Daniel Cormier has been gunning for Jon Jones for a long time. Even before the former Olympian ever stepped foot in the light heavyweight division, the Louisiana native made sure to let the pound-for-pound phenom know he was coming for his belt. And it was a premonition that is about to come true.
While "D.C." entered the UFC fold as a heavyweight, the AKA staple exited the weight class after a pair of high-profile victories. The 35-year-old defeated former champion Frank Mir and heavy-handed slugger Roy Nelson, respectively, before making the decision to drop down to 205-pounds and make a run at the light heavyweight title. Suddenly, the trash talk Cormier and Jones had been exchanging about a potential showdown clicked up a few notches in the reality department.
Nevertheless, Cormier still needed to make his way up the ladder, and he took solid strides by putting on two dominant performances in his first two showings as a light heavyweight. The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner smashed out short-notice replacement Patrick Cummins at UFC 171 back in February, then followed that performance up by putting a one-sided drubbing on MMA legend Dan Henderson three months later at UFC 173.
The victory over "Hendo" put Cormier within striking distance of a title shot, but the lingering rematch between "Bones" and Alexander Gustafsson seemed to put those hopes on hold. The rangy Swede and the light heavyweight champion put on an "instant classic" at UFC 165 last September, with "The Mauler" taking Jones to the wire in a five-round war. The UFC had committed to making the rematch a reality, and Cormier was content to sit on the sidelines and await his turn.
Yet, mixed martial arts is unpredictable by nature, and on Wednesday afternoon, the opportunity Cormier has been battling toward finally materialized, as Gustafsson was forced to withdraw from his scheduled tilt with Jones at UFC 178 on Sept. 27 due to a torn meniscus, and the undefeated prospect turned title contender was tapped to step in.
Now, the moment Cormier has been working diligently toward has a date set in stone and he couldn't be happier.
"Initially it was overwhelming," Cormier told Bleacher Report. "It has been overwhelming this last day-and-a-half, but it has also been a relief. The thing I've been working so hard toward is finally here. A lot of people ask for stuff like this and may not be completely or entirely prepared for it. That's not the case with me because I've worked so hard for so long, and this is finally about to happen.
"It's actually going to happen. We are going to go in there and try to rip each other's heads off. There has been so much restraint on both of our parts for so long, being around each other, and now we get to get into a cage and beat each other up for 25 minutes. Thanks, Dana White. Thanks, Lorenzo Fertitta. Thank you, UFC, for having this great sport where you get these little, small gloves and you get to go out and try to punch someone in the face."
While Cormier and Jones have been trading barbs for some time, it didn't take long for their grudge to escalate on Wednesday. Shortly after their bout was officially announced, Cormier posted a direct message sent to him from Jones on Twitter, complete with his response to Jones' slight. Not to be outdone, the light heavyweight champion used his daughter to send a video message to the new No. 1 contender that quickly made its way around the MMA community.
(Note: The following tweet NSFW.)
For his part, Cormier welcomes all the banter and jabs Jones wants to fire his way in the pre-fight buildup because he knows they will get to settle their business man to man at UFC 178. Cormier believes MMA offers the ultimate resolution to any grudge or beef and is thankful he will get the opportunity to square off with Jones in Las Vegas.
"It's awesome," Cormier said. "We can tweet and have our children say stuff on the Internet as much as we want. But on September 27, Jon Jones is going to walk into that cage and they are going to close the door behind him. The only people in there are going to be me and him. There will be no Greg Jackson or Mike Winkeljohn. There will be no Bob Cook or Javier Mendez. It's going to be me and Jon with those guys outside of the cage. But inside the cage it will be me and Jon duking it out like men. I cannot wait."
While the road to the light heavyweight title showdown will undoubtedly be a high-profile affair, Cormier's focus is locked on achieving his ultimate goal of winning a UFC title. Throughout his athletic career, the Lafayette, Louisiana native has consistently pushed, scrapped and sacrificed to make his way to the top of whatever ladder he was climbing, and while he was certainly successful in many aspects, ascending the summit was something he was never able to do.
Nevertheless, Cormier's spirit is not one easily broken. He's been forced to overcome personal tragedy and athletic setbacks along his journey, and while those experiences certainly took pieces of him, he never allowed the hard times to shatter his spirit. Those tragedies and missteps tested his heart and soul as both a man and a competitor, and he has fired back from the shadows of those times with ferocity to reach the doorstep of what he believes would be his greatest achievement.
Every step on the road to UFC 178 prepared him for what is to come, and Cormier is determined to turn all the hard work into 12 pounds of gold on Sept. 27.
"I've been so close throughout my entire athletic career," Cormier said. "High school nationals very close. NCAA tournament very close. Olympics very close. World Championships very close. Everything I've ever done competitively, I've always been very close but never quite got it done. Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix prepared me. I know how win the big one now and now I get to tie it all together. All of those experiences I get to tie into doing something a lot of people think can't be done and that's beat Jon Jones.
"I've had to deal with a lot of stuff. From losing a kid to losing my dad on a holiday to the Olympic games. I've had to deal with a lot of stuff, and when you go through life as I have, you don't fear anything. I don't fear a spinning elbow. I don't fear a spinning back kick. I don't fear getting elbowed if he takes me down. That doesn't scare me. What scares me is not having Selena, my kids and my family. That is the stuff that scares me, but those are also the things that drive me.
"I want to make sure they have a life that is secure and comfortable. I don't want to deal with any of the things I dealt with before. That stuff sucked. When it comes to heart, I saw in the Gustafsson fight that Jon Jones has a ton of it. But life has taught me that I can get through just about anything.
"It feels unbelievable to know that on September 27, I get the chance to compete for the biggest prize in all of mixed martial arts," he added. "It's also great to know that on September 28, I'm going to board a plane from Las Vegas with my family, who I will be sharing the UFC title with."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.