Give credit to Daniel Cormier for saying what we all were thinking.
Cormier wasted little time winning the light heavyweight title on Saturday at UFC 187, snapping Anthony Johnson’s spirit like dry kindling en route to a third-round submission victory. Cormier had survived an early onslaught of punches from Johnson before his Olympic wrestling won the day, so it made for a nice moment when Johnson insisted on wrapping the UFC belt around his waist.
A few moments later, however, the new champ revealed he had someone else on his mind.
“Jon Jones!” Cormier hollered as soon as color commentator Joe Rogan let him get near the microphone. “Get your s–t together! I’m waiting for you!”
From the stands in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, from our living rooms and from inside sports bars across America, the MMA world nodded along.
Yes, we thought, do that. Get your stuff together, Jon Jones. Get it together and come back to us.
The long-reigning, but suddenly former 205-pound titlist was nowhere to be seen, of course. A bit more than three weeks earlier, he’d been stripped of the championship and banished indefinitely after turning himself in on felony hit-and-run charges in New Mexico.
None of us knew where Jones was at that moment. We didn’t know if he was watching or if he heard Cormier’s words. We just knew that—even in his absence—the man many still believed to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world casts a long shadow.
It was just 14 months ago that we were trumpeting the resurgence of the UFC’s marquee weight class. After the instability of the post-Chuck Liddell years and the unchecked dominance of Jones’ early title reign, a suddenly robust crop of contenders were breathing down the champion’s neck.
Jones had survived a squeaker against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 and was headed into a cakewalk versus the thunderously powerful, but one-dimensional, Glover Teixeira. Meanwhile, Gustafsson rebounded with a win over Jimi Manuwa, Cormier was poised to tear through Dan Henderson and Johnson was building a seven-fight win streak at 205 pounds.
Light heavyweight appeared primed for some golden years.
At the time, I even postulated that if Jones could successfully run the gauntlet of Gustafsson (again), Cormier and Johnson during the calendar year of 2015, we’d have no choice but to hail him as the greatest MMA fighter of all time.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get that far.
Jones and Cormier did their part, staging an epic feud that culminated in Jones’ hard-fought, but unanimous decision, victory at UFC 182 in January. He was scheduled to take on Johnson next, but in the wake of the Cormier victory it was revealed he’d tested positive for cocaine. Three-and-a-half months later, Jones allegedly crashed his rental SUV into a car driven by a pregnant woman and then fled the scene on foot.
Public scrutiny around Jones’ perennially beleaguered image abruptly grew too hot. The UFC had no choice but to vacate the title, force Jones into seclusion and insert Cormier against Johnson at UFC 187.
It was the right move in the moment, though, now that we’ve all had a few weeks to let it sink in, a 205-pound division without Jones suddenly seems almost laughably shallow.
That’s how things go in this sport sometimes. An entire weight class can go from renaissance to reclamation project in the time it takes an Albuquerque traffic light to switch from green to red.
Never was this more apparent than at the UFC 187 post-fight press conference, when Cormier did his absolute best to stir up interest in a bout with Ryan Bader. Before Jones’ personal life went kablooey, Cormier and Bader had been scheduled to meet at UFC Fight Night 68 on June 6. No harm in testing the waters to see if it was still viable, Cormier might have figured.
(Warning: NSFW language in video)
“I would love to compete against (Jones),” he told the gathered media, “but he’s going to be away for awhile, so we’ve got to shift our focus. There’s somebody else that needs his ass kicked, too. I think he’s around here. It’s Ryan Bader’s ass and I’m going to beat the s–t out of him next time.”
Bader stormed to the front of the room and had to be held back (sort of) by UFC security, as Cormier stood on the dais and called him “an easy paycheck” and “the easiest fight in the division.” Eventually, Bader was led away and Cormier took his seat. A few feet to the left, the recently defeated Johnson picked up his own microphone, tapped his palm against it and deadpanned: “Any questions for Rumble?”
If Johnson’s quip came off as the highlight of the exchange, there was good reason for that. A potential title match between Cormier and Bader would only underscore how lackluster this weight class seems without Jones.
Bader is riding a four-fight win streak and is No. 3 in the UFC’s unexpectedly Bones-free light heavyweight rankings. But his matchup with Cormier always came off as a comeback fight for the 36-year-old former heavyweight—a bout designed to rehabilitate Cormier’s image after that stinging loss at UFC 182.
The truth is, people are already going to have some difficulty regarding Cormier as the champion. He is one of the most likable fighters in all of MMA, and it felt good to see him finally capture a major title after a career full of coming up just short.
But until Jones returns and those two guys can fight again, we’ll always regard Bones as the best 205-pounder in the world. There’s going to be a lot of this kind of stuff floating around:
Deep down, Cormier knows that. That’s why his first official move as UFC champion was to jump on the mic and challenge Jones all over again.
Bader knows it, too.
“I kind of feel like it’s a little consolation prize,” Bader told the Three Amigos Podcast (h/t Bloody Elbow) of Cormier’s victory over Johnson this week. “There’s a guy that hasn’t been beat, that has been dominating, and is the pound-for-pound best fighter out there, and he had that belt. … And for Cormier it’s somebody out there that’s better than him and beat him. That’s got to be in his head a little bit.”
Whether or not he meant it merely as trash talk, Bader effectively put his finger on the trouble with the current state of the light heavyweight division. With Gustafsson still mired in the doldrums of his own loss to Johnson, there just isn’t anyone in the weight class who can do much to legitimize Cormier’s title reign.
With no idea how long it will be until Jones returns, we’re not even sure how much energy we should invest in reimagining a 205-pound landscape without him in it.
Frankly, that includes the idea of a title fight against Bader. No offense to the former Arizona State standout, but we’ve never been able to think of Bader as a true top contender after he stumbled through a 3-4 stretch from 2011 to September 2013. He capped his current win streak with a victory over Phil Davis, but it mostly came against middling competition.
The idea that he could suddenly jump to the front of the line and fight for the title seems like a poor status update on the health of light heavyweight. And the notion that Bader could actually become the champion? Well, that seems like a worst-case scenario for the prestige of the UFC’s longtime glamour division.
All of which is sort of ironic, when you think about it.
For years, a lot of MMA fans appeared fixated on how much they disliked Jones. His positive drug test and alleged hit-and-run accident only poured gasoline on those sour feelings. For some, there was a certain glee in the news he’d been stripped of the title and suspended.
But if there’s a lesson in any of this, it might be how badly we need the guy and how lucky we’ll be if we ever get him back.
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Courtesy of :Bleacher Report – UFC