By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
The promotional ads for UFC’s return to upstate New York for the first time in nearly 22 years feature light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier with the belt over his shoulder on one side and challenger Anthony Johnson on the other side.
Cormier-Johnson II has been hyped as one the promotion’s more anticipated rematches of late, but make no bones about it: their fight has been grossly overshadowed by the reappearance of the class of the division — and one of UFC’s all-time greats — Jon Jones.
Jones stole the headlines when UFC announced the troubled star would meet the press Friday for the first time in almost 10 months. Jones’ doping ban expires in July, just days before UFC 213 in Las Vegas, fueling speculation that Jones could meet the Cormier-Johnson winner in a championship bout.
Cormier, whose lone loss in a 19-fight MMA career came against Jones in 2015, wished his rival would have stayed out of Buffalo, New York. Cormier warned Jones not to cross the line Saturday night at the KeyBank Center and step into the cage.
“He better not come in my cage after I win,” Cormier said. “He’s not welcome in there. He’s still suspended. When he’s eligible to fight, then he can walk in the cage, but if he dares to step foot in that octagon, something bad will happen.”
Yeah, but UFC matchmakers would love the early hype.
Coming off a loaded 2016, UFC is desperate for a big fight, and a Cormier-Jones bout would be the rematch of the year. It just might be the match of the year.
Georges St-Pierre’s potential fight with Michael Bisping would be the only fight that could rival Cormier-Jones II in box office interest. UFC’s two faces of the company may not fight inside the cage this year: Ronda Rousey’s career is in limbo in the wake of two straight losses and Conor McGregor seems more obsessed with lacing up boxing gloves for a circus bout against Floyd Mayweather Jr. than defending his lightweight title.
UFC could bank on Jones-Cormier as the true summer attraction in Las Vegas.
“Rumble” Johnson stands in the way as spoiler.
Johnson (22-5) has reeled off three straight wins since he lost to Cormier at UFC 187 in 2015. Cormier controlled Johnson throughout the final two rounds to claim the title stripped from Jones, who had been suspended indefinitely by the UFC at the time after his arrest when police said he left the scene of a car accident. Cormier beat Johnson with a rear naked choke in the third round, dominating on the ground to win the vacant 205-pound title.
“It definitely lit a fire under my ass to train harder, and know what I needed to do to be this guy,” Johnson said.
Johnson has yet to win a championship since he made his UFC debut in 2007. Cormier has yet to win over skeptics that claim he’s still the division’s paper champion until he defeats Jones. Jones beat Cormier by unanimous decision at UFC 182 on Jan. 3, 2015. The fighters had two scheduled rematches called off, once because Cormier was injured, and the second when Jones’ personal woes caught up to him.
Jones was pulled from a July 2016 bout against Cormier shortly after news about the positive drug test. Jones claimed to have taken a sexual-enhancement pill but ended up testing positive for two banned anti-estrogen agents. Jones is eligible to fight again on July 7, 2017.
Cormier tried to dismiss the Jones Factor this week — but knows he has to beat the fighter known as “Bones” to claim he’s the best.
“Anthony has done a tremendous job as he’s come up the weight classes but, we’re talking about a rivalry with a guy that many consider the greatest fighter of all time,” Cormier said. “So wins over a guy like Jon Jones is what’s going to really, probably be the one thing that solidifies where I’m trying to sit whenever I retire from the sport.”
Jones, a Rochester native, may already be under Cormier’s skin with his promotional appearance this weekend.
“This is where he’s from, I get it,” Cormier said. “But, if it was me, and I was in this situation, I wouldn’t be here.”
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