True greatness is rarely appreciated until it’s gone.
Jon Jones is the unequivocal pound-for-pound king. He is the uncrowned ruler of the light heavyweight division. However, misconduct and dangerous behavior has landed him in the dog house, while those who have fallen by his hand moved into the penthouse.
Staring at the ivory ceiling in my bedroom, my mind briskly thumbed through all of the promotional segments for UFC 192. I found interest in a fight lacking an expected layer of excitement.
UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier is set to defend his title for the first time against Alexander Gustafsson in the headliner of Saturday’s pay-per-view event.
Cormier vs. Gustafsson is a highly intriguing fight by all accounts. It’s the kind of fight that should compel fans to want to pay attention. Don’t get me wrong. I will happily be tuning into the UFC light heavyweight title fight on Saturday night, purposely ignoring the gargantuan elephant idling in the room.
This isn’t another story about whether or not Cormier deserves to be champion. Let it be known that Cormier is the real UFC champion. He isn’t the one who tested positive for cocaine several months back, and he certainly isn’t the one who got arrested on a felony hit-and-run charge in April. Jones’ present is a product of a multitude of poor decisions in his life. He deserved to be stripped of the UFC title and suspended indefinitely.
Unfortunately, what Jones deserves doesn’t line up with what fans deserve, which is to see the best fighters in the world compete. Love him or hate him, Jones is the best 205-pound fighter on the planet. As great as Cormier vs. Gustafsson looks on paper, fans are being asked to pony up $60 for a fight featuring the other guys in the light heavyweight division. Not only that, MMA as a whole feels a bit empty without Jones at the helm.
Jones is a polarizing figure that drums up interest from both ends of the spectrum. Some people love to cheer for him, while others find pleasure rooting against him. But everyone respects the unique, unrivaled talent he brings to the table. You don’t have to love a fighter to appreciate the talent.
Cormier is skilled and marketable as a champion, but Jones’ gloomy shadow looms over him like an engorged rain cloud. The chilly reception that comes with living in the shadows cuts to the bone. It wasn’t long ago that an emotional Cormier sat at the podium of a post-fight press conference after losing a decision to Jones. He then went on to defeat Anthony “Rumble” Johnson to win the UFC title after Jones was stripped.
Gustafsson falls in the same category, as he was defeated by Jones two years ago. He was recently knocked out in the first round by Johnson.
Cormier, Gustafsson and Johnson look like visitors playing musical chairs in someone else’s living room while they’re away on vacation, which begs the question: Does the MMA world miss Jon Jones?
The former UFC light heavyweight champion might be the greatest fighter MMA has ever known, and we are lucky enough to be living in a generation of witnesses. We all watched the young fighter from Rochester, New York pull off spectacular feats inside the octagon en route to winning a world title. We witnessed his transformation from an unassuming young man to a hardened champion.
Jones is the best fighter in the world — period. But when the lights dim and the curtains open at UFC 192, Jones won’t be the one emerging from the locker rooms with a self-assured grin and a rendition of 50 Cent’s “God Gave Me Style” playing in the background.
It’ll be the other guys.