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Agent Malki Kawa sees Daniel Cormier, Alexander Gustafsson as logical return opponents for Jon Jones

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Jon Jones is back. He can fight again in late October following a 15-month anti-doping suspension.

The question now — who will his first opponent be and when will he compete?

Malki Kawa, Jones’ longtime agent, told Luke Thomas on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour that the most logical potential return opponents for Jones would be Daniel Cormier or Alexander Gustafsson. Jones wants to come back and fight for the UFC light heavyweight title he never lost in the Octagon, Kawa said.

Kawa believes the ball is in Cormier’s court. If Cormier chooses to defend his heavyweight title next against Brock Lesnar early next year, Jones could face Gustafsson next. And Kawa speculated that the UFC could strip the light heavyweight belt from Cormier and put that on the line for Jones vs. Gustafsson. If Cormier wants to defend the 205-pound belt first, Kawa believes Jones would be the clear challenger. Cormier beat Stipe Miocic to win the heavyweight strap at UFC 226 in July.

“I think Jon would have a claim to fight for that light heavyweight belt,” Kawa said. “If he doesn’t, if DC decides to fight at light heavyweight before he fights Brock, then I think you see Jon versus DC. I think those are the two logical options, I just don’t know for sure which route they go.

“[Jones] wants his light heavyweight belt back. Daniel has both of them. Daniel is saying he’s going to wait until he fights Brock, so I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”

As far as when Jones could fight, Kawa said he’s hoping before the end of the year. If not, then in early 2019. UFC president Dana White has also said Jones would fight next year. The door remains open a crack for UFC 230 on Nov. 30 in New York, Kawa said, but it doesn’t seem likely at this point.

“There’s some things we’re working out with the UFC,” Kawa said. “So there’s some factors going into that. It has nothing to do with anyone telling us we can’t. There’s just some things we’ve got to come to an agreement on. And I just don’t think that UFC 230 is going to happen.”

Cormier, who has a long-standing rivalry with Jones, said last week on UFC Tonight that he has moved past that feud. Jones has beaten Cormier twice in the cage, though the last time — at UFC 214 in July 2014 — was overturned to a no contest due to Jones’ failed drug test. Jones received a 15-month suspension from an arbitrator in his case with USADA last week, stemming from testing positive for a steroid metabolite.

Kawa said it was a “very tough” year for Jones fighting this anti-doping violation. Jones has said all along that he did not knowingly cheat and didn’t know how the substance got into his system. USADA and the arbitrator, Richard McLaren, both agreed that it was unlikely that Jones was truly attempting to cheat and the amount of the steroid found was likely not performance-enhancing against Cormier.

Jones, 31, seems likely to fight at light heavyweight in his first fight back and that has been his home his entire career, though he has considered moving up to heavyweight. Jones held the UFC’s 205-pound title from 2011 to 2015 and Kawa said that gold is what he’d like to obtain again. It’s just a matter of who the opponent will be and what timeframe.

“Cormier is either gonna fight him at light heavyweight or Cormier is gonna fight at heavyweight and wait for Brock,” Kawa said. “I don’t know what route he’s gonna go.”