Up until UFC 226 on Saturday night, a fun thought kept floating around: That whenever Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar returned from their respective suspensions, the UFC would be smart to pit them against each other. It made a particular kind of sense, but the prevailing logic seemed to center on a premise of why the hell not? Lesnar has fought just once in six-and-half years, and has been dealing in blockbuster one-offs, and Jones, in between banishments, has always played with the idea of moving to heavyweight.
Besides, what better way to get Jones — the sport’s beleaguered GOAT — back into the rotation? A box office smash like Lesnar was a perfect re-(re)reinvention fight that would make up for a lot of the money he squandered over the years quickly. It was actually perfect.
That was all before Daniel Cormier knocked out Stipe Miocic to become the UFC’s heavyweight champion, to go along with the placeholder title he inherited from Jones. That was before Lesnar came in the cage and shoved Cormier to set up his first heavyweight title defense, thus stealing Jones’ potential next opponent, and another piece of his soul.
Cormier, once again, foiled Jon Jones. This has become a recurring theme, Cormier’s Count of Monte Cristo-level subtweets to Jones. People like to point out that Jones beat Cormier in the octagon on two separate occasions (once officially), but Cormier has carved Jones up in life. Where Jones was the pastor’s son who wanted to set an example for children and prove that all things are possible, Cormier actually has gone in there and proven that all things are possible. He is the ambassador Jones professed to be before All The Trouble began.
And where Jones hoped to solidify himself as the greatest in MMA by continuing his reign as a heavyweight, Cormier just went there. There are no more hypotheticals, he is the heavyweight champion. He beat the “Baddest Man on the Planet,” Stipe Miocic, via a first-round KO. He smiles like the Cheshire cat, because everything he does has dual meaning. His new title is a career accomplishment, but it’s also…
…well, it’s also a psychic slap in the face of his arch nemesis, Jon Jones. That palm print keeps showing up under the black light on Jones’ cheek.
If you thought the back-story of Jones-Cormier couldn’t take on more poetic import, you thought wrong. Cormier is trouncing on Jones’, parading around with his unfaithful belt in public, and now showing up to events with two belts on his shoulder, polytitlist, like a regular playboy of the octagon. This has been going on for a while, now. Cormier capitalizing on Jones’ fuck-ups, and treating him like an ongoing public service announcement of what happens when you cheat, run afoul with the law, get all weekendy with the recreational drugs, etc.
For every Jones’ tweet saying “who’s your daddy,” there’s Cormier showing up on the MetroPCS commercial, encouraging Dominick Cruz to beat a rug. When Jones turns on his TV, there’s Cormier working as an analyst for FOX. Cormier, robust, always an everyman, always smiling, doing what Jones was meant to do but can’t because Jones can’t get out of his own way. Cormier, a paragon of perseverance that Jones keeps trying to be. Cormier keeping the promises that Jones can only make. There are levels to this game. Cormier is manning the switchboard, while Jones awaits word on when he can return to action. When you can’t beat them, turn them into existential goo.
Or worse, turn them into old news.
That’s what Cormier has done, and continues to do, to his biggest rival. Anybody posting memes of Cormier crying after Jones beat him the second time (unofficially) only serves to humanize an all-time great.
If there’s a measure of true competitive one-upmanship in the subtext, it’s that this belt — the heavyweight crown — has nothing to do with Jones. And, then again, everything. Until Saturday, Jones could always point to the Cormier’s light heavyweight belt as a kind of lie that he was telling the public — a masquerade, of sorts, when everybody knows the real truth. That Cormier never beat him in the octagon, and never will, and that was pretty hard to argue. But with the heavyweight title, Jones can only give a reluctant nod. He can’t say that Cormier’s winning of the second title essentially makes him the Champ Champ, no more than Nate Marquardt can say that he’s the actual welterweight champion for beating Tyron Woodley back in the day.
It doesn’t work that way.
Cormier’s new title is out of Jones’ reach to manipulate. If you believe that everything Cormier does is tied to Jones — in the way that Ali was tied to Frazier, or Larry was tied to Magic — Cormier just earned a degree of independence. His victory over the BMOTP Miocic solidifies his rank among the all-time best, regardless of what Jones and his lingering faithful think. Cormier just took put the rivalry in a place where Jones can’t touch, even with his 84-inch wingspan.
That’s what Cormier earned in his victory Saturday night against Miocic. A second title, and distinguishing heights. He made history, the kind that Jones was destined to make. He and Lesnar are now slated to fight when Lesnar is done going through the six-month USADA testing pool window. At 39, he wants to retire around his 40th birthday, which falls on March 20.
That might leave one last fight between him and Jon Jones, the man who has watched Cormier achieve extraordinary things from behind a partition of red tape. That might be Jones’ chance to take something back. But for right now the world is Cormier’s, and he’s not above letting everyone — especially Jon Jones — know all about it.