Heading into Saturday’s UFC 214, it appears from the surface that current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and former 205-pound champion Jon Jones are on top of their respective games. Cormier and Jones each only have one loss: Cormier to Jones at UFC 182, and Jones on a controversial disqualification to Matt Hamill in 2009.
They are the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world heading into the biggest fight of their careers. It’s a crossroads bout for both.
MORE: Jones says he beat Cormier “after weekend of cocaine”
Cormier (19-1) has conquered things in life only a select few can only dream about. He’s a two-time Olympian (2004, ’08) and won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix in 2012, which featured the likes of former heavyweight champions Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum and Josh Barnett.
The 38-year-old Cormier then moved to the UFC at heavyweight, going undefeated by beating Roy Nelson and former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir. Deciding he didn’t want to face good friend, training partner and then-UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, Cormier moved down to light heavyweight where a fight against Jones seemed inevitable.
Cormier did come short on that fateful January night in 2015, but he always knew he would meet Jones again. He didn’t expect it to be over two years later and going into the fight as the champion.
Cormier won the title from Anthony Johnson at UFC 187 after the UFC stripped Jones of his title. He made successful title defenses against Alexander Gustafsson, a rematch with Johnson and sandwiched in between, a non-title affair against Anderson Silva.
Jones (22-1) made his UFC debut at UFC 87 and steamrolled everyone in his path to become the youngest UFC champion of all time at the age of 23 when he stopped “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128. “Bones” went through a murderers’ row, defeating former UFC champions Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort in succession.
Jones also went on to make title defenses against Chael Sonnen, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira and Cormier.
His toughest test inside the octagon was Gustafsson — but his toughest test in life began before his first fight with Cormier.
Before the fight took place, Jones had failed an out-of-competition drug test for cocaine — it was revealed shortly after the fight had occurred. He had a brief stay in rehab and told the world he was OK.
Except, he wasn’t.
While preparing to face Johnson at the aforementioned UFC 187, Jones was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Albuquerque, N.M., involving a pregnant woman. The father left the scene, came back to his vehicle to grab some money and fled the scene. Subsequently, the UFC stripped him of the title and suspended him indefinitely.
Jones made his return at UFC 197, defeating Ovince Saint Preux to become the interim champion and set up a unification bout with Cormier for UFC 200.
Heading into the fight, the trash talk was intense and you could cut the tension with a knife. But it was all for naught as 72 hours before the fight, the UFC announced Jones had failed a drug test and pulled him from the fight. Jones was suspended for one year.
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Cormier needs this win more he has ever needed anything in his athletic career. Jones calls him a paper champion because Cormier didn’t beat him. It’s hard to disagree with Jones since that is the case, but the 30-year-old has no one to blame but himself for all this happening.
No one told Jones to do drugs, leave the scene of an accident or fail a drug test. He made those choices by himself and put himself in this position. Cormier went and did what any fighter would do: seize the moment. He won the title fairly, and when called upon, fought and won. It isn’t his fault Jones can’t keep it together.
But what if Cormier fails to conquer his biggest rival? He will be known as the fighter who could never win the big one when the all the chips were on the line. He could always go back to heavyweight, but that seems unlikely as long as Velasquez is around.
If he does what many don’t expect him to do, then a case can be made for Cormier to be recognized as the greatest fighter of all time. But a loss at UFC 214 would be the end of his career. He would never get another title shot at Jones.
On the other hand, this is all about redemption for Jones. A win puts Cormier in his rearview mirror, and allows him to move on to a potential rematch with Gustafsson or a recently discussed mega-fight with Brock Lesnar.
A loss would be devastating for Jones as well. It would show he is a shell of his former self; he would no longer be thought of as the greatest fighter in the history of the sport. His career would continue, but would never be viewed in the same light.
It all comes down to Saturday night inside the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. One career moves forward, while another fades into the sunset.