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In a weird way, all these years later, Jon Jones is ‘happy' Daniel Cormier has a chance to be UFC champion

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS -- Over five years have passed since Jon Jones first planted the seeds of his rivalry with Daniel Cormier. It is a bizarre thought to consider; the idea that a young Jones, months away from UFC gold, could so deeply enrage the unknown Olympian in the hallways of a UFC show in Anaheim, and that those few seconds would linger for more than a half-decade between two of the sport's preeminent alpha males. Neither Jones nor Cormier could have known back in 2010 that they would still be omnipresent figures in each other's lives all these years later.

But they are. Two convergent narratives that, even when they don't intersect, barrel close enough to one another that their stories are almost inseparable.

Jones bested Cormier in the cage. Cormier bested Jones on the road. As soon as Jones gave away what was most important -- his UFC light heavyweight title -- Cormier was there to scoop it up and carry on the mantle. Two sides of the same coin, similar enough to develop a mutual respect, but dissimilar enough to never let the hatred waver.

Yet, somewhere along the way, a funny thing happened. Eleven months spent watching Cormier parade around with the UFC strap in tow has led Jones to a conclusion that is both surprising and a reflection on how much the narrative has changed.

"It doesn't really bother me," Jones said Wednesday when asked of Cormier's reign as UFC light heavyweight champion.

"I'm really aware with everything that's happened. I took myself out of the competition being a knucklehead and gave DC an opportunity of a lifetime to finally capture that belt. This may sound weird, but in a way I'm happy for him to have gotten a taste of the opportunity. Because outside of the fact that I don't like him, he's really not a bad guy. And watching him, he makes a great champion. He has a clean image. He seems like a family guy who works really hard and everything like that.

"So, me not being in there, you want to see a guy like DC have the belt. So a part of me, in a weird way, is happy that he got the opportunity. But now he's had it long enough. I hope he enjoyed it. It's time to pay his rental fee and get that ass whooped when I finally face him."

Threats of violence aside, those words may very well be the nicest things ever said by Jones in endless tit-for-tat between the two light heavyweights. They certainly are nicer than the sort of pleasantries we've grown accustomed to.

Though, perhaps it helps that Jones has reason to smile these days. On Saturday, he will return to the Octagon for the first time since the April 2015 hit-and-run that sent him into a career tailspin. If all goes well, a win over Ovince Saint Preux at UFC 197 will net him the interim UFC title and a second chance to topple Cormier.

The only thing missing will be the one step closer to the record Jones chased for the better part of his adult life. From the moment Jones tore through a 2011 campaign that still stands as one of the most amazing calendar years in MMA history, he spoke fervently of his desire to break Anderson Silva's record for most consecutive UFC title defenses.

Silva ended up with 10. Jones got to eight, then had his belt stripped -- though he understands now that has no one to blame but himself.

"At the end of the day, the way I look at it is, people, they'll know," Jones said. "If I go on for the next several years winning championships, the argument and the records... the argument will change. People will just say, ‘hey, Jon had a setback in his career. Technically, Anderson Silva has that record, but Jon Jones, he went out and won, let's say, 10 more world titles or whatever.' So I just think through time, everything else will take of itself."

Jones is only 28, so while the idea of a second record-breaking title reign sounds ludicrous, nothing ever feels truly impossible in the world of Jonny Bones.

Of course, first comes Saint Preux. Only then will Jones earn the title unification bout he so badly desires.

But still, if another history-making run is to follow -- the idea that it could all start anew with Cormier? Jones couldn't have asked for a better start to his new story.

"The reason why I don't like him is because... really, because he doesn't like me," Jones said. "That's really what it boils down to. The way it all got started was me telling the guy in a joking manner that: ‘I could you down, I could take you down any day.' He got so pissed off for me telling the truth. As of right now, he still hasn't taken me down. I think I've taken him down five times. So the whole thing got started with me telling him what I thought was true, which I've proven to be true, and he decided to hate me from then on.

"I believe once I beat him the second time, the whole feud is going to go away," Jones added with a smirk. "Because it's going to be like, ‘alright, alright, you're better than me. I can admit it. I'll go home.'"