It appears even Daniel Cormier knows his upcoming fight against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is going to be something special.
“Jon Jones,” he announced, holding up a finger to cut short Joe Rogan’s first post-fight question. “You can’t run away from me forever. I’m the kid at the wrestling tournament that is always in your bracket. No matter where you go, boy, I’m coming. You better hurry (and fight me), because I’m getting better.”
If the sudden outburst seemed a tad out of character, perhaps Cormier was still riding high on the emotion of roughhousing Dan Henderson for nearly 14 minutes in the evening’s co-main event. Their bout wasn’t close—on paper or in practice—but in the process of slamming, pounding and eventually choking Henderson into the Land of Nod, Cormier had erased the final doubts about his qualifications as No. 1 contender.
No, the cut to 205 pounds does not negatively affect his cardio. No, it does not deprive him of the speed, power or wrestling prowess that were his calling cards at heavyweight, where he jetted to a 13-0 record prior to dropping a weight class to begin 2014. Yes, he’s going to be a problem for anyone and everyone at this weight, including the champion and world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter.
Critics will no doubt attempt to impugn Cormier’s fitness as top challenger in coming weeks. They’ll question the gravity of wins over the 43-year-old Henderson and replacement fighter Patrick Cummins. They’ll wonder aloud if he shouldn’t be asked to prove it one more time, against a “legitimate” or “Top 10” light heavyweight before we hand him the keys to the kingdom.
Don’t be fooled by these feeble protestations. Cormier has already done more than enough to be considered the top contender in this division. His heavyweight success coupled with back-to-back wins at 205 duly cast him as a foe for Jones—a guy who’s defended his title against middleweights in two of his last four appearances.
Previous to this weekend’s action, the only conceivable knock against Cormier was his inexperience, but even that point no longer stands. He’s 15-0 now, including 10 stoppages, and the ease with which he’s marched through his first four UFC tests recalls, well, Jones himself.
This is to say nothing of the tournament championship Cormier won in Strikeforce in 2012, or the amateur wrestling pedigree that made him a surefire prospect before he even set foot inside a cage. Now, the prospect tag is gone. Anyone who looks at what he’s done since arriving in Strikeforce in 2009 and still can’t bring themselves to concede he’s the No. 2 or No. 3 light heavyweight in the world is either kidding themselves or playing some ulterior motive.
This guy is ready. It’s time to fast-track him.
“I know nobody can wrestle me, so it doesn’t matter,” Cormier said on Saturday. “If I decide to take Jon Jones down 100 times, I’ll take him down a 100 times. This is my Octagon. I’m the man.”
Naturally, UFC President Dana White poured cold water on this notion almost immediately. During an appearance on Fox Sports 1 following Cormier’s victory, White implied that he should “probably take another fight” prior to getting a shot at Jones. The boss later repeated that belief at the post-fight press conference.
For his part, Jones hasn’t responded to Cormier’s challenge, but the two are rumored to have some history. Given that the champion is currently negotiating a new contract with the UFC and that his upcoming rematch against Alexander Gustafsson was tentatively confirmed for UFC 177 the same night as Cormier’s win, the silence is understandable. Safe to say he’s got a lot on his plate right now.
Nonetheless, as we pick our way through the fallout of Saturday night’s pay-per-view, the thing that is most clear is this: Cormier vs. Jones is the fight we want, and the fight this division needs.
Cormier knows this, and that’s why he used UFC 173 to begin laying the foundation for a future feud with the titlist. It was a simple, but actually pretty shrewd move. That atypical, strangely scripted-sounding stuff he said to Rogan was simply the 35-year-old former Olympian ensuring that, when their fight does finally come around, it’s going to be the most anticipated one of the year.
White knows it, too, but his hand will likely be forced into goading Cormier back into the cage by a packed UFC schedule and a roster littered with injuries. This is an organization that badly needs bodies to fill its slate of upcoming events, preferably those belonging to people who also have familiar names. With at least seven months before Jones and Cormier could potentially get together, you better believe the UFC will try to convince DC to fight in the interim.
The obvious problem will be finding him a worthy adversary. He was booked to fight Rashad Evans in February before Evans was injured. Putting that matchup back together for early fall feels like the only option that wouldn’t be viewed as a dramatic step backward for Cormier, but Evans is still ailing, and Fox Sports' Marc Raimondi wrote last month that he’s hoping for a December return.
That just won’t work.
Even under the current timetable, a lot could still go wrong in setting up Cormier-Jones. The winner of Jones vs. Gustafsson could emerge with an injury, their second fight could be too close to call, or Gustafsson could win a squeaker, prompting the obligatory calls for an immediate rematch.
No, there’s no point in putting this thing off any longer than we absolutely must. There’s only one proper path for Cormier now. It’s a title fight, and it's next.