Daniel Cormier wanted to fight Jon Jones. Jon Jones wanted to fight Daniel Cormier. Swedish striker Alexander Gustafsson cooperated by bowing out of his UFC 178 rematch with the champion due to a torn meniscus.
Fans miss out on a redo of perhaps the most exciting championship bout in UFC history. But the substitute pairing pits the only legitimate threat, aside from Gustafsson, to Jones’s record-breaking title reign. The 27-year-old has made seven defenses of the belt he took from Mauricio “Shogun” Rua more than three years ago. Neither Cormier nor Jones–who suffered a disqualification for illegal elbows on a dominated Matt Hamill–has ever been beaten in a mixed-martial-arts match. Though both compete at light heavyweight, their size, varied skill-set, and athleticism (freakish strength for Cormier, lightning-fast quickness for Jones) would make both immediate title contenders at heavyweight.
Cormier, an Olympic wrestler with powerful hands, offers as much of a threat as Gustafsson if less excitement. He owns wins over Antonio “Big Foot” Silva, Frank Mir, Josh Barnett, and Roy Nelson at heavyweight, and, since dropping to light heavyweight, he defeated the unheralded Patrick Cummins and mixed-martial-arts legend Dan Henderson.
Jones will likely rely on his unorthodox strikes and try to keep the fight on the feet. Cormier openly cites wrestling as his strategy. UFC 178 takes place on September 27 in Las Vegas.
“Jon Jones,” Cormier said after his victory over Henderson, “you can’t run away from me forever…. This is my octagon. I’m the man.”
The challenger offered a more conciliatory approach after landing the fight he’s been fighting for.
“I think he’s the best fighter in the world, pound-for-pound,” Cormier told UFC.com. “I think his skills would translate over a number of divisions. In terms of his skill in the cage, I think he’s awesome. He’s an unbelievable fighter and he’s leading that charge of this new generation of fighters, the guys that are athletic, and that could play other sports but choose to fight. He’s an unbelievable fighter and I respect him a ton.”