We’re very close to potentially witnessing a super-fight unlike anything the sport has ever seen, the third showdown between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones.
In June, just over a week before Daniel Cormier’s UFC 226 super-fight against the heavyweight champion of the world Stipe Miocic, I wrote a piece that looked at the public’s perception of DC and his rival Jon Jones.
At the time, Cormier was slowly starting to shed his image as the bad guy in the Jon Jones story and when I sat back and looked at the manner in which he had burst out of his role as a villain in their shared dynamic – it became clear that the narrative we had constructed was shifting.
With a fight for the heavyweight title in front of him, I presented the idea that Daniel Cormier was on the cusp of the greatest MMA story ever told.
Jon Jones has had the word ‘destiny’ attached to him from his earliest days in the sport and during the legend-ass-whooping tour that was his 205lb title reign, anyone who he encountered on his path was seen almost as if they were in the way of him fulfilling his potential and becoming the greatest to ever lace up gloves.
And while DC was the older, less-attractive, dad-joke-making figure who got the boo’s while Jon basked in the cheers, in the last year or so, public opinion has swayed in the former Olympian’s favour.
Earlier this year, I put forth the notion that time will show that this had been Cormier’s story all along – and that the two fights that lay directly in front of him would prove to be his toughest test, but also the ones that defined his career.
Stipe Miocic and Jon Jones.
Jump forward to October and he has already jumped his first hurdle with relative ease.
And while his first defense of the heavyweight strap will come against Derrick Lewis at UFC 230 – a win in that fight should not be something that the champ struggles to attain.
Jon Jones, on the other hand, is diving headfirst into a rematch of the most difficult fight of his career by some margin – taking on Alexander Gustafsson for the light-heavyweight title at UFC 232.
A lot of questions loom large over the divisive former champion’s return to action but if he is able to get the better of the Swede and recapture the title he never lost, where exactly does that leave his future?
At 205lbs, there isn’t a great deal to choose from in terms of fresh up-and-comers. I feel as though ‘Bones’ has spent enough time out of action to not feel the need to build himself up to the mega-fights in his future.
I made an attempt to unravel the heavyweight title picture in another article and if you asked me to make a prediction for Jones is he is successful against Gustafsson, I’d imagine that he’ll take his newly-won light-heavyweight title up to heavyweight right away.
Cormier’s retirement date has been set. His plan is to fight two more times before calling it quits just prior to his 40th birthday in March – a plan that he says will see him take on Derrick Lewis and Brock Lesnar.
Even if he follows through with that plan and beats both men – as he is expected to, I do not believe for one moment that he’ll pass up on a third fight with Jon Jones if it comes to it.
DC is a competitor in every sense of the word.
Everything from his fourth-placed finish in the 2004 Olympics to his withdrawal from the 2008 Olympics due to kidney failure no doubt still played on this man’s mind as he made the transition to mixed martial arts.
The opportunity to achieve undisputed greatness is within his grasp. Are you expecting me to believe that he isn’t going to attempt to attain it?
If you remove Jon Jones from the equation, Cormier’s record is flawless.
If DC’s path had never crossed with the one taken by Jon, we’d already be calling him the G.O.A.T.
The thing is, it’s not that he was edged out by Jon in both of the fights they had. The gap in skill was made abundantly clear over the course of the eight or so rounds they shared in the octagon together and regardless of the failed drug-tests and PED allegations, there is absolutely nothing else Daniel can do to elevate himself any higher than second-place in his own mind.
He is doing his best to hide it, but I truly believe that beating Jon in a third and final showdown means more to Daniel Cormier than anything.
More than winning two belts, more than winning over the fans, more than the prospect of a peaceful retirement at the end of it all.
So why am I calling this fight the most significant in the history of the sport? Well, it has all of the ingredients necessary to make it so.
Firstly, it’s a super-fight, which in itself is worth the price of the ticket. Just like at UFC 226 over the summer, the champions of the two most historically prestigious divisions in the sport will clash for the title of ‘the baddest man on the planet’ but unlike Miocic/Cormier, this fight has so much more to offer.
It’s a rare instance of a trilogy-fight that isn’t a rubber-match but remains completely warranted. Jones went (2-0) or (1-0, 1NC) officially over DC but in the time since handing his great foe a now-overruled TKO loss at UFC 214, Cormier has risen to find himself in the game’s most powerful position.
To discount this fight because we’ve seen it end in Jon’s favour twice before is discounting the fact that DC has put himself in the stronger position this time around, a position that almost forces Jon to pursue the rematch.
Make no mistake, Cormier is the A-side this time around and if he makes the play I think he will after Jon fights Gustafsson and he fights Lewis, he’ll do so with 18 months of experience behind him, experience he used to rack up two TKO victories in the time since.
This fight would take place at heavyweight too, and that is huge. We’ve never been able to witness Jon fight at this weight – even though he has spoken about his desire to move up for years.
There’s a lot of pressure on ‘Bones’ to fulfil his destiny and become the greatest of all-time and competing with the largest men in the sport has been something that has been in his sights for years.
We’ll learn a lot watching him make the step up. He proved that his ability to finish is only growing with time and without the nagging presence of that cut to 205lbs in the back of his mind, it is very, very possible that we have yet to see the best from him.
If you take his last outing at UFC 226 as evidence – along with his past run in the division which culminated with him winning the Strikeforce heavyweight grand-prix, I think it’s pretty fair to say that DC might be a superior fighter when he isn’t cutting weight. We’ve seen him struggle tremendously with his cut in the past.
His speed looks more pronounced, his grappling is in no way hampered and above all else, he takes a lot of punching power with him.
His fights with the likes of Miocic, Josh Barnett and Antonio Silva show proof of each of these points.
It was interesting as a light-heavyweight clash but at heavyweight, this matchup brings with it a whole new set of factors.
The rivalry and genuine hatred between these two is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Two complete and utter opposites, who have been through so much together. It’s the stuff of dreams.
You can fake animosity and you can feign respect where it suits you but one look at these two men facing off is enough to let you know that there is something very real and very dark between them.
On top of that, and perhaps most importantly, the stakes – in my belief – are the highest they have ever been for a mixed martial arts contest.
How could you not declare the winner of this fight the greatest fighter of all-time?
Both men are in the conversation and in the direct aftermath of UFC 226, some people were already ready to give that title to DC – especially given the uncertainty surrounding Jon in recent times.
And while that certainly could’ve been recency bias, there’s an undeniable argument to be made.
Jones has been linked in some way to that title from the very earliest stages of his career and to capture a UFC title in what would be his second division would make that argument concrete.
If you add into that the fact that Jon will have beaten Alexander Gustafsson again to make this fight happen, he could vanquish both his toughest test and his most hated rival in the space of two bouts.
This matchup could happen. It really could.
A lot will, of course, depend on the pair’s ability to get past the tests that lie before them but with each man entering those fights as the betting favourite, the UFC will know this is the next move to make, the fans will call for this to be the next step for both and above all else, Daniel Cormier has something in his possession that Jon Jones desperately wants.
Trust me, this will be huge.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena