A few things still have to happen to make it possible. Daniel Cormier, of course, has to beat Dan Henderson on Saturday night at UFC 173 in Las Vegas. Then, Jon Jones has to emerge victorious from his rematch with Alexander Gustafsson some time in the fall.
If both of those things come to fruition, then sometime in early 2015 the UFC will book one of the biggest light heavyweight title fights in company history. No hyperbole.
Gustafsson is more than formidable. But Cormier would not only be Jones’ toughest challenge, but his biggest fight at the box office thus far, too.
Follow this logic. Cormier is a former wrestling Olympian. Jones is no slouch in the wrestling department either, but Gustafsson was able to take him down multiple times last year at UFC 165. If Gustafsson can take Jones down, you better believe Cormier could. Cormier’s wrestling will also nullify at least some of Jones’ clinch offense, though there’s no doubt he would sneak some of those knife-like elbows in somewhere.
Cormier will be giving up plenty of height and reach, but he has heavy hands, he’s arguably stronger and has a solid gas tank. One of Jones’ greatest strengths is actually his mind. He’s one of the best MMA thinkers in the game. But Cormier won’t be giving up much there, either. He’s cerebral and always executes his strategy perfectly.
I believe I’m going to be the champion. I believe with every fiber of my being that I’m going to be the champion. I’m supposed to be the champion.
"I believe I’m going to be the champion," Cormier said at UFC 173 media day Thursday in Las Vegas. "I believe with every fiber of my being that I’m going to be the champion. I’m supposed to be the champion."
Few would argue that Cormier would make life difficult for Jones inside the Octagon. He would also make Jones a lot of money outside it.
First off, the two legitimately can’t stand each other. They almost came to blows outside the World MMA Awards in 2011. If you don’t think real-life beefs sell tickets and pay-per-view buys, then you’ve never heard of Chael Sonnen. Jones’ best box-office showing to this point has been against Rashad Evans and it’s because the two of them were feuding former training partners.
Cormier, unlike Jones, comes off very likeable. While not a draw yet, Cormier has clearly become a fan favorite, meaning those still on the fence about Jones would be pretty easily swayed toward Cormier’s side of things. Cormier doesn’t take himself too seriously (see: every Popeye’s joke made this week), while Jones still tries too hard with the fans and is very sensitive about his outward persona. This is as interesting a mesh of styles outside the cage as it is inside it.
Daniel Cormier meets Dan Henderson at UFC 173 on Saturday.
Jones-Gustafsson II is the biggest individual fight the UFC will put on this year. It might not get as many buys as UFC 175 with Chris Weidman, Ronda Rousey and Chael Sonnen all competing, but it’ll be in the top two or three biggest money events of 2014, for sure. And it will almost solely be because of the first fight, which was probably the greatest UFC light heavyweight bout ever.
The past will have to carry the promotion since Gustafsson is an exceptional fighter, but terrible with the media. He doesn’t have a fraction of the charisma that Cormier does and is rarely willing to blast Jones in interviews. The big Swede has upped his trash talk game a little bit, but it will pale in comparison to the potential build-up for Jones-Cormier.
It’ll take about half an interview for the two of them to drop the mutual respect shtick and start lobbing grenades. Having a rival like Cormier could even end up elevating Jones’ legacy and — who knows? — maybe make him that breakout pay-per-view draw the UFC is hoping for him to become.
Cormier, 35, and Jones, 26, would also both be coming into that fight without a real loss. Jones’ one defeat was by disqualification, while Cormier is undefeated. Promoting them both as unbeatable to this point would add even more juice. And Jones is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world on top of that. Sorry, Renan Barao.
None of this will matter if Cormier doesn’t beat Henderson on Saturday night. He’s more than a 10-to-1 favorite, so he should. Jones will have a tougher time against Gustafsson.
But if those two things happen, if those stars align, the UFC could be looking at its biggest fight in 2015.