Controversy may have accompanied Jon Jones in his return from his second drug-related suspension, but Jones was still close to flawless once the Octagon doors swung shut.
Fighting in a rematch of his legendary UFC 165 war of attrition against Alexander Gustafsson, Jones routed his Swedish foe in the main event of UFC 232, recapturing his light heavyweight title with a decisive third-round TKO win. The 31-year-old champion nullified Gustafsson’s offense from pillar to post and generally made easy work of the man who gave him the toughest challenge of his life back in 2013.
The performance was so one-sided that even Jones’ bitter rival, heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, acknowledged the good work done by “Bones” at the UFC’s year-end show.
“Anytime you can go through a guy like Alexander Gustafsson in the fashion that he did is very impressive,” Cormier said of Jones on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “I have never shied away from the fact that the guy’s a phenomenal mixed martial artist, and I thought he fought well. I thought he fought well, he fought exactly as he intended to and was able to completely shut down Alex.”
Even after making history by becoming the first man to hold the UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight titles simultaneously, Cormier is fated to be forever linked with Jones. That fact showed itself again in the aftermath of UFC 232, when Jones called out “DC” in his post-fight interview then insulted the heavyweight champion multiple times during his post-fight press conference. The two appear destined to be rivals until the end of their days, but that doesn’t mean Cormier is unwilling to occasionally give Jones his due.
When speaking about the murky impact of Jones’ multiple drug-testing failures and latest trouble with USADA, Cormier acknowledged that he believes Jones would’ve be a UFC champion even if Jones had never provoked the controversies that ended up derailing multiple years of his career.
“If you’re asking me if I feel Jon Jones would’ve worn a UFC title without any of these things (PEDs), I do, 100 percent, believe he would’ve won a UFC title,” Cormier said. “I think that he’s a very talented guy. He comes from the sport of wrestling, so he has that baseline for dictating where fights take place. With that being said, those things are done for a reason, right? You don’t have all these issues with the testing unless you have either doubts or something in your preparation over the course of your athletic career didn’t truly add up. That’s the only way you would get these types of things tied to your career.
“But do I feel the guy would’ve been successful without it? Yes, I do. I think he definitely would’ve been a UFC champion, and even without all this stuff that’s tied to the fights, I think he could’ve won those fights to me anyways. I think he’s a very talented guy. And I still believe I could beat the guy, even though I’ve lost a couple times, but again, I think that’s what makes me different, is that regardless of — every time I walked on that mat against Cael Sanderson, losing every time, I still felt that every time I went out there: ‘This is the one I’m going to win.’ I never didn’t give myself a chance, and that’s how I feel with Jones.”
Cormier was a vocal critic of the way Jones’ latest drug-testing run-in was handled by the UFC’s anti-doping partner, USADA, and his feelings were understandable considering the roller-coaster ride he has endured at the hands of his rival.
In the case of UFC 232, the UFC uprooted the event from Las Vegas to Los Angeles on less than a week’s notice after adverse findings were discovered in three of Jones’ drug tests dating back to August. USADA determined that those adverse findings were merely a long-term metabolite of the same anabolic substance — oral turinabol — that Jones tested positive for in July 2017, and cleared him to compete, however the Nevada Athletic Commission refused to license Jones without first having a hearing to discuss the matter. That impasse lead the UFC to move the event to California, and UFC executive Jeff Novitzky spent much of fight week publicly defending Jones and attempting to explain the situation.
As a two-time Olympian, Cormier has been enrolled in the USADA anti-doping program for a majority of his athletic career without ever experiencing even a minor hiccup, and it’s safe to say the strangeness of UFC 232’s situation left him a tad disillusioned with the system.
“I think anytime you are trying to clean the sport up, it’s a really good thing,” Cormier said. “And I swear, I know I may sound like a bitter Betty when it comes to USADA — it’s because I’ve been the USADA testing program for so long and I hold this organization in such high regard, that I just can’t understand how things have changed in the way that this has. That’s it. … I’ve been in this program for so long and I’ve never had an issue. I’ve never had an issue with USADA, and I just don’t understand how it can become so prevalent in mixed martial arts. I know there were people doing dirty things in the Olympics, I swear I do, but I just seems like it’s so much more consistent in MMA.”
Not surprisingly, Cormier and Jones are now back in the headlines together with much of the mixed martial arts world daydreaming about a trilogy fight between the two rivals.
Cormier’s top priority for his next step has always been a blockbuster meeting with Brock Lesnar in early 2019, however “DC” admitted Monday that the matchup is “still up in the air.” If the Lesnar fight doesn’t happen, a rematch against record-breaking former heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic would be Cormier’s next priority, but even he knows that questions about a third Jones fight will persist until he hangs up his gloves for good — or until Jones sidelines himself all over again.
“We have to understand that history has shown that the guy who won that belt last weekend, there could some issues that arise, because they always have. Right?” Cormier said. “I mean, seriously. And I’ve been asking this, I’ve been asking this and this is a true question, and maybe you guys got an answer for this when you talked to Jeff (Novitzky): So because he has this trace amount of whatever this is, you tell me to the best of your understanding, going forward will he be allowed to just always have this?
“That’s my question, because if he was able to fight last weekend, then why wouldn’t he be able to fight in six months if it’s the same stuff in his system? Like, is he going to be just allowed to always have this? I don’t understand. That’s one of my biggest wonders is, if it’s okay for him to always kinda have this trace amount of stuff in his body. What other people have whatever that is — that turinabol stuff — and it just stays, so can we go back now and say, ‘Frank Mir, now you’re allowed to just always have turinabol.’ Like, I don’t understand. I don’t understand it because I’m very uneducated about illegal substances.
“Seems kinda messed up that he could have something that the rest of us can’t have.”