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Make no mistake, there's certainly no love lost between the two, nor is “D.C.” denying the legitimacy of the disdain they share for one another. But before he can begin to consider his situation with Jones a true rivalry, Cormier has some work to do.
The former Olympian is as honest a self-critic as can be found in the fight game, and his interpretation of where he stands with Jones is further proof. There is no pomp where Cormier’s ego is concerned, just the target ahead.
“It’s hard for me to say I’m his equal right now because he won the first one,” Cormier said. “A real rivalry starts when you are going back and forth and you both hold victories over one another. I have to win this one for it to become Ali vs. Frazier or Lakers vs. Celtics, for it to become the big rivalry everyone already believes it to be. I have to win this fight because if I don’t then it just becomes Tyson vs. Holyfield where people thought it was going to be a rivalry, but Mike Tyson didn’t get his job done.
“It’s a rivalry in most terms, but the most important term for me personally is the competitive side. If I can’t win then it doesn’t matter. I can win all the arguing and bickering, but if I can’t win inside that cage then there isn’t even an argument. I want to win this fight then fans are going to see a true rivalry begin.”
While Jones handed Cormier the first loss of his professional career at UFC 182 back in January of 2015, it was the live-wire, drama-filled build-up that sent fight fans into a frenzy. The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner and the pound-for-pound great were literally at one another’s throats at every turn.
Whether Cormier and Jones were in the same room or from interacting remotely, the animosity between the two men picked up with each media obligation they fulfilled. Now that the rematch is official and the Louisiana native set his sights on another go with Jones at UFC 200 on July 9, Cormier isn’t carrying any baggage with him.
The AKA representative let all the promotional hype and conflict slide—he’s put every drop of focus into solidifying his place as the one true champion of the light heavyweight division.
“Last time I fought Jon, I was a mess emotionally,” Cormier said. “Every time I went around him we were fighting and arguing. This time not so much. We bicker back and forth, but it’s not like last time where we were trying to get physical anytime we were in the same place. I know I’m in a much better place this time around, but if people need some intrigue and need to believe I’m on the edge then go ahead and believe that. I don’t mind. I know how I’m feeling and my team knows how my preparation is going. That’s all that matters.
“I took all the negativity and just let go of it,” he added. “I’m focused on the job I have to do and I believe I’ll get my hand raised.”
Of the emotions Cormier has discarded, one of the biggest issues the champion let go was how the public views him in comparison to Jones. During a press conference for their rematch that was initially slated to take place at UFC 197, Cormier publicly questioned why the crowd in attendance was booing him yet praising a fighter who had been suspended for legal troubles.
Unfortunately, an injury led Cormier to withdraw from the bout. Watching his replacement, Ovince Saint Preux, go the full 25 minutes with “Bones” helped Cormier reflect on why their protagonist and antagonist roles had been swapped.
“It’s a different situation,” Cormier said. “It was a case of absence making the heart grow fonder, and people missed Jon. When I watched him fight Ovince [Saint Preux] I was sitting off to the side and I kind of got the sense that I missed seeing him in that environment as well. Being completely honest, I missed him in that environment because that’s where he’s good. The guy can fight really well, he has confidence in himself and you can see that he’s where he belongs when he’s fighting. I can respect that about him.
“On the other hand, all the other stuff bothered me. I don’t like his irresponsibility and all of the other things he’s done, but I had to let that all go because it doesn’t really affect me. If it’s okay with the world then it’s okay with me. Why should I care? The only time I ever thought about any of it in the first place was from the perspective that the guy has so much to lose. If he’s okay with that then it’s fine by me.”
During the fight between Jones and Saint Preux, Cormier had other realizations as well. He’d spent an entire training camp preparing to face Jones at UFC 197, and during that time, invested the sweat equity into getting revenge on the only man to ever defeat him.
Since emerging on the UFC stage back in 2008, the Jackson/Winkeljohn-trained fighter has been a stylistic puzzle no one has ever solved due to Jones' unprecedented skill set and ability to adapt his game on the fly. Those attributes catapulted his name among the greatest fighters of all time, but it wasn’t the same Jones who showed up at UFC 197.
While the fresh-minted interim champion was criticized for his lack of dominance after spending more than a year away from the cage, it wasn’t the rust that stoked Cormier’s confidence. It was assurance that the hard work invested thus far has moved him one step closer to solving the Jones puzzle.
“If I got anything out of watching him fight Ovince, it was that my coaches and the new people we’ve brought in to help me prepare are on the right track,” Cormier said. “They saw and recognized things in Jon’s game, and everything they thought he would do he did in that fight. That gives me confidence in my team because it shows they’ve gathered all the right intel and they’ve mapped out the right attack if I’m going to use military terms.
“Sitting and watching him fight I wasn’t gaining confidence because he was rusty and me thinking I can beat him because of that. I gained confidence because it really proved that my team and I really were on the correct path to victory, and I’m going right back to work to pick up where we left off.”