Jon Jones’ feud with Daniel Cormier started with a fleeting moment of perceived disrespect four years ago. It boiled over last August in a casino lobby brawl, which escalated from stares to shoves to punches to a thrown shoe.
With the light heavyweight champion and his undefeated challenger finally fighting for money tonight at UFC 182 in the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, Nev., all those years of sniping and disrespect at last have a singular focus.
Jones (20-1), who is on the team at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink, and Cormier (15-0) are eager to stop talking and start swinging in their highly anticipated title bout. Also on the main card from Jackson-Wink is Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (25-6), who faces 15-0 Myles Jury at 155 pounds.
“The heat between us, I don’t think that’s gone anywhere,” Cormier said. “(But) what’s the point in us screaming and yelling at each other now? That’s done. Before, it was all we could do to try and get to each other, because we were so far away from the fight. All the arguing, all the yelling, all the name-calling, it motivated me through my training. What’s the point anymore?”
Jones, the gifted champion widely considered the world’s top pound-for-pound mixed martial artist, has been thinking about this matchup since Cormier reacted angrily to an apparent backhanded comment from Jones backstage at a UFC event in 2010. The two then exchanged words at an awards show in 2012, and they’ve been talking about each other ever since.
Jones realizes he is perceived as the villain in most of those conversations – cast as the arrogant, naturally gifted champion against Cormier, the likably undersized former Olympic wrestler. If Jones hopes for a victory that changes the public’s perception of him, he isn’t acknowledging it.
“I have been pretty resistant,” Jones said. “I mean, no one wants to be the bad guy. But at the same time, people tag me to be the bad guy, and I’ve totally learned to just let it go.”
Tonight’s matchup has been high on most fans’ wish lists since Cormier joined the UFC from Strikeforce in 2013 with a vow that he wouldn’t fight heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, his good friend and training partner. Although Cormier was a dominant heavyweight in both promotions, he moved down to 205 pounds last year and locked in on Jones, who has usually looked unbeatable while defending his title seven times.
“I think it boils down to belief, man,” Cormier said. “Believe that this can be done. A lot of times, people don’t believe when they’re staring at a hill that may be higher, or a mountain that seems that it can’t be climbed. I think it’s belief – believing in yourself, believing in your skills, believing in your team, believing in everything that you’ve done to this point, believing that it’s all enough. It all was done to get this job done Saturday night.”
When injury forced Alexander Gustafsson out of his rematch with Jones, the UFC decided not to wait any longer to match Jones and Cormier. Their bout was initially scheduled for September, and the fighters’ promotional shenanigans claimed headlines for three weeks in the summer.
The anticipation got even worse when Jones injured his leg in training Aug. 12. The UFC postponed the fight to its traditional year-end show in its hometown.
The Nevada Athletic Commission fined both fighters after that brawl in the MGM Grand lobby – yet the centerpiece of the UFC’s promotions for UFC 182 is the footage of Cormier and Jones toppling a promotional banner and tumbling into the crowd. The UFC also has endlessly replayed Jones and Cormier profanely sniping at each other during a joint interview.
Jones was initially offended by the promotional slant, but he has made peace with it.
“For people to see that side of me, it was kind of a relief,” Jones said. “Because it’s like, I am a Christian and I do try to carry my image in a certain light because I think it’s important for the people I inspire, and for endorsement. But at the same time, this is who I am. I will swear. I will tell a guy who told me he will spit in my face that I’d kill him. I would call him the names I called him.
“It was a bad hit in a way, but also relieving for people to see, whoa, Jones actually has a little bit of ratchetness in him.”