Very rarely does a fight come together via honest divisional math that has as much heat and validity as Jon Jones versus Daniel Cormier.
That isn’t to say that there haven’t been some very lucrative bad-blood matches in the UFC to date. The company delivered the first bout between Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz way back at UFC 40 in addition to giving us Quinton “Rampage” Jackson versus Rashad Evans at UFC 114.
But neither one of those bouts had the level of legitimacy of Jones-Cormier. For his first bout with Ortiz, Shamrock wasn’t even really ranked at light heavyweight and certainly wasn’t in the top 10.
For his match up with Evans, Jackson had the needed divisional standing but was a man who had proved prone to losing motivation and focus. He had gone from a fighter who looked capable of handling anything thrown his way to a man who looked shocked and utterly unprepared for the rudimentary leg kicks Forrest Griffin used to help take the title.
There have been other bad-blood fights as well—the rematch between Georges St. Pierre versus BJ Penn is another example—that brought in big pay-per-view numbers, but none of them have the dignity that Jones versus Cormier enjoys.
There is nothing phony or contrived about it: Both men are the very best fighters in the division and the timing is nearly perfect. This isn’t one of those fights made simply because it will sell tickets; this is a fight that has seen the cream rise to the top as both champion and challenger look to have the tools to defeat each other.
Aside from Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Cormier is the man many are picking to have the only true chance of defeating Jones, who has proved to be simply too much for just about anyone at 205 pounds.
When Gustafsson suffered a training injury, Cormier slipped in the front door and took his place, bringing a kind of gravitas to the bout that we have not seen in many years.
Make no mistake about it: Jones and Cormier represent not only the very best fighters in the light heavyweight division, but perhaps in the entire sport.
And they honestly and truly do not like each other in any way, shape or form. The bad blood between these two men runs hot and honest, which gives the fight a Muhammad Ali-vs.-Joe Frazier feel.
There is something about Cormier that either empowers or infuriates Jones enough to toss aside his practiced demeanor and show us the fierce competitor that he really is. A victory over Cormier wouldn’t be for the fans or the sport; it would be for Jones and Jones alone. If we get anything from it, well, that’s of little concern to the reigning light heavyweight champion.
And I love that.
While I have never really understood why so many dislike Jones, the side of himself he is showing now is totally honest. He isn’t shrinking from this moment; he’s rising to it with a Mayweather-esque swagger that is perfectly befitting a fighter who has shown himself to be a near virtuoso at the championship level.
If he hadn’t polarized the fanbase before, he’s done so now, with no apology, hesitation or regret, and that is exactly how it should be.
For Cormier, Jones represents everything he dislikes on a personal level. Cormier clearly respects Jones as a fighter, but he is not in the least bit intimidated; he honestly believes Jones simply cannot handle what he brings into the cage, and he just might be right.
When you look at the opponents both men have fought in the past, it is clear that in each other they are finally facing their biggest test to date. Both men are excellent grapplers with different but equally dangerous striking games and above all, they are in their primes.
While Cormier might be considered old at 35, he’s never really taken any kind of true punishment in his professional career. His transition from Olympic wrestler to a well-rounded MMA fighter has been shockingly fast and fearsome.
When Cormier was throwing Josh Barnett and Dan Henderson around the cage with ease, it was very much reminiscent of how Jones handled Stephan Bonnar and other opponents early in his rise to power.
Cormier isn’t just good, or very good, when it comes to wrestling—he’s fantastic. Consider: Outside of catching a kick attempt or locking Cormier up in the clinch and utilizing a slick trip, it’s damn near impossible to imagine Jones landing any kind of takedown on Cormier.
When was the last time it seemed like Jones would be matched with a fighter who looked like he could stop most (or possibly all) of his takedown attempts? Gustafsson managed to stuff all but one takedown attempt from the champion, but that was just one of many surprises we didn’t see coming.
On the other side, it is going to be very interesting to see how Cormier handles the speed and striking of Jones at range. It is doubtful that Jones is going to be throwing many kicks in this fight, but with his incredible reach, athleticism and skill, his fists and elbows could light Cormier up all night long.
And it’s that kind of drama that makes this one of the most, if not the most, compelling title fights in UFC history.
Again, consider the timing of it all.
Until Gustafsson, Jones hadn’t looked touchable in a fight. After their bout, with Jones bloodied and bruised, his detractors were salivating at the thought that Jones really can be beaten. When coupled with Cormier’s incredible wrestling chops and ever-improving striking, you can bet they will be tuning in to UFC 182 with their hopes of seeing Jones go down in flames higher than they’ve ever been before.
But these aren’t the only reasons why this fight is a must-see event for MMA fans.
Right now, Jones is within striking distance of Anderson Silva’s record for most consecutive title defenses. After he dominated Glover Teixeira at UFC 172, Jones extended his streak to seven consecutive title defenses in a row; should he beat Cormier, he will be just three more wins away from breaking Silva’s record, and with that will probably come the mantle of the GOAT (Greatest of All Time).
Needless to say, there are many fans of Silva, in addition to the detractors of Jones, who will be tuning in with the hopes of a Cormier victory. They think Jones is cocky enough as it is now and cannot imagine how much bigger he will swell should his pride be fed the title of the greatest fighter ever.
And what of the fans of Jones, who, like the fans of Floyd Mayweather, love to see him keep defying the odds on his march to greatness? With so much at stake, especially bragging rights, there will be many a Jones fan tuning in, waiting for the chance to say Jones really is the greatest of all time and they “knew it all along.”
There is also this point to consider: Should Jones thoroughly dominate Cormier, there will probably be nothing to prevent him from moving up to heavyweight, after he breaks Silva’s title defense record. Outside of Cain Velasquez, Cormier was probably the best heavyweight in the world and should Jones have his way with him, there will be very few people willing to dismiss Jones’s chances at heavyweight—most importantly, Jones himself.
For now, the division between the two fighters and their fans is seething and won’t be harmed by the postponement of the bout. If anything, as Jones get’s healthier, the verbal back and forth between both men is likely to start up again, just as passionate as before.
In fact, the postponement of the bout could actually make it a bigger success.
When Angelo Dundee was manager of Sugar Ray Leonard, there was one fighter that all boxing fans wanted to see him face: Tommy Hearns. Dundee knew this but opted to wait to sign the bout because he knew that it could be huge if it was given enough time to boil in the oven of anticipation and public opinion.
While there are many differences between boxing and MMA, anticipation is anticipation. No matter how fearful we may be that this bout will lose some portion of its epic quality, once Jones is back in training and the fight grows closer, all that has come before will resurface like it happened yesterday.
And one of the big reasons for this is that in the case of Jones versus Cormier, the show itself will probably be equal to the overture.
For a truly great fight to take place at the championship levels, both champion and challenger need to have equal measures of belief in themselves and the desire to claim greatness at the expense of the man standing across from them.
For all the talk about how false or fake Jones is, one thing is terribly clear: In the cage, on fight night, there’s probably no one in the sport more genuine, daring and committed to winning the fight. Jones embraces all the dangers of each opponent and then he wins; there is nothing his detractors can say that changes that.
Now he faces his greatest challenge ever; a man who cares not one little bit about who Jones has defeated before because he believes none of those great men have had what he has—the dedication, confidence and skill needed to put Jones on his back and keep him there, time after time.
Both men believe that they are going to win at UFC 182. One of them is right and one of them is wrong.
Until then, the hard part is in the waiting.