On Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill legalizing mixed martial arts in the Empire State, clearing the way for the UFC to hold its inaugural event at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 12.
No bouts were announced for the pay-per-view card, but the eventual lineup figures to be filled with New York-based fighters. One of the most obvious choices is Rochester, N.Y., native Jon Jones, who returns from a lengthy hiatus to face Ovince St. Preux in the UFC 197 headliner on April 23 in Las Vegas.
Should Jones defeat St. Preux to capture the interim light heavyweight belt, it would set up a title unification bout against Daniel Cormier later this year. Cormier withdrew from UFC 197 due to a leg injury suffered in training.
If it were up solely up to Jones, Madison Square Garden would make an ideal venue for their highly-anticipated rematch. However, the Jackson-Wink MMA representative has his doubts that Cormier would be willing to defend his crown in hostile territory.
“I would be honored to main event [against] Daniel Cormier at Madison Square Garden,” Jones said during a conference call on Friday. “The question is, will Daniel Cormier accept that fight? He’s obviously having a lot of mental struggles when it comes to me. That’s just one more thing that he doesn’t need.
“I’m sure he doesn’t want to fight me in my backyard. Who knows? I doubt he’d he fight me. Like I said, I’ll fight him wherever. The Oklahoma State wrestling room, his living room, wherever.”
Jones speculation is rooted in truth. Cormier addressed the topic months earlier following a split-decision triumph over Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 192 on Oct. 3. However, it wasn’t a mental issue that made Cormier balk at a hypothetical meeting with Jones in New York. According to Cormier, allowing Jones to fight for a title in his home state would be too much of a reward after “Bones” was stripped of the belt and suspended indefinitely for fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run accident in Albuquerque, N.M., in April 2015.
"Why should I allow this guy to go and fight where he's comfortable?" Cormier said at the UFC 192 post-fight press conference. "No, he has to go somewhere where he has to look at people in the eyes and hear the anger they have toward him for the actions that he did."
For now, Jones vs. Cormier in New York is purely a hypothetical. However, as long as Jones wins, their rematch is inevitable, no matter the venue. While he was initially upset when Cormier withdrew, Jones has made peace with the situation and is fully focused on St. Preux.
“I was a little upset, but I’m the type of guy that tries to find the good in situations. I try to look at things as signs,” Jones said. “I thought maybe I needed to fight someone else. Maybe I needed to fight Ovince before [Cormier]. I’m definitely not looking at him as a warmup fight. It would be foolish to call someone with his abilities a warmup fight. This guy has some tremendous highlights throughout his career. I know what he’s capable of. Maybe I wasn’t meant to fight DC right now.”