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After successfully defending the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title in the UFC 220 co-main event on Saturday in Boston, Daniel Cormier, overwhelmed by emotion, dropped to his knees as the belt was wrapped around his waist yet again. During his post-fight interview, the champion did not wait long before he brought up a familiar name: Jon Jones.
It’s understandable why Cormier was fixated on his chief rival in the aftermath of his victory over Volkan Oezdemir. Before UFC 220, our last image of the American Kickboxing Academy captain was in the form of his tearful display after a well-timed Jones head kick and subsequent ground-and-pound resulted in his being finished for the first time. Of course, Jones was later stripped of the championship and the fight declared a no-contest after the United States Anti-Doping Agency flagged him for suspected use of performance enhancers.
While it was right for the UFC to award Cormier the light heavyweight title, wiping away the memory of such a devastating defeat was an impossible task. “DC” was forthcoming about this conundrum. Ultimately, he decided to accept the title, citing the increased pay that comes with being a champion. However, Cormier admitted he approached his battle with Oezdemir as if he were fighting for a vacant championship, acknowledging the loss to Jones despite the athletic commission’s ruling.
It makes for a challenging situation, especially when considering that Jones’ well-documented indiscretions paved the way for Cormier to capture UFC gold in the first place. Despite being one of the greatest fighters of all-time, he has to deal with being labeled a paper champion by some. Even so, the show must go on and Cormier must move on.
The specter of Jones seemed somewhat lessened as referee Kevin MacDonald mercifully called an end to the ground-and-pound onslaught Oezdemir endured in the second round. Chants of “Let’s go DC!” at the TD Garden ran as a polar opposite to the chorus of boos and jeers that seemed to greet Cormier everywhere he went while his rivalry with Jones took shape. Ironically, the only person that still appeared to have Jones on his mind was the man who stands to gain the most by forgetting about him. It’s an unfortunate revelation.
With Jones in limbo, Cormier would be wise to disregard anything involving the former champion. With his retirement in the not-too-distant future, there’s simply no time to spare for worrying about something and someone he cannot control. If Jones manages to get himself eligible before “DC” is ready to hang up his gloves, then of course it would be a fight worth making. Assuming no additional issues with USADA were to arise, it could help resolve any lingering doubts about what a clean competition between the two men would look like. In victory, Cormier could elevate himself into the discussion as the greatest fighter of all-time while earning the personal redemption he undoubtedly craves. Another defeat would do little to harm his legacy, as by that time Cormier will be closing in on age 40.
One other option would be a return to heavyweight to challenge champion Stipe Miocic. Cormier is lukewarm to the idea, with teammate Cain Velasquez expecting to make another run at the title. However, Velasquez’s extensive injury history means his return is far from a certainty. With that said, Cormier has plenty of incentive to stay put at 205 pounds. The light heavyweight division may not be what it once was, but he can further cement his legacy by continuing to defend the title he now holds.
If not for Jones, Cormier would be viewed as the greatest light heavyweight in history and perhaps the pound-for-pound king of the sport. Even with being inextricably linked to “Bones,” Cormier has forged quite a legacy for himself. He has not yet beaten Jones, but neither has anyone else. Sorry, Matt Hamill. Cormier has spent enough of his distinguished career at Jones’ mercy. If their paths happen to cross again in the future, so be it. If not, Cormier will go down as one of the best fighters to ever compete in mixed martial arts. He deserves praise from fans and pundits alike; he has always deserved it.
While it is true that Jones’ misadventures are at least partly responsible for Cormier’s place at the top of the light heavyweight division, it is also true that his professionalism, athletic skill and perseverance play undeniably significant roles. With multiple title defenses under his belt, having enjoyed success in two weight classes and eyeing a bright future as a broadcaster, it is safe to say that Cormier no longer needs Jones at this stage of his career.