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A Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier trilogy fight is as involved as it is inevitable

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It seems that no matter how far they try to get from one another, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier are forever tied at the hip. Immediately after Jones put away Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 — in what was such a whatevs show of prowess and strength that it almost came across as pedestrian — all the talk was about the trilogy. Will Jones and Cormier fight again? Will it be at light heavyweight or heavyweight? Will Jones show up with needles sticking out of his butt cheek for the fight? Will Cormier cry, like he did in the popular meme?

And for god’s sakes, will the UFC be smart enough to market the Oedipal angle in the build, if it turns out Jones’ really is Cormier’s “daddy?”

It’s the most persistent, complicated, ridiculously personal and tabloidish rivalry the sport has ever known. When both players are available — like they are right now — people want them to smash each other in the face. It’s gotten to the point that Jones versus Cormier is a fight game tradition. You have to know the story fairly intimately to understand exactly why it’s necessary, and it’s a story that’s best told to inquisitive strangers only if they’re sitting down — but it is one hell of a story. A story full of words like “cheating” and “masquerading” and “lying” and “pictograms” and “revenge.”

In other words, the best kind of story.

Still — and this is where it’s complicated — it’s a trilogy that doesn’t need to happen, at least not in any black and white sense. On the one hand, Cormier lost the first two fights, and the second one convincingly, even if Jones popped hot for a PED. To book it again is strictly to give DC a third crack at conquering his arch nemesis.

For his part, Cormier already has his outro planned, and has circled Brock Lesnar for the occasion. He’s happily in a place where Jones doesn’t necessarily factor. He has the heavyweight title and up until this week had the light heavyweight title, only “vacating” the lesser of the two so that Jones could fight for it Saturday night. That’s a nice way to approach it psychologically, at least for Cormier, and it’s in that psychology that this rivalry lives. Besides, that belt was Jones’ anyway, until it wasn’t (and then was [and then wasn’t]). This time Cormier didn’t lose the belt; he merely donated it back to the UFC.

He’s in a healthy spot if he never fights Jones again.

On the other hand, all of this is bullshit. We all know the real truth. Cormier is obsessed with Jones, which is why Jones always has that shit-eating grin on his face. Bones knows. Cormier wants to beat his ass so bad that it can’t help but translate to his audience. Most people go through life never wanting anything as bad as Cormier wants to beat Jones. He keeps winning in Jones’ absences, which has given him glory…but it’s a 1B kind of glory. He hasn’t defeated Jones. We might call him great and forgive him that in context with all his accomplishments, but the bane of his existence is at large.

He is at large! And he is holding a title again.

This is why people want to see this fight. It’s the tingle in the spine. Cormier’s legacy is set as a dual-champion, but there’s a glaring imperfection right there in the middle. He has a model’s face with a pimple on the nose. Some people see the beauty. Some see the zit. It’s psychologically imperative that he get another shot. We need him to fail again, and live with his 1B greatness — or to beat Jones, and bring his career to the most poetic end possible. It’s in such esoteric bearings that a trilogy compels itself into existence.

There simply needs to be clarity to Cormier’s legacy.

Because the thing is, while DC was holding the 205-pound belt plenty of people were nudging their buddies in the ribs. Jones did beat him, for all intents and purposes, twice. Once at UFC 182 (after apparently doing his training camp at the discotheque), the other at UFC 214 when he popped for Turinabol. If he’s a cheat, he’s a sellable cheat, the kind that would justify Cormier getting that third chance. Cormier points out that Jones doesn’t play by the rules, and Jones carries his asterisks around like they are throwing stars he bought out of the back of a magazine. They are just things getting tossed around, not going to affect him one way or another. It’s that oblivion that fuels the urge to see him lose. And Cormier keeps showing back up as the man to make it happen.

And here we are again. Ready for the thing to play out. The Jones-Cormier rivalry has gone through many chapters, beginning in the MGM Grand lobby when they were promoting UFC 178. That brawl has since spilled into the broader living room. It’s spilled into the larger conscience of the fight game, into its psyche, and into urine samples. There is guilt involved, and greatness — there are resolutions, delusions, crying memes, demons. It isn’t David versus Goliath, it’s Goliath versus Sisyphus. It is literary for its magnitude, with margins fit for daytime TV. If they share something in common, it’s the simple truth of the matter. Cormier beats everybody not named Jon Jones, and so does Jones. Jones has never known how to solve Jon Jones either.

It’s the kind of rivalry that invites a gawker to hitch his emotions to. And really, in a game that feasts on drama, that’s about the best argument for a trilogy you could ever hope for.

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