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Who would have guessed that it would be an injured Daniel Cormier and not an incarcerated Jon Jones who would derail the highly anticipated rematch between current and former light heavyweight champions?
After it was announced that Cormier would be unable to make it to the April 23 showdown with his nemesis due to a leg injury, there was a brief period of uncertainty. After all, this is the same Jones that turned down a short-notice fight with Chael Sonnen at UFC 151 in 2012. Thankfully, Jones remained the card’s anchor, but instead of a grudge match for the undisputed championship, he will now face a new opponent in Ovince St. Preux for an interim belt at UFC 197. It is hard to deny the intrigue that a second Jones-Cormier fight piqued, but if I’m being honest, I think I prefer the St. Preux fight. At least, I like what it represents: a change.
The genius of Jones is in his lethal adaptability. In both his pre-fight preparation and in the heat of a fight, Jones seems to have all the answers for whatever is thrown at him. Cormier on the other hand is an imposing force if he can assert his grappling-predicated pressure, but his one and only loss showed that he has few tools to pull off a win if he can’t get his wrestling in gear. At 37 years old, it’s not likely that Cormier has added any significant wrinkles to his game that would make a second go-around at Jones much different.
Don’t let the pre-fight hype fool you: The first fight was competitive, but it wasn’t particularly close. All three judges scored it four rounds to one for Jones. Those scorecards betray Cormier’s very real moments of success to some extent, but at the same time, there was never a point where the fight felt was out of Jones’ control. Let’s not even get into the fact that Jones was likely not preparing himself to the best of his abilities leading up to that fight.
All this to say that the Jones-Cormier 2 booking felt more compulsory than compelling. I get the narrative angles involved, and any fight that has Jones in it is inherently interesting right now, but other than hoping that he was going to make unprecedented and uncharacteristic mistakes in the fight, the result was all but a foregone conclusion. Of course, that should never prevent a fight from taking place, lest we neuter our ability to let the sport surprise and delight us, but it’s important to consider when comparing the Jones-Cormier situation with the St. Preux matchup.
Even more so than Cormier, almost no one is giving OSP a chance to become the first interim champ in the division since Randy Couture. With that said, at least in this instance, the actual combative dynamic is still unknown and thus more intriguing. We’ve already seen exactly how Jones-Cormier plays out over five rounds. Now we get to see something new and something different. In the current Ultimate Fighting Championship climate, that’s worth a lot.
Just look at UFC 200. It almost feels like, in celebration of the number two, the UFC brass doubled-down on second fights at the top of the card. Instead of truly compelling matchups like Conor McGregor-Frankie Edgar, Jose Aldo-Max Holloway and Nate Diaz-Eddie Alvarez or even Diaz-Robbie Lawler, we’re running back fights that have already happened and had clear-cut winners. Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold are set to rematch in June, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha in July. With rumors abounding about a second Lawler-Carlos Condit booking and another Holly Holm-Miesha Tate fight on the horizon, fresh matchmaking has become a novelty lately. If it weren’t for injuries, the light heavyweight and heavyweight picture would also be locked down with rematches.
This whole situation brought back the feelings I had when Jones was stripped of his title in the first place. After the initial shock and frustration subsided, the light heavyweight landscape became more open and interesting than it had been under Jones’ rule. The division was wide open for Cormier, Anthony Johnson, Alexander Gustafsson and others to claim. For the first time since Jones put a whooping on Mauricio Rua for the title, the answer to “Who is the best fighter?” was anyone’s guess. That sort of parity is exciting.
With Jones back in the mix, there is a hint of disappointment, since it feels like any competition in the division will be for the title of second best. Jones is arguably the best fighter the sport has ever seen. With all due respect to Chuck Liddell, the title of “Greatest Light Heavyweight of All-Time” is a lock for “Bones,” let alone the best light heavyweight of right now. That kind of dominance, while undoubtedly special to watch, can also be a little anti-climactic. This is especially true when rematches abound. At least a brand new opponent -- even if it only becomes a brand new beatdown -- offers something original.
To be sure, there is always a time and a place for rematches. When a fight is particularly close or controversial, when there is a dearth of challengers or when a fight is simply spectacular, there are reasons for a rewind. However, when you clearly and decisively beat an opponent in your last fight and the only reason you lost the title is because of out-of-cage shenanigans, there is a level of lost luster that not even a legitimate grudge match can compensate.
It’s true that history never repeats, but under most conditions it does, in fact, rhyme. I for one would much rather watch something new and different happen in the sport than listen to a repetitive gong of second chances play out. St. Preux may not be the opponent the people want for Jones, but he is the opponent we deserve.
Hailing from Kailua, Hawai’i, Eric Stinton has been contributing to Sherdog since 2014. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and graduate degree in Special Education from University of Hawai’i. He is an occasional columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, and his work has also appeared in The Classical. You can find his writing at ericstinton.com. He currently lives in Seoul with his fiancé and dachshund.