After a thrilling, yet emotional main event at UFC 214 this past weekend, Jon Jones would reach the end of his long road to redemption after winning back the UFC light-heavyweight title after being stripped of the belt in April 2015 due to his personal demons.
The night also marked the end of one of the UFC’s most heated feuds, as former champion Daniel Cormier once again failed to beat Jones by inadvertently bringing out his nemeses’ best. But does their rivalry hold up as the greatest of all time?
Aggression is the focal point of every rivalry in each and every sport. Without aggression, these relationships between fighters/athletes merely make them competitors, not rivals, and it doesn’t come more aggressive than a pre-fight brawl at a press tour…
Tensions were high at the Las Vegas leg of the UFC 178 press conference when Cormier decided to get under the champion’s skin by going in with his head during the faceoff. Jones lost his composure and started a brawl, much to the surprise of the crowd in attendance, and UFC Vice President of Public Relations, Dave Sholler, who found himself in the middle of the two.
Rather than a flash in the pan however, this would prove to be consistent throughout the never-ending bitterness that the fighters had towards each other.
After the cancellation of the fight at UFC 178, the match was postponed until January 2015 at UFC 182. The build up to this fight was arguably as intense as the previously arranged date, with Cormier turning his back on Jones in the weigh-ins.
Usually, trash talk is done prior to the fight and respect is shown afterwards. However, what separates this contest from the rest is that no pleasantries were exchanged from either fighter after Jones took a unanimous decision victory.
Following victory over his fierce rival, Jon Jones quoted: “He is human. All the crap he talks, it motivated me. I took him down about five times to zero. I’m sorry I’m being really classless right now but I really don’t like DC, that’s why I am being this way.”
When we compare this aggression to rivalries such as Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Hughes, it’s clear to see why aggression contributed to a rivalry of epic proportions. As great as GSP vs Hughes was, it never had the pre-fight hype and build up that Jones and DC enjoyed.
The one thing that stands out compared to any other rivalry is longevity. Whilst the rivalry has only been three or four years long, the rivalry was full of suspense and anticipation and lasted over a long period of time.
With the pair first set to fight back in September 2014, the rivalry enjoyed a three year long stint. But what makes this period of time so significant is the amount of suspense and waiting.
Not only did both fighters pull out of numerous slated contests, but Jones was often in the limelight and saw himself stripped and suspended on two separate occasions…
The light-heavyweight champion was set to defend against Anthony Johnson in a title defense but after a hit and run incident, Jon Jones was immediately stripped of the title and suspended, leaving Cormier to fight Johnson for the title instead.
When Jones eventually returned, after being busted for out of competition use of cocaine, a comeback fight to face champion Cormier was scheduled but due to a leg injury, the reigning champion had to postpone.
After defeating Ovince St. Preux in style, Jones finally got his shot at facing his familiar foe at UFC 200, but due to a failing a USADA anti-doping test, Jones was again pulled and suspended.
Not only did this fuel Cormier’s hatred for Jones, it left fans waiting longer than expected for the rematch, which eventually took place in July 2017. When we compare this longevity to the likes of Junior Dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez, which passed in less than two years with no suspense, this again shows why Jones and Cormier formed the ultimate rivalry.
Of course, rivalries are created up on personalities. But to have a clash of personalities between the two greatest light-heavyweights of all time, let alone them fighting in the same era, is pretty special.
Some rivalries are built on greatness like GSP vs. Hughes. Some are built upon hatred such as Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz. Some, despite being great, are too one-sided such as Ortiz vs. Shamrock and JDS vs. Velasquez. Only Jones and Cormier capture all elements to make it the best rivalry of all time.
What is noticeable between the pair is that despite there evidently being a bitter side to the rivalry, both fights were extremely competitive. Cormier almost landed at will during the first epic and a case could be made for Cormier winning the second fight until the stoppage.
With Cormier’s only two losses coming to Jon Jones, arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time, questions have to be raised of which bracket the 38-year-old fits into. Top 10 of all time? Possibly. The second best-light heavyweight of all time? Certainly.
Despite this all, the numerous tense moments, the cumulative amounts of trash talk and the severe obsession between the two, at the end of the second fight and arguably end of the rivalry, the fighters paid their respects.
Jones showed his classy side when he thanked long-term rival Daniel Cormier, saying: “I want to take this time to thank Daniel Cormier. For being my biggest rival and motivator. Daniel Cormier guys, has absolutely no reason to hang his head.
“He has been a model champion. A model husband, a model father, a teammate, leader and i aspire to be a lot more like that man because he is an amazing human being. Unfortunately we are opponents but outside of that, he is a true champion for the rest of his life.”
Cormier, concussed after the fight, paid his respect to Jones and his team the day after his loss.
First off, thank you all for the kind words. I have felt the support. Congratulations to Jon Jones and his team. They did a phenomenal job and got the victory. Also, to Big John McCarthy, I would like to apologize for acting up with you. I am thankful for the time you gave me to try and defend myself and stay in the fight. You are the best in the business for a reason. I also wanna thank my team and my coaches. I love you all from the bottom of my heart. Your time and energy is greatly appreciated. You guys did a wonderful job, I was ready. It's a fist fight and things happen. Dana White and the @ufc, thank you for being the premiere organization in all of MMA. Again, congrats to Team Jones and JacksonWink. Love you all. I'll see you soon. DC 📷@layziethesavage
After all was said and done, they still managed to leave on good terms after an immense rivalry. To be so respectful and disciplined despite the everlasting feud shows the classiness of the pair.
Combine this respect with the repeated aggression, the immense volume of trash-talk and the competitiveness in their two classic fights and it is clear to see why the rivalry between these two light-heavyweights is incomparable and undoubtedly, the greatest of all time.