There once was a time that Daniel Cormier couldn’t muster up a positive phrase in regards to his greatest rival in Jon Jones.
The two stepped into the cage earlier this year. Based on past experience, plenty of us believed it was time for the two to squash their differences. Because, well, throwing heavy leather for 25 minutes on a Saturday night has acted as an ongoing remedy for longtime rivals of fights past.
That didn’t happen, as the 28-year-old Jackson-Wink fighter held back no punches in the moments after his victory over an emotionally distraught Cormier.
But now that the two are unofficially set to face off at some point in 2016, the narrative is slowly starting to change. It may be related to Jones’ April hit-and-run — a situation that has seemed to humanize the greatest fighter the world has ever seen. It may be Cormier’s rise to the top in Jones’ absence — possibly giving the former Olympian a better understanding of the pressures placed upon a champion inside the Octagon.
Whatever the reason, we embark on a rematch to determine the true king at 205 pounds. Some may argue that moniker still belongs to Jones, who was only forced from the throne for his out-of-competition behavior. Others may argue it’s Cormier who, after toppling Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson in the same calendar year, deserves every bit of the “undisputed” adjective added to his reign as champion.
Pick your side or get comfortable on the fence; it doesn’t matter. This is a fight this combative sport needs to see. For closure. For competition. For one of the better comeback stories professional sports has seen in quite some time. For, quite possibly, one of the worst falls from grace in combat sports history.
Difficult as it may be for anybody who’s watched just a few rounds of the former champion’s career, imagine Cormier the one with his hand raised inside of Madison Square Garden on April 23, 2016. Crazy, I know.
It’s an image many struggle to develop in their mind’s eye. First, because anybody who’s watched just a few rounds of the former champion’s career can understand how otherworldly his skills are inside the cage. Second, because endless clips of record-breaking weight lifting and one particular before-and-after photo imaging the night-and-day changes Jones has seen onto his physique force us all to believe the greatest fighter of all time could come back even better.
But can he actually (gulp) be better than ever? Cormier doesn’t necessarily doubt it, but he certainly isn’t convinced a new set of abs will inherently afford him said luxury.
He said on The MMA Hour Monday:
“Jon said he had some issues before with his alcohol and in drugs. You have to replace that stuff with something and it seems as though his addiction is now weight lifting, and it’s not bad. Replace it with something positive, something that can help you. Maybe he feels that by getting stronger, it’s going to make him a better fighter. The reality is, when I saw him getting so bulky — as a competitor — I thought, ‘Wow, this isn’t bad for me.’ This isn’t bad for me as a competitor because the Jon Jones that was kind of skinny and maybe wasn’t the bulkiest guy, it all worked.
“The way his body was, worked. It allowed him [to use his] range, it allowed him [to have] optimal speed, it allowed him [to have] quickness and agility. Looking at all the extra bulk, I was like, ‘Well maybe this will slow him down.’ Maybe he won’t be the fastest guy, maybe this guys is messing with what was given to him. In reality, what was given to him has been perfect. The guy is 22-0, he’s beat the best guys the world has to offer, some of the greatest fighters of all time. And now he’s gotten bigger.”
In all likelihood, preparations for a rematch with Cormier won’t allow Jones to retain all of his newfound muscle. Rigorous amounts of cardio, striking, grappling, wrestling and media obligations rarely allow a fighter to maintain the sort of off-season physique Jones has developed in recent months.
Still, as he sees it, he’ll come back to the cage even stronger than before, and regardless of what Cormier may actually believe, that could prove to be a frightening thought for any 205-pound man with title aspirations inside the Octagon.