Cormier Relinquishes UFC Light Heavyweight Title Before Jones vs. Gustafsson

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03:  Daniel Cormier celebrates after his submission victory over Derrick Lewis in their UFC heavyweight championship bout during the UFC 230 event inside Madison Square Garden on November 3, 2018 in New York, New York. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier has relinquished his light heavyweight title ahead of the fight between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 on Saturday.

As reported by ESPN.com's Ariel Helwani, DC opted to relinquish now rather than have the title stripped. In a statement he said:

"Today I am going to relinquish the UFC light heavyweight title. I am not going to be stripped of the belt that I've defended with my all for three-and-a-half years. Being stripped of a title suggests you've done something wrong, and I haven't.

"I'd rather walk away this way, with my head held high as it always has been, than have the history books say I was stripped. I've defended this title this year. I was approached with the idea of fighting at heavyweight, so I took it. I fought three times in 2018. No champion has been more active than me. I am the fighter of the year. My story and my legacy will not include me being stripped of a title. They can have it."

Cormier told Helwani in October he believed he would be stripped of the belt, and UFC President Dana White confirmed that was the plan in an interview with UFC Unfiltered (h/t MMAWeekly).

The 39-year-old became a two-weight champion by knocking out heavyweight king Stipe Miocic at UFC 226 in July. Cormier lost the light heavyweight title at UFC 214 in July 2017 to Jones, who won the fight via knockout, but the result was later changed to a no-contest when Jones tested positive for Turinabol.

Cormier defended his heavyweight title against Derrick Lewis at UFC 230 and was awarded ESPN's Fighter of the Year award as a result:

Daniel Cormier @dc_mma

Honored.... what year it’s been! DC #grateful #loveyouall #dcchamp #kingofthegrind #WeAreAKA @espn https://t.co/2jip0MzNEC

He was never likely to retire as a two-weight champion, however. The unbeaten Jones was always expected to get a title shot on his return, and Gustafsson earned his opportunity with back-to-back wins since his loss to then-champion Cormier at UFC 192 in 2015.

The first fight between Jones and Gustafsson in 2013 was a fantastic affair and arguably the toughest title defence Jones ever had, so another matchup was a given:

Dana White @danawhite

Jones vs Gustafsson this Saturday LIVE on PPV!!! #UFC232 https://t.co/hUlXPDdYDW

With Jones sidelined and Cormier moving up to heavyweight, the light heavyweight division was in need of momentum with an active champion sorely needed. Per Helwani, DC has made it clear he plans to retire after he turns 40 in March, and he was not expected to drop back down.

According to MMAWeekly, his next fight is likely to be against wrestling star Brock Lesnar, who will try to regain his heavyweight title. If that fight falls through, a third bout with Jones could be made, but that too could take place in the top division.

Jones' striking coach, Brandon Gibson, recently told The MMA Hour (h/t MMA Fighting Newswire) that he believes Bones will make the move to heavyweight one day and try to become a two-weight champion himself. To do so against his longtime rival in what would be DC's final fight could be too great an opportunity to pass up.