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As far as matinee melees go, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier are good co-stars

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MMA Fighting

Some of the most compelling face-offs have been provided by Nick Diaz, who one time greeted poor Frank Shamrock with a couple of flying birds. There have been plenty of tense moments otherwise, though, sometimes from the principals you’d least expect. Anderson Silva sort of nonchalanted a shoulder into Chael Sonnen’s face after the weigh-ins, a prelude of what was to come at UFC 148. At UFC 162, Silva and Chris Weidman shared a kiss that sent the raging 18-34 male demographic into a state of introspection.

It’s the fight game. Stare-downs wouldn’t be stare-downs without the pervasiveness of threat playing over an otherwise peaceful arrangement.

But there hasn’t been a square off quite like the one Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones had in the MGM Grand’s lobby on Monday, in what was the first big promotional push for UFC 178. If anything, that sort of attention was being paid more to Dustin Poirier, whose personal mission it has become to rid the featherweight division of Conor McGregor. Their stare-down, though full of peeve, was nothing compared to Jones and Cormier.

Jones strolled up in sunglasses with his light heavyweight belt slung over his shoulder, and put his forehead on Cormier; Cormier shoved Jones’ neck region; Jones then stiff-armed UFC’s Dave Sholler through the backdrop and into history as he closed in to throw the first punch. That’s when all hell broke loose in that sunny hotel lobby on a Monday afternoon.

Malki Kawa, Jones’ agent, was accused of throwing a punch in the melee. Surveillance proved he didn’t. Cormier’s shoe was flung. The fight spilled to the side of the stage. Jones, with his reach, was throwing punches from the MGM Skylofts. Cormier was tugged to the ground from a gang of peacemakers. McGregor, in his usual smart vest and tie, began snapping selfies among the people, completely comfortable in the outbreak of delirium. Things were unhinged. And Dana White, the usual mediator for such high-profile events, missed it all. He was in Bora Bora on vacation, leaving Sholler to stand between a couple of 230-pound athletes who’d been moved to fury. 

To say Monday’s brawl was shocking would be a lie…but it was definitely unexpected. It wasn’t David Haye and Dereck Chirsora in London, when the always-volatile Haye was running his mouth towards Vitali Klitschko and next thing you know people got fed up. Nor was it the Diaz brothers and Jake Shields throwing down with Jason "Mayhem" Miller in Nashville while Gus Johnson famously cautioned that, "gentlemen, we’re on national television." This was Cormier, who wears polo shirts, and Jones, who traditionally averts his eyes during these things, especially in the early, more perfunctory promotional schemes, doing away with etiquette. It was two pretty well behaved guys crashing through the barriers of civility and into each other.

And you know what that Monday afternoon barrier-crashing did? It just made an already compelling fight -- perhaps the most compelling of the year, and certainly the most compelling of Jones’ career -- into a can’t-miss event. People are drawn to bad blood. Bad blood thrums the primal chord, the major chord of the fight game; bad blood sells fights.

The brawl was all over SportsCenter all night on Monday. The anchors never used the word "unfortunate" when describing it. In fact, it played over all kinds of platforms and nobody was quite sure if it was good or bad for the UFC or the sport, or even if we knew how to skew "good" and "bad" when it’s a situation that’s so marvelously both.

There was a loud moan let up by people who expect better of professional athletes. Matt Hughes, who is working for the UFC in the role of fighter relations, aimed a tweet at both Cormier and Jones saying what they are doing is "bad for the sport." Some media didn’t like the display, either, and it’s still unclear just what action the Nevada Athletic Commission and the UFC will take against them.

"We will see," NAC chairman Francisco Aguilar told MMA Fighting. "It’s not something we have had to deal with recently so it’s hard to make a hard line statement."

If it didn’t before, this fight now has people’s attention. And you know what? There are regrets, and there are awesome regrets.

"We are going to reserve our right to penalize both fighters after the commission has made a decision," UFC Chief Legal Officer Kirk Hendrick told "We expect more from our athletes, and we are prepared to levy sanctions to reinforce the appropriate behavior."

One thing that’s certain is that the fight won’t be cancelled. If it didn’t before, this fight now has people’s attention. And you know what? There are regrets, and there are awesome regrets. Not to trivialize what happened, because in a world of mimics a press conference brawl is the wrong message to send, but it all leads to a fight. It all leads to a cage to hold that fight. This niche has never been about songs and sanctimony; it’s about all the raw ingredients that go into fighting.

The UFC 178 matinee melee shouldn’t have happened, even if it’s not unthinkable that it did. Fortunately, nobody got hurt. But in the showdown industry, when it’s all leading to the flagpole to resolve a conflict in the most satisfactory way, the thing that stands out most about what Cormier and Jones did is this: These guys mean business.