A third fight between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, potentially at heavyweight, will certainly benefit both fighters — but who needs the trilogy bout more?
Heading into UFC 239 this weekend, the talk should be about the stellar main event capping the UFC’s biggest show of the year. Only, it isn’t. Not really. Because the stellar main event feels less than stellar. That’s not the UFC’s fault in the slightest — they booked the biggest name available to headline the biggest show of the year. Jon Jones is in the house, or he will be Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena.
The problem is, he’s cleaned out the light heavyweight division already. The man who will stand opposite him Saturday in the octagon is Thiago Santos, a former middleweight with crushing power, but little that Jones hasn’t seen before. It’s not a given that Jones will win — there’s no sure thing in MMA, where one punch can change everything — but he’s a heavy favorite in the fight.
Breaking it down a little further, Santos (21–6) really only has two light heavyweight wins to his name. While he’s officially 3-0 in his 205lb career in the UFC, one of those wins came against Eryk Anders, a middleweight stepping in short notice at UFC Sao Paulo last year.
Santos would go on to knock out both Jimi Manuwa and Jan Blachowicz following the Anders fight, punching his way to a title shot. It’s no surprise, however, that there has been more talk about Jone’s legacy, and his rivalry with Daniel Cormier, heading into UFC 239 than there has been about his opponent.
The fact is, Jones vs. Cormier is the biggest MMA rivalry of our time. An Ortiz vs. Shamrock for the modern era.
Who, however, needs the trilogy fight more? The quick and easy answer is Cormier, who lost two Jones twice (albeit with the second loss overturned to a No Contest), but a closer look shows that perhaps that’s not the case.
Let’s consider that Jones and D.C. are in the running for both the greatest light heavyweight of all time, and the greatest fighter of all time. Jones boasts a near-perfect record (that the UFC is busy trying to make bullet-proof), and the most title defenses in 205lb history.
Cormier has a near perfect record as well, with the only blemish being Jones. He also gave his case a boost by becoming a double-champ, capturing the heavyweight crown as well. Something Jones, nine years his junior, has yet to accomplish.
Then, of course, there’s Jones’ tarnished reputation. He’s one of the greatest fighters of all time. He’s also the only champion in UFC history to be stripped of a title on three separate occasions.
“There’s still a lot of interest in me fighting Daniel Cormier for some reason,” Jones recently admitted to ESPN (via MMA Fighting). “I don’t really know what it is. The first time I won by unanimous decision and the second time I won by knockout so I don’t know why people want to see us fight again so bad but at heavyweight I guess that would add a few different factors.”
Jones isn’t quite being honest with himself in that statement, of course. The knockout no longer exists, as far as the record books are concerned. That UFC 214 fight was instead made a no contest when Jones failed a test screening for performance enhancing drugs. His foibles in that department have been well-documented since, and abnormal tests and talk of picograms continue to dog him.
He hits the nail on the head when he suggests heavyweight would add a few different factors, however. For one, it eliminates the rough weight cut Daniel Cormier has to make the 205lb limit, towel or no towel.
As for Cormier, he also addressed the topic heading into UFC 239. Cormier will next appear at UFC 241 in August, defending his heavyweight title against Stipe Miocic. The loss of the Brock Lesnar fight (believe what you will, but PPV points were no doubt a factor), and the fact that Cormier has hit his self-imposed deadline for retirement, will make the fight one of the last of Cormier’s career. If not the last.
However, it seems the right offer could lure him back for one more go with Jones. At the UFC’s Summer Press Conference on Friday, Cormier exclaimed that “when I’m done with Stipe and Dana opens up the book and goes this is what you guys are getting paid, then you guys may get a third fight. But ultimately that’s what’s gonna determine it.”
The money matters, of course. These men are prize fighters. But on a personal level, the single loss on Cormier’s professional record has Jones’ name next to it. We’ve seen the emotion that the wrestler was overcome with following his second loss, the one that was later overturned.
Simply put, beating Jones matters to Daniel Cormier. If it didn’t, he wouldn’t be the competitor he is.
But in terms of history, it’s Jones reputation that may actually need it more. Cormier has the goodwill of the people. He’s the beloved figure who earned Fighter of the Year and Analyst of the Year honors at the World MMA Awards this week. Jones? Whether he likes it or not, his career to date comes with an asterisk, and many will simply relegate him to the status of drug cheat.
Some people will never see past those test failures, or Jones’ presumed arrogance, or the fact that he fled the scene of an accident involving a pregnant woman. So be it. But for those still willing to give him a chance, another fight with Cormier, up a weight class, offers the opportunity to prove that he really is better than D.C., on a level playing field. Because if Jones can duplicate the one feat Cormier holds over him — becoming a champ champ — then there’s really no question, is there?