Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier were ubiquitous before the first time they fought.
The initial meeting between the then-ostensibly undefeated light heavyweights at UFC 182 in January 2015, which Jones won by unanimous decision, was one of the rare mixed martial arts bouts to cross boundaries and captivate the entire sports world. No one could hide from the hype surrounding one of the most heated rivalries of all-time.
It seems like Cormier (19-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) and Jones (22-1 MMA, 13-1 UFC) must be sought out this time around, leading into their rematch Saturday at UFC 214 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Their infamous news conference brawl at MGM Grand was almost exactly three years ago, and attrition has set in from the UFC booking them to fight each other off and on almost consistently ever since.
“No one cares about the narrative anymore,” as Cormier put it in a televised interview for Fox last weekend.
The buildup has faltered; the fight won’t. Even if the hatred Jones and Cormier share for each other has grown tired, the matchup remains terrific.
There’s not a better bout the UFC can stage, something that isn’t lost on either fighter.
“This fight, to me, is about legacy,” Jones said on a conference call earlier this week. “It always has been.”
Legacies are undoubtedly on the line. Jones was extremely close to being considered the greatest fighter of all time, if he wasn’t already there, before a string of incidents bookended by two times he was scheduled to fight Cormier.
A positive cocaine test came out after he beat Cormier, though the result of the fight wasn't affected since it was out of competition. Then Jones was pulled out of the rematch at UFC 200 last summer after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which administers the UFC’s drug-testing problem, flagged him for a banned substance.
The culprit was later proven to come from an off-brand sexual enhancement pill, leading USADA to clarify Jones was not “a drug cheat,” but he was handed down a year-suspension for negligence. In between the two drug controversies was the most heinous of Jones’ troubles, a felony charge for a hit and run involving a pregnant woman.
Cormier only overtook the light heavyweight title then, once the UFC had stripped Jones of the title. Cormier says that path to the championship doesn’t bother him, and it shouldn’t, but it’s a cloud that will always hang over his tenure as champion if he doesn’t defeat Jones.
“In my mind, I look at it one way: In order to go to sleep considering yourself the baddest (expletive) who has lived throughout this era, you have to be the baddest (expletive),” Jones said. “He says, ‘Well I didn’t have to beat you, you beat yourself.’ And every time he says that, he validates what I’m saying.”
“At the end of the day, he’ll be remembered as one of Jon Jones’ great contenders.”
But if Jones loses to Cormier, he might never again reach the best-ever discussion, especially not with flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson one win away from breaking Anderson Silva’s record of 11 consecutive title defenses that Jones used to covet.
“The beauty in the situation is that I get to be the person who doesn’t allow for the ultimate redemption,” Cormier said. “The redemption is the fact that he gets to go back and compete. The redemption isn’t the championship anymore. That’s just the reality. The reality is he gets another opportunity to be a good citizen, a good competitor and a good human being in general.”
Those comments got a rise out of Jones, who sparked an argument. Both fighters sounded as spiteful as ever in skewering each other, but it was short-lived.
They mutually agreed to stop the squabbling, surely sensing no one is clamoring to hear it anymore.
The talk before the rematch is minimized, but it will be made up for after the fight, when what transpires will materialize as a topic of conversation for years to come.
“It’s gotten a little bit old because we’ve done it so many times,” Cormier said. “But, outside of that, to me, it’s the highest level of mixed martial arts that people can truly experience.”