After a busy week at UFC 230, even with the headlines focusing mainly on Daniel Cormier’s heavyweight title defense against Derrick Lewis and Jon Jones’ return from his latest suspension to face Alexander Gustafsson, the key takeaway from Cormier and Jones was that they both no longer have any interest in facing the other.
For Cormier, he will tell you that his career is coming to a close and he has one fight left.
For Jones, he will tell you that he’s already beaten Cormier twice — even if the second win was overturned due to a drug test failure — and he knocked Cormier out in that second fight, and thus, there is nothing let to prove.
What’s the saying about he who doth protests too much?
Cormier and Jones are headed for two different but very significant legacies historically, but at the end of the day, they are prizefighters, with money — not championships — being the ultimate prize.
Both are very secure in their standings as all-time greats.
Jones is probably the most talented fighter the sport has ever seen. Nobody has fought consistent top competition at the level he has and never lost legitimately. His lone loss was via disqualification to Matt Hamill in 2009 for illegal elbows in a fight that should have been stopped before what was an inadvertent foul. Only twice, Jones’ first fight against Gustafsson and his second against Cormier, did it even feel like the opponent had the ability to even hang with him. Gustafsson was competitive to the end, and Cormier won a round, perhaps even two, before he was knocked out in the third in a decision since overturned.
Cormier, meanwhile, was the first fighter to not just win, but defend championships in two different weight classes at the same time. While it is debatable whether he should be considered the greatest fighter ever to have a clean track record in drug tests, a category that eliminates both Jones and Silva, he has to be in any discussion.
But provided Jones gets by Gustafsson a second time, what is the fight he can make the most money in? And what is the fight Cormier can make the most money in?
No, it’s not each other. It’s actually Brock Lesnar for Jones, and arguably the same for Cormier, although it is far from a lock that Cormier vs. Lesnar earns more than Cormier vs. Jones III.
But is that actually going to happen?
Lesnar’s situation changed greatly a few weeks ago. He seemed destined to fight for the UFC in early 2019, probably against Cormier for the heavyweight championship, contingent upon Cormier getting past Lewis at UFC 230. Lesnar can challenge for the heavyweight championship even though his last actual sanctioned Octagon win was in 2010. Such is the unique nature of a sport fueled by marquee attractions and a fan base that has historically shown they will pay more to see Lesnar fight than anyone on the active roster aside from Conor McGregor.
But then Leati Joe Anoa’i, better known as Roman Reigns — the handpicked top star in World Wrestling Entertainment — found out that leukemia, a disease he battled 11 years ago, had returned.
Lesnar was at first going to leave pro wrestling after Reigns fulfilled his multi-year quest of beating Lesnar this past April. But when Saudi Arabia flashed a checkbook of more than $40 million per show in Vince McMahon’s direction, suddenly the safer world of pro wrestling gave Lesnar a monetary offer you couldn’t turn down to do a few more shows, a run that was scheduled to end this past Friday.
But with Reigns out, Lesnar got a new offer from McMahon to replace Reigns as his top singles champion. Lesnar agreed secretly to the new deal, and won the pro wrestling championship again. The new deal is for multiple shows, but its length of time has been kept secretive. But it is known that Lesnar is scheduled as late as April of next year for WrestleMania.
The deal does allow him to take a UFC fight, but whether Lesnar really will do that during this contractual term with WWE is a bigger question. And for Cormier, with the sands of the hourglass of his career rapidly running out, and him continuing to say he’s done in March after his 40th birthday, the Lesnar fight is far less of a sure thing than it seemed a month ago.
If Lesnar is out of the equation, Cormier has said Jones is his second choice. If Lesnar is out of the equation, Jones can say whatever he wants, but aside from Lesnar, there is nobody he can draw against even close to that of Cormier. If it’s not his next fight after Gustafsson, and Cormier follows through on his retirement, the fight will never happen.
Let’s look at how Fortunes Changed for Five Stars of Saturday’s UFC 230.
DANIEL CORMIER — After the win over Lewis, Cormier spelled out his timeline. He wants to fight on March 2 in Las Vegas in what would be his retirement fight. Lesnar (5-3, 1 NC) is choice No. 1. Jones (22-1, 1 NC) is choice No. 2. The third choice would be a rematch with Stipe Miocic (18-3).
If Cormier was to beat Jones in his retirement fight, he would possibly become the first person to hold two championships in the UFC at the time of his retirement depending on the weight class for the trilogy showdown.
DERRICK LEWIS — Despite losing in his title fight, this recent run with a win over Alexander Volkov followed by a loss to Cormier was the highest-profile run of Lewis’ career. Lewis should face Curtis Blaydes (10-1), if Blaydes loses on Nov. 24 to Francis Ngannou. If Blaydes wins, they could still do that fight. Lewis vs. Ngannou, because of how bad their first meeting was, seems like a fight to avoid doing.
RONALDO “JACARE” SOUZA — Souza (26-6, 1 NC) seems to have two options. The first would be to wait and face the winner of a proposed Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum title fight that is tentatively on track for a Feb. 9 pay-per-view show in Australia. The only other viable fighting options would be to have a No. 1 contender fight with either Luke Rockhold (16-4) or Israel Adesanya (15-0).
JARED CANNONIER — Cannonier (11-4) was fighting at heavyweight until his ninth pro fight. With his second-round stoppage of David Branch (22-5), Cannonier’s next opponent could be Adesanya, but a more viable direction would be either Chris Weidman (14-4) or Paulo Costa (12-0).
ISRAEL ADESANYA — “The Last Stylebender” is still undefeated, and his first-round win over Derek Brunson (18-7) saw him pass his toughest test to date with flying colors. There is a natural matchup for Adesanya in Anderson Silva (34-8, 1 NC), whose latest suspension ends this month. Adesanya has clear starpower, and him against Silva could headline a show. A win in that situation would greatly increase Adesanya’s star power going forward.