The ball is in the current champion's court.
Jon Jones' manager Malki Kawa told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that Jones wants a title shot against Daniel Cormier on April 23 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Cormier said on The MMA Hour that he'll consider that date and venue, but ultimately he'll be the one making the decisions as to when and where the fight happens.
"I've given [the UFC] a couple dates I'd be willing to look at," Cormier said. "Maybe you guys will know something soon. I'm going to make my decision as the champion sooner rather than later. Just put it like that."
Cormier has said publicly that he does not want to fight in New York, Jones' home state, because he believes that is the one place where the fans will be sympathetic toward Jones despite his felony hit-and-run arrest earlier this year. In an interview with Ariel Helwani for MMA Fighting last week, Jones said that attitude is "cowardly" and shows him that Cormier is not ready to beat him.
In response to that, Cormier said Jones did a similar thing when the UFC floated the possibility of doing a rematch between Jones and Alexander Gustafsson in Gustafsson's home country of Sweden.
"Jon was completely against it, because Jon said, 'I'm the champion. I should decide where I want to fight,'" Cormier said. "If I'm not mistaken, it was something to that effect. It's the same situation. I don't understand how he can judge me differently than how he wants to judge himself. Again, it's just Jon being Jon."
Cormier said fighting at Madison Square Garden wouldn't be a huge deal for him, because he has already competed there in wrestling. Of course, this would be the first-ever major MMA event in New York City, so that is of interest to him. Legally, the UFC still has some obstacles to go through, since pro MMA is still illegal in New York. But April 23 is the target date for UFC 198.
"If I had to be completely honest, in terms of how historic it would be and how big it would be, obviously that would be a big deal," Cormier said. "Now, for it to be Madison Square Garden, I think honestly Helwani, if it is the Garden, April 23 maybe becomes more intriguing. Obviously, like I said, for historic purposes it would be cool to fight in Madison Square Garden. But we don't want to really give this guy what he wants. Yeah, yeah. I guess I'll think about April 23."
It's clear Cormier wants the fight to happen on his terms. Either that, or he's just playing mind games with Jones. Cormier beat Anthony Johnson to win the vacant title at UFC 187 in May, one month after the UFC stripped Jones of the belt and suspended him indefinitely for the April felony hit-and-run arrest. Jones beat Cormier to retain the belt at UFC 182 back in January.
Jones has been reinstated following a conditional discharge granted by a Bernalillo (N.M.) County judge in October. Jones will have to complete 18 months of probation and 72 appearances of community service.
Kawa believes that Madison Square Garden for both Jones and Cormier would be a "slam dunk" -- from a legacy and financial standpoint.
"I think it would be a huge, huge fight," Kawa said. "And to do it in New York State for the first time, you'd get to be a part of history. Whoever wins or loses that, it won't even matter. It'll go down in history -- the first sanctioned UFC fight to take place in New York State at MSG was headlined by who? I think that's something that Cormier really needs to take a look at and really consider."
The manager thinks Cormier is doing just that and thinks that maybe some of his public comments are just posturing.
"I think the UFC knows that and I think Cormier knows that, too," Kawa said. "Cormier is a smart guy. He knows what he's doing. He gets in the media and he says certain things, but I think he knows what he's doing."