LAS VEGAS — On Monday morning, Daniel Cormier denied that he and Jones had any intentions of staging mock conflicts in order to sell their September 27 fight.
"I don't talk to Jon. The fight sells itself. We don't have to say anything," Cormier told Bleacher Report. "You have two of the best fighters in the world fighting each other. I think it sells itself. But no, I have not spoken to him."
While it may be true that Cormier and Jones have no current agreement to work in concert in an effort to boost the buyrate for UFC 178, it is a certainty that it will do astronomical numbers. Anticipation for the fight was sent skyrocketing on Monday after a heated staredown between Jones and Cormier escalated into a wild brawl that collapsed a temporary stage and sent fans in attendance into raptures.
When the staredown began, Jones marched up to Cormier and got directly in his face. It was a little too close for comfort for Cormier, who responded by pushing Jones backward. Jones then lunged at Cormier in an attempt to punch him. The pair fell off the back of the stage and continued fighting while UFC officials and MGM Grand security attempted to restore order.
Hours after the conclusion of the brawl, the UFC public relations machine was already in top gear. Jones and Cormier have already appeared on ESPN, and they will appear on UFC television partner Fox Sports 1 on Monday evening. Monday's incident cast a pall on the sport of mixed martial arts, but no tears will be shed at the UFC's headquarters here in Las Vegas.
On Monday, Cormier said he's enjoying the latest developments in Jones' public persona. Like many fans, Cormier believes that Jones hid his true self during the early portion of his career in an effort to be liked and well-received by as many fans as possible. Lately, however, Jones has shown more of an arrogant side via social media, and Cormier is a fan.
"It's much different. It seems like now he's more embracing that role of, 'I am who I am. I'm the best, and you can either love me or hate me.' I kind of enjoy that. I think it's refreshing," Cormier said. "I think he was trying to protect an image that doesn't really exist any more.
"People have seen who Jon really is. They don't believe in what he portrayed to us in the beginning of his career. I think it's time for him to come out of that shell and just be Jon Jones, you know? He's kind of a d--k."
The heat between Jones and Cormier, whether real or imagined, will likely fade, and come September 27, Cormier must prove that he is worthy of being in the Octagon with the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
And make no mistake: Cormier firmly believes Jones is the best fighter in the world. The light heavyweight champion is often overlooked by his own promotion; the UFC uses the "pound-for-pound best" moniker more as a tool to sell fighters to the public than as an actual measuring stick. To Cormier, though, Jones is the best.
"He's defended that belt seven times. He won it when he was 23 years old against Shogun, when Shogun was the man. I think he's 22-0, essentially," Cormier said. "Any time you can win that many fights in a row, you should be considered the best. He has shown that he's the best, and I respect him as such."
Jones has not shown the same level of respect for Cormier's skills—at least not publicly. On July 31, he tweeted the following, denigrating the level of competition Cormier has faced thus far during his 2-0 run at light heavyweight.
Cormier agreed that Jones was nothing like Patrick Cummins or Dan Henderson, but he said the champion could be in for a surprise of his own.
"I have different skills than a lot of the guys he's fought. If anyone is going to be surprised, it's going to be him," Cormier said. "I don't think he has competed against someone that knows how to compete at the level I know how to compete at."
Jones was initially scheduled to face Alexander Gustafsson, but the Swedish contender suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw from the fight. Cormier, who has suffered knee issues of his own over the past few months, immediately accepted the fight when offered. Cormier told Bleacher Report in June that he would accept the fight even with an injured knee and would even fight on short notice.
On Monday, Cormier reiterated that his knee is 100 percent functional and will not be an issue in the Jones fight. He said he didn't mind waiting until January or February to face the winner of Jones vs. Gustafsson but wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to fight for a UFC championship no matter the date.
But the fight, and being acknowledged as the best in the world, means more to Cormier than just a championship belt.
"This isn't just about winning the UFC championship. This is the culmination of a lifetime of athletics," he said. "This is the 15-year-old kid going to Hungary to compete for a world championship. This is a guy that went to the Olympic games to try to become the best in the world. This is a culmination of a lifetime of competition."
On Tuesday, Cormier and Jones will travel to Los Angeles, where they are scheduled for another media tour stop. It is hard to imagine the bad blood boiling over again the way it did on Monday. Nobody, however, would be surprised if it happens.
But no matter what happens between Jones and Cormier between now and UFC 178, there is one simple truth Cormier would like to get across: He has great respect for Jones' skills, standing in the sport and all he has done in his career.
He just thinks he's better, and he intends to prove it.
"He's going to go down as one of the best ever. But in his division, there is a guy that can beat him. That's me," Cormier said. "That won't take away from anything he has accomplished so far or anything he will accomplish going forward.
"It's just that I'm the guy who can beat Jon Jones."
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