Bruised, bloodied and sore, Daniel Cormier walked away from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas a champion pushed to the brink of his abilities.
In the immediate moments after seeing his hand raised and his waist wrapped in gold for the second time in 2015, Cormier ensured his gratitude was directed at Alexander Gustafsson, the man who fell just a few rounds short of becoming the UFC’s newest champion.
Gustafsson made him better, Cormier said; the champion would be eternally grateful for the five-round war poised to enter the annals of the UFC’s greatest title fights.
But it would only be about an hour before Cormier would be asked to recant his opinions on a name far too familiar to forget: Jon Jones.
Reporters pulled out their recorders following the bout, all of us far too eager to know how excited the reigning, defending champion was at becoming undisputed. Very eager, we’d find out.
Two days later and the questions would surface again, only they’d be tagged with a couple of qualifiers. Cormier, a former Olympic wrestler, is 36 years old. He’s also just a few days removed from a back-and-forth war with the capacity of shaving a few years from any fighter’s career.
Cormier said on The MMA Hour Monday:
“It’s very hard to think about that stuff right now, because it’d seem easy to say, ‘you know what, I don’t really need this anymore. Financially, I’m fine. I’ve got a job that pays me well outside of the Octagon. I don’t need it.’ You start thinking like that, man, the other side starts to look pretty good.
“So I’ll wait until my body starts to feel better and I feel good to know. But I know that I’ve got at least two fights that I have to have before I would ever retire anyways, so it’s no good. The next fight, when I beat Jones. And then that third fight when him and I fight again. Jones and I will fight twice again, so until him and I fight two more times, I’m not going anywhere.”
Cormier’s already fought Jones once before. The five-round unanimous decision loss served as the culminating moment to the never-ending war of words the two shared for the previous three-or-so years. At times, those verbal wars would subside, allowing the fists to fly in moments that brought shame to the sport, but also brought eyes to their bout.
He’d need to defeat him in their all-but-inevitable rematch sometime in 2016 to secure a meaningful trilogy. Losing to Jones once more would surely hurt his chances at retiring on time, especially if Cormier fails to prove he’s filled in what gaps he showed in their first bout at UFC 182 in January.
A rematch, or even a trilogy, won’t come without some obstacles. Jones, arguably the greatest fighter to ever compete in the sport of mixed martial arts, is currently suspended for his April hit-and-run. Many view his return to the sport as a formality, considering the former champion was sentenced to 18 months probation, allowing him to escape any jail time for fleeing the scene of an accident.
What’s more, the UFC has a date scheduled for Madison Square Garden in New York next April. For obvious, but entirely unconfirmed, reasons, the promotion would want a native New Yorker in the main event on that April night. And who better than the former UFC light heavyweight king looking to regain the crown he lost out of competition?
Problem is Cormier won’t fight him there.
“I competed in wrestling at Madison Square Garden once and it was amazing. It was one of the greatest environments, just walking to the arena from the hotel was great,” Cormier said Monday. “But you look at a guy who is actually just coming back from all of the stuff that he has been through — I know there are a pocket of people who say, ‘the guy is a great fighter and we don’t care about anything else,’ but the general idea in the world, in terms of human beings, they don’t like seeing that. They don’t like feeling like the 1-percent got treated differently.”