The stakes are high and the spotlight will be on the two of them May 23 in Las Vegas. Yet, it'll be a man who won't step into the Octagon that night who will likely draw the most headlines.
Cormier and Johnson acknowledged as much on a UFC 187 media conference call Wednesday afternoon. Jon Jones didn't lose his title because someone beat him; he lost it because he was stripped due to a felony charge, the latest alleged transgression in his checkered out-of-the-cage history.
"Jon, in my eyes, is still the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world in our weight class," Johnson said. "Everybody in our weight class wants to say I competed against the best and I fought against the best. That's the part that's disappointing because he's not around right now."
And no one knows when he will be -- or even if he will be. Jones' manager Malki Kawa said last week on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani that Jones might decide never to return to the sport. Jones was arrested April 27 on a felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving death or personal injury. He's currently waiting to find out whether the Bernalillo County (N.M.) district attorney brings the case to a grand jury.
Cormier and Johnson agree that Jones will eventually come back. But they don't necessarily need him to in order to validate their own successes.
"I think he will," Cormier said. "I think he'll be back. This is what he does. Jon Jones is a fighter and I don't think he would want to walk away from the sport because of the circumstances.
"Me personally, do I care if he comes back? I would love to fight him again, but that's really his decision. I'm not gonna beg him to come back. He can come back if he wants to."
Jones beat Cormier by unanimous decision at UFC 182 on Jan. 3 in Las Vegas. He would have fought Johnson at UFC 187 before being handed an indefinite suspension by the UFC.
The constant stream of questions for both Cormier and Johnson have been about whether they feel like the winner of their fight will be the true champion. Johnson admitted to being aggravated by that talk and Cormier said he has every right to be since Johnson was the one who was supposed to be in this fight originally.
"It's almost like they see us as some chumps or something like that," Johnson said. "We didn't make Jon do what he did. That was his own doing. We're athletes. We're top of the food chain right now.
"Whoever wins this title is not the paper champion. We're the champion of this weight class. We're No. 1. We're the best."
Cormier and Johnson agreed with each other about almost everything on the conference call, including whether or not they would give Jones a title shot if he comes back. Both men said they would gladly give Jones an immediate shot, depending on how long he's out. If Jones is out for more than a year, though, circumstances could change.
"Will he want to take kind of a tune-up fight first?" Cormier said. "I think you leave it up to him."
But while they have no problem giving Jones what he deserves in that respect, they want to make it clear that they think they are deserving, too -- regardless of whether or not either of them has beaten Jones.
"We are where we're supposed to be," Cormier said. "Would it help to beat Jones? Yes. But under the circumstances I'm not sure it would do that much to change public perception, because I believe people believe what they want to believe and it doesn't matter what you do.
"It doesn't matter who wins this belt next weekend, people will say what they want. But the thing for me and Anthony to do is hold that belt high and be proud of the accomplishments that we will achieve next weekend, because there are so many people in the world that will never, ever reach that level."