After pulling Conor McGregor from the card, the UFC needed to do something drastic to ensure UFC 200 would live up to its status as one of the most highly anticipated pay-per-views of 2016. The company received a lifeline in the form of a rematch between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier.
Good Morning America confirmed Wednesday the two will face off on July 9:
Jones, who won the first fight between the two, thinks he's capable of triumphing easily once again:
Cormier, the current light heavyweight champion, is happy he has a chance to avenge the loss, per MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani:
With the main event now sorted out, the UFC has finalized the main card, although Nate Diaz, who was originally set to face McGregor, still doesn't have an opponent:
|UFC 200 Main Card|
|Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier||Light Heavyweight|
|Nate Diaz vs. TBA||Welterweight|
|Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar||Featherweight|
|Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes||Women's Bantamweight|
|Cain Velasquez vs. Travis Browne||Heavyweight|
|Johny Hendricks vs. Kelvin Gastelum||Welterweight|
|Gegard Mousasi vs. Derek Brunson||Middleweight|
|Diego Sanchez vs. Joe Lauzon||Lightweight|
|Sage Northcutt vs. Enrique Marin||Lightweight|
|Jim Miller vs. Takanori Gomi||Lightweight|
|Cat Zingano vs. Julianna Pena||Women's Bantamweight|
McGregor was originally booked to headline UFC 200 with the Stockton, California, fighter. A disagreement about how much promotional work he'd do for the event led to his self-imposed exile.
McGregor is the UFC's biggest star—as shown by the massive reaction to and coverage of his standoff with the company. Nothing the company could do in response to his removal from the UFC 200 card could match having him in the main event. With that said, Jones vs. Cormier II comes close.
The two were originally supposed to fight at UFC 197 last Saturday, but Cormier suffered an injury in training and pulled out of the fight. Jones instead fought Ovince Saint Preux, winning by unanimous decision. It was his return to the Octagon following an indefinite suspension issued in April 2015 as a result of his involvement in a hit-and-run in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
On Jan. 3, 2015, Jones and Cormier fought at UFC 182, with the former earning a unanimous-decision victory. Cormier was a game challenger early in the fight, but the gulf between the two grew the longer the bout went on. Although Jones was the clear winner, he and Cormier were close enough that the UFC could realistically argue a rematch was warranted.
In addition, some might question whether Jones has remained at the fighting level he maintained during his previous run as light heavyweight champion. He looked rusty against Saint Preux, which, to a certain extent, was to be expected after his year-plus layoff:
"I wonder if this is the new Jon," Cormier said after the fight, per ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto. "That guy that fought tonight? That guy does not beat me."
That doubt about Jones provides just enough belief that Cormier can avenge his defeat.
From a commercial perspective, the UFC had little other recourse than to fast-track this fight. The company is starved for headline-grabbing clashes, especially with McGregor at a standoff and Ronda Rousey's Hollywood commitments taking up more and more of her time. The UFC couldn't afford to pass on Jones and Cormier, who seem to have a genuine dislike of each other:
In a March interview on Tiki and Tierney (via FoxSports.com's Elias Cepeda), Jones explained how their hostility is strictly professional:
I definitely don't hate the guy. We don't like each other because we're both really elite in our sport. We're at the highest level you can get when it comes to being a UFC fighter. He's only lost to me. I've never lost to anyone. So I know that he's a capable guy [who could] possibly defeat me. He knows that I can defeat him because I've already done it. There's just a competitiveness there that only we can bring out of each other.
And even if a certain amount of their competitive rivalry is staged and played up for the cameras, they do a good enough job of creating an entertaining spectacle that it doesn't matter. As Exhibit A, take their post-interview reaction on a 2014 edition of SportsCenter, via Greg Howard of Deadspin (warning: link contains NSFW language):
Even without the addition of Jones vs. Cormier, diehard UFC fans were going to buy UFC 200; the company did its best to stack the card from top to bottom. Pitting the two light heavyweights against each other gives UFC a chance to grab the more casual followers who didn't plan on watching the PPV or were on the fence about it.
The next few months should be an entertaining ride as Jones and Cormier exchange verbal barbs before stepping into the Octagon.