Daniel Cormier has always been the elephant in the room.
Ever since the former Olympic wrestler announced in August 2013 that he'd shed the weight necessary to enter the UFC light heavyweight division, he's been considered the biggest, most interesting threat to champion Jon Jones.
This was the bout everybody wanted—a superfight so hotly anticipated that Cormier already had the T-shirts printed up.
It's just that nobody thought it would happen this fast, and nobody wanted it to come at the expense of another talented and well-liked fighter.
There were unmistakably mixed emotions Wednesday as the UFC announced on its website that Alexander Gustafsson was injured and out of his Sept. 27 bout against Jones, with Cormier stepping in to replace him. Gustafsson seems like one of the sport's true good guys, and after he pushed the previously unassailable titlist to the brink last year at UFC 165, their rematch was starred on all our calendars.
It's one of the great luxuries of being the UFC, though, that the fight company can simultaneously scratch one of the most anticipated fights of 2014 and replace it with an arguably better, more intriguing affair.
With all due reverence to the Swede and his torn meniscus, Cormier has always been the guy we wanted opposite Jones. Given that DC is already 35 years old, this is a fight and a feud best served now, before Father Time or further unforeseen circumstances can spoil it.
Not that it comes without question marks.
In a sport where anything and everything can turn on a dime, there are always extenuating circumstances.
The timing of this fight announcement seemed curious, almost as if it was meant to overshadow fallout from Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen appearing in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission earlier in the day. It felt like kind of a rush job, and there are lingering concerns about the challenger's health.
In the wake of his UFC 173 victory over Dan Henderson in May, we learned Cormier fought with preexisting injuries to two knee ligaments: the lateral collateral and anterior cruciate, if you're scoring at home.
On July 5 he competed in an exhibition wrestling match at the UFC 175 Fan Expo (and won), but last we heard he was still scheduled for surgery. Sometime between then and Gustafsson's knee injury, plans changed. Cormier has now decided to delay medical intervention, either because of the opening at UFC 178 or in anticipation of it:
Cormier delayed his knee surgery and it paid off. He told me he's good to go.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) July 23, 2014
Here's hoping he's as healthy as he claims. Despite the fact Cormier comes in with an unblemished 15-0 record and considerable hype, Jones is still the best fighter in the world at any weight. There's simply no way Cormier can dethrone the champion if he's fighting on one leg.
Taking on Jones is tough enough while possessing a full complement of working limbs. It'd be a shame if a fight with so much promise and so much buildup underwhelms because Cormier took it prematurely.
Frankly, it's too big and too important for that.
Just look at the first 24 hours of build, which have already surpassed anything Jones and Gustafsson managed to create for their rematch in months—and yes, that includes those unfortunate days when people tried to make Jones "ducking" Gustafsson a thing, a notion Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden debunked in March.
Reports that Jones and Cormier nearly brawled outside the 2011 World MMA Awards are now the stuff of legend. In the immediate wake of this week's booking, the two have already exchanged profane Twitter messages, and Jones got his daughter to go on Instagram and guarantee a victory.
You could say this one is personal.
In a perfect world, Jones and Cormier put on a fight for the ages at UFC 178 and Gustafsson heals in time to meet the winner around Super Bowl weekend 2015. But things are rarely perfect in MMA, and the circumstances surrounding this booking certainly don't qualify.
Perhaps the fight itself can be different.