Promotion around UFC 214 has been almost solely around the grudge match between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. There’s plenty of bad blood, of course, but this fight is about far more than bragging rights. This is about nothing less than where both men finish in history.
The stakes are high for both fighters, and it is difficult to say who has more to lose for their legacy should they come up short on Saturday. For Jon Jones, a victory cements him as the most dominant light heavyweight in company history. Arguably, the best of all time.
His run from 2011 onward stands as one of the most dominant stretches by any fighter, let alone a UFC champion. For Jones, defeating Cormier a second time would be the book end to one of the most tumultuous chapters in UFC history. To come back from several years of personal and legal battles to regain his championship belt from his most hated rival would be nothing less than the most spectacular return to prominence that any champion has ever had.
Jones has not lived the life of a saint. Perhaps that is why Daniel Cormier has taken issue with the treatment of Jones. Cormier has not been afraid to bring up Jones’ struggles for the past two years, but it is apparent that it is not working as well as he thought. To say “I am good person, Jon is a bad person” is a statement that he doesn’t need to vocalize. Fans and pundits are aware that DC has not gotten into legal trouble, but the reason they jeer him and not Jones is simply because the latter has been on a run of dominance that spans nearly a decade. It is the way of sports: winning builds a fanbase. Winning is also the fastest way to silence any critic regardless of outside faults.
Cormier is easily the second best light heavyweight of his era. His victories over Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson are proof enough. However, timing is everything. The loss to Jones has always stood out when evaluating Cormier’s place pound-for-pound. As does the fact that DC only went on his championship run due to Jones’ absence. There has always been the thought that were Jones not embroiled in legal trouble, DC would never have been a champion.
By all accounts, the dominance of the Big Four in the light heavyweight division has made the division shallow. Not one fighter has been able to make the breakthrough into the elite to earn a title shot. Case in point: the combination of Jones, Cormier, Johnson, or Gustafsson has made up every fight for the undisputed title except once dating all the way back to 2013.
A loss makes it difficult to argue Cormier’s claim to dominance, and would leave many with the idea that Cormier was only able to become champion at a time when the division was shallow. With a victory, he arguably goes down as one of the best of all time. Beating a great talent like Jones puts him in an elite category, one that would follow him as he enters the final stage of his career at 39 years old.
Stylistically, it is an incredible contest. Jones’ dominance has come from his ability to exploit his incredible range to dismantle opponents from the outside. His unorthodox striking and powerful elbows on the ground and in close range have taken out some of the best fighters across two eras of the light heavyweight division.
Cormier on the other hand is a relentless force on the ground. His ability to break opponents down and dominate them on the mat has led him to career defining victories over the likes of Johnson and Gustafsson. The latter was an important victory as it saw DC compete on the feet and utilize his full range of skills to be victorious in the contest.
It’s easy to anticipate an epic collision. Both men appear to be as physically prepared as possible for a fight of this magnitude. It could very likely come down to a test of wills as much as abilities. Daniel Cormier will look to get Jones down and dominate him with disciplined ground and pound. Jones could pick DC apart on the outside with kicks and elbows in the clinch, where his long frame grants him the ability to generate an incredible amount of energy.
The contest is either man’s to win. A DC victory will open the door for a rubber match, while a Jones victory could close this chapter in their careers if it is one-sided. Saturday night will be about their rivalry, Sunday morning will be about their legacy.