Don't Be Surprised When Jon Jones Smashes Daniel Cormier at UFC 214July 29, 2017
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two weeks before his fight with Daniel Cormier on July 29, a bout that will determine which man is the baddest human being on the planet, Jon Jones is eating grilled chicken with asparagus. He's been eating clean for weeks, he says, feeling better than ever and on his way to what he hopes will be the easiest weight cut he's ever had in his nine-year career.
Perhaps that means nothing. No fighter, after all, is spinning tales of woe in the days before a fight, not at a time when their own mental health and carefully built confidence may be a house of cards close to teetering over. But with Jones, who walked away, preferring to spend 15 minutes playing with a five-year-old in the cage to chattering with an MMA reporter, it could mean more than what it appears to on the surface.
Beneath, where rage, insecurity and desire meet, it speaks volumes.
There was a time when Jones would enter training camp with a bit of a pudge, a belly at odds with the long legs and arms he used so effectively to dart out and sting those who attempted to disturb his web.
There was a time when he couldn't always be counted on to show up for every training session, when he believed his sharp mind, uncanny instincts and physical tools would carry the day.
Lifting his shirt to show me his preposterously hard abs, it's clear those days are resigned to the history books. The champion worried about hiding a life at odds with his public image, the man who wanted to be loved even as the jeers persisted, is no more, dumped in the garbage alongside his orange jumpsuit and bottle of bootleg erection pills.
"People can judge me for how they want to see me," he told the media in a conference call last week. "It's already out there. It's all out there in the public, and that's a freeing feeling to be looked at as a piece of s--t by so many people and to be able to be real with yourself and to take responsibility for the things that you've done wrong. I feel so free. It's a great feeling to be who I am. It's great to be me, alive, whether you like me or hate me.
"...I'm excited because at the end of the day when you get to a certain low, the only place you can go is up, and I'm excited to be 30 years old and to have a good team of people around me right now and to go up."
It should go without saying that this isn't good news for anyone considering facing him inside a steel cage. Jones was already the best fighter in the history of mixed martial arts, a feat he accomplished despite his many and varied attempts at self-destruction. A carefully regulated violence machine inside the cage, Jones lost all control the moment the bright lights dimmed.
He tested positive for metabolites of cocaine, and he was caught using "dick pills." He ran from the scene of a crash when he should have faced the music, and he was involved in another with two young ladies who were not his fiancee in the back seat of his Bentley.
None of it mattered.
No amount of partying, no lack of proper training and no petty criminality could stop his rise to the top. Despite his reckless life outside the world of competition, inside it he built a resume and legacy unparalleled in UFC history. Six former UFC champions felt his wrath en route to a 13-fight winning streak, interrupted only by his own lack of self-control.
And while his bad-boy antics eventually cost him his championship title, big-money sponsors and fans of a law and order bent, it's important to note they never cost him a victory inside the cage.
Jones didn't lose his belt—he simply lost his direction.
"The last time something bad happened, it was two years ago. I think people fail to really realize that," Jones said during a media conference call. "Over the last two years, I feel like I've really done the right things to get my life back in order. I've paid for the things I've done wrong.
"...I've been proud of myself for cleaning up my life. The perception is that my life is still a little out of control. If you knew me and if you lived in Albuquerque, and you saw all my relationships with people and the community and the way things are turning around for me, you would see things differently."
While the battleship Jones was moored, into his wake swam Daniel Cormier, the anti-Jones in many ways. Short where Jones is tall and bulging where he is lean, Cormier is the kind of solid citizen who in a simpler time would have surely found himself on the cover of a Wheaties box. He's the kind of fighter who smiles, says what he thinks you want to hear and always, always attempts to exude an aura of safety.
Cormier is not the type of man who tests positive for recreational drugs or travels to and fro with girls of the night. He's the type of man who loses fist fights to the dude who does, as Jones proved in a one-sided bout back in 2015.
Cormier is, arguably, one of the greatest fighters to ever step inside the UFC Octagon. His Olympic pedigree, including a fourth-place finish in 2004, speaks volumes about his ability to impose his will on another man. Video evidence, including picking up former champions like Josh Barnett and Dan Henderson like they were recalcitrant children, all but roars.
In addition to his deadly high crotch and brutal double-leg slam, Cormier has built a respectable boxing game under the tutelage of Javier Mendez at the American Kickboxing Academy. His work in the clinch, especially his pounding right uppercuts from a single tie, resembles that of a particularly effective hockey goon.
Daniel Cormier is a bad man. And he's a good one.
It's almost a shame Jon Jones is going to destroy him.
As great as Cormier is, and he's one of the 10 best fighters to ever enter the cage, Jones is that much better. He's Chris Evert in the age of Martina Navratilova; Clyde Drexler reaching his prime just as Michael Jordan climbed beyond the limits of the possible; George Foreman swaggering into a ring Muhammad Ali was determined to own.
Cormier might be the best to ever do it—if Jones had never been born.
"To go to sleep and consider yourself the baddest motherf--ker that has lived throughout this era, you've got to beat the baddest motherf--ker," Jones said. "He says, 'Well, I didn't have to beat you, you beat yourself.' Every time he says that he validates what I'm saying. Yes, you just haven't beat me, you know what I mean. So, am I impressed? You can beat as many people as you want, but until you beat the guy, you're not the guy."
Jones was a storm that washed over foes, long arms and spindly legs obliterating any sense of safety and comfort, taking what are normally benign positions in the cage and making them home to nothing but chaos and pain. There is no such thing as relaxation against Jones.
Worst of all, for Cormier and all to follow? That was the old Jones.
"He's better than he was before the layoff," Jones' coach, Brandon Gibson, said. "I'd say he's at an all-time best. I could see it going similar to the way he finished Shogun [Mauricio Rua]. Volume, accuracy, technique and creativity."
At Jackson-Winkeljohn, where Jones trains with the most successful coaches in the sport's history, the question isn't if Jones is going to finish Cormier this time—it's how and when. In their minds, Cormier has remained stagnant, at 38 a finished product who has changed little about his game in the two years Jones has been mostly out of circulation.
Meanwhile, Jones has added a variety of tools that Cormier has never seen. That's a significant edge for Jones, who already won the first bout in dominant fashion.
"I've shown Daniel nothing," Jones told the press. "He has no clue of the progression. He has no clue what I've changed in my boxing. He doesn't know what I've changed in my clinching. He doesn't know what I've changed in my jiu-jitsu. He has nothing.
"I've watched him on the ground against Anderson Silva. We know what his top game looks like. I watched him take Anthony Johnson's back. We know what his back control looks like. We know what he's capable of. We have a huge blueprint on him, where he really has no clue what I've done differently over the last two years."
It's a fact that has created an interesting dichotomy going into the bout. On paper, these are the two best fighters the UFC has ever known—but that doesn't mean it won't be a one-sided blowout. Jones has become the best fighter in the world despite himself. Free to fly, the results may exceed even his own wildest expectations.
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.