On Aug. 12, Jon Jones poured a huge bucket of ice water on the MMA community when he pulled out of his UFC 178 grudge match with Daniel Cormier. Unfortunately, no associated charity dollars appear to be forthcoming. Only sadness.
This was supposed to be the biggest fight of 2014. Easy. The best fighter in the world in Jones against one of maybe two light heavyweights on Earth with the chops to beat him. Also, they really, really don't like each other, as evidenced by the constant trash talk, both in public and semiprivate, and the scrum that concussed an innocent backdrop at UFC 178 media day.
So yes, there's plenty of subtext and vitriol fueling this matchup. It's caustic and exciting. And fans will still get it, even if they now have to wait until Jan. 3.
But since Jones announced his ankle sprain and torn meniscus, things have grown markedly calmer. Cormier's own reaction to the news was magnanimous, almost genteel.
Heal up @jonnybones see u in January! DC— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) August 13, 2014
It shouldn't be this way. In the real world, it's the right thing to do. MMA is a lot of things, but the real world it is not, for about eleventeen hundred different reasons.
Everyone understands that injuries are beyond anyone's control and never something an athlete wants. But does an injury mean that the hype train should be braked in its tracks? No, it does not. Especially in this case, when a cage fight was proving magnetic enough to attract the first iron filings of mainstream attention.
If anything, the parties involved should use this time to further escalate the tensions. Don't let it all boil away like it was never substantive in the first place, then conveniently pick it up when the fight date gets closer again and both sides have consented to restarting verbal volleys. No one enjoys that, and it makes the dislike (real or not) less credible. So instead, it should be full steam ahead.
Should they insert themselves into every news cycle? No. But you can still keep the grudge in front of people. Just drop some hate into every interview. To wit (quotes entirely made up):
Interviewer: "Hey, Jon Jones, how's your injury rehab coming?"
Jones: "Great. Oh, and here's something interesting, I'm going to smash Daniel Cormier. He sullied my good name! He's a pretender to the throne! I apologize to all the fans out there for this delay because of my injury, but most of all, I apologize to DC for prolonging his inevitable destruction."
See? Not hard.
Both guys could get teammates to carry the water for them as well. Imagine Donald Cerrone or Carlos Condit casually mentioning the matchup on behalf of their training teammate Jones. Better yet, picture Cain Velasquez, the UFC heavyweight champion and one of Cormier's best friends, weighing in on the situation. Interviewing Velasquez is like interviewing an ill-strung tennis racket. So what if Velasquez actually, you know, said something? (Quote entirely made up.)
"Fabricio Werdum is just another opponent. I have a job to do, and he's the next person in my way. It's completely unlike Daniel Cormier with Jon Jones. Man, DC hates that guy."
Remember when Muhammad Ali challenged Joe Frazier to an impromptu fight at the Philadelphia Police Athletic League gym? Frazier no-showed, and Ali had a field day. What if Cormier dropped in on Albuquerque and pulled something like that? (Quote entirely made up.)
"JON JONES DOESN'T WANT DANIEL CORMIER! I AM THE MUHAMMAD ALI OF THIS SPORT! NOT JON JONES! JON JONES' KNEE IS FINE! HE'S SCARED! HE'S A STICK IN THE MUD AND A MICROPHONE DUD! HE DOESN'T WANT DC!"
That's not very good smack, but you get the idea. And with all the kids crowding around him and stuff—wouldn't this be splendid?
That's the way you really build this up. Don't view Jones' injury as the wind coming out of the sails. View it as a bigger sail. Capitalize on this opportunity. Get the wind blowing again.
Scott Harris writes about the serious and less serious aspects of MMA for Bleacher Report. For more like this, follow Scott on Twitter.