There’s been a lot of talk lately about the title of “greatest of all time” in mixed martial arts, especially in the wake of Khabib Nurmagomedov announcing his retirement after moving to 29-0 in his career.
While the undefeated Russian might actually return for one more fight in order to achieve 30 consecutive victories, the debate about his standing amongst his peers has come up quite a bit after he dispatched Justin Gaethje in the second round at UFC 254.
Following that fight, Nurmagomedov became the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC with many proclaiming his status as the new GOAT. Of course that didn’t sit well with former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who scoffed at the idea that Nurmagomedov could somehow surpass him on that largely subjective list after only his third title defense.
With 14 wins in title fights, which accounts for the most in UFC history, Jones is confident pitting his resume against anybody else but former rival Daniel Cormier says there’s more to consider than just records when talking about “the greatest of all time.”
“One of the most talented guys you’ll ever meet but again for me bad [drug] tests eliminate you from the conversation,” Cormier said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I just cannot understand how that is so hard to comprehend in a sport where we’re fighting each other. In baseball, bad tests eliminate you from being considered and being in the Hall of Fame and you’re hitting a ball. You’re hitting an object that has no feeling. In fighting, you’re punching people, human beings, and you have bad tests that eliminates you. It’s just too dangerous.
“So I think when you start to think about the greatest of all time for all the things and all the great victories, you can’t look at those, me personally being a guy that those fights did really long term damage to my career, it’s hard for me to say [Jon Jones] is the greatest of all time when every time we fought, there was some sort of issue. That for me, it just kind of changes the conversation.”
While his resume is outstanding, Jones has faced issued with drug testing in the past.
He was pulled from a fight against Cormier at UFC 200 after failing a drug test for two different banned substances — clomiphene and letrozole, which are both illegal at all times for athletes. Jones then knocked out Cormier in their rematch in 2017 but this time around he tested positive for Turinabol, an anabolic steroid, and the result of the fight was overturned to a no contest.
For his part, Cormier doesn’t quite understand why Jones constantly receives consideration as possibly the best fighter to ever compete in MMA while athletes in other sports have been largely set aside from post-career accolades under somewhat similar circumstances.
He points directly at athletes like Barry Bonds, who have essentially been blackballed from Hall of Fame consideration by Major League Baseball due to accusations surrounding performance enhancing drug use.
“You hit a baseball, the baseball has no feeling,” Cormier said. “You’re hitting it with a bat and look how they treat Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Look at how they treat those guys in that sport. You know what’s crazy about that, too? In baseball they treat Barry Bonds and them like that and it wasn’t even illegal. There was no rule that said those guys couldn’t take steroids and look at how they treat them. Look at how they treat them.
“Jones was having bad tests while we had USADA and people still want to place him at the top of the all time greatest list. That’s crazy. It wasn’t even illegal in baseball in the late 90’s and those guys are hitting homeruns freaking 50 yards longer than they ever have. It’s just a different sport obviously, but it just seems like the possibilities of damage are just so much more severe in mixed martial arts. For anyone, even Anderson [Silva]. Anderson was the man. Bad tests, I don’t care if it’s for viagra, it does not matter. It’s a bad test. Bad tests in a combat sport where you’re punching people, just not right. It eliminates you.”
Perhaps the toughest part is that he truly believes that fighters like Jones could have achieved so much without ever cheating but the fact that he’s been busted multiple times already changes everything.
“It sucks, too, cause they’re so immensely talented,” Cormier said. “So talented that I don’t think any of those guys ever needed to do anything wrong and would have been clean. Like Khabib’s clean. Nobody has heard or suggested or thought that he’s done anything negatively outside of missing weight when he was on his way up. Those are the things that he is going to have to deal with in terms of negatively. Demetrious Johnson is actually completely clean. No missed weights, no failed tests, he’s just clean.
“Those are the types of guys you look at and say ‘that guy’s the greatest fighter of all-time.’”