fight 3 minutes, 1 second into the third.

“It feels unbelievable. It’s a surreal moment,” Jones said, thanking fans for their loyalty and saluting “the haters … you motivated me to prove you all wrong.”

The most vocal of those was Cormier, but Jones had warm words for the fallen champion, thanking him for “being my biggest rival and motivator. He has been a model champion, teammate, and he’s an amazing human being — a true champion for the rest of his life.”

But Jones seemed set to move on from Cormier, setting the stage for a massive possible pay-per-view in 2018 against former heavyweight chgampion and WWE performer Brock Lesnar.

“If you want to know what it feels like to get your [rear] kicked by a guy 40 pounds less than you, meet me in the octagon,” Jones said.

Earlier at UFC 214, Cris “Cyborg” Justino spread her arms apart widely after finishing her latest victim.

The pose had dual meaning, part a celebration capping Justino’s ascension to UFC champion and a look of “what took you guys so long?” to give her a crack in a division that was only created less than a year ago.

In a sharp, punishing performance, “Cyborg” stopped Tonya Evinger by third-round technical knockout to win the UFC’s vacant featherweight belt at Honda Center.

Justino (17-1) closed an onslaught of scoring blows by dropping Evinger in the third with a hard knee to the head. Justino moved in to deliver finishing-touch punches and the referee stopped the fight 1 minute, 56 seconds in.

“I don’t have words to say … ,” Justino said afterward. “ … I’ve learned fighting … I used perfect timing.”

In the same arena where Venice’s Ronda Rousey became UFC women’s bantamweight champion four years earlier, Justino closed the extended journey to her title that was delayed by a slew of factors including bickering with UFC leadership.

After winning the new featherweight belt in February, then-champion Germaine de Randamie effectively opted to surrender her belt rather than take on the dominant “Cyborg,” who trains in Orange County.

Justino displayed that dominance by landing a series of punches in the first two rounds that usually drop foes. The game Invicta fight organization 135-pound champion Evinger hung on as her hair became a tussled mess from the fatiguing blows.

In the second of three title fights on the card, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley relied on his few power punches and elusiveness to quell the plans of Brazilian submission specialist Demian Maia.

Judges awarded Woodley victory by scores of 50-45, 49-46, 49-46, and Woodley said he expects to fight former longtime champion Georges St-Pierre next on Nov. 4 at Madison Square Garden.

“I’m the best in the world, man,” Woodley said despite drawing heavy booing from fans upset at a bout that offered the fewest strikes ever thrown in a five-round UFC title fight, according to UFC analyst Joe Rogan.

Woodley landed a hard punch early in the first round that caused serious swelling under Maia’s left eye, and while the crowd jeered the inactive moments after Woodley dodged Maia’s takedown attempts, the St. Louis fighter was content to wisely cruise to victory in his third title defense.

The champion decked Maia with a second-round punch and another left Maia reduced to a desperate look of frustration on his knees during the round.

He couldn’t catch Woodley – through three rounds, Maia was 0 for 13 on takedown attempts -- and getting close meant being popped. In a defining sequence, Woodley hopped out of a Maia squeeze try around the knees in the fourth, then hammered Maia to the belly with his right fist.

Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire