The bigger story about UFC 166, with Daniel Cormier vs. Roy Nelson as the co-main event underneath Jon Jones vs. Alex Gustafsson for the UFC light heavyweight title, is that Cormier has come out and announced who he wants next after his heavyweight fight: Jon Jones. Cormier, who has long wanted to fight at 205 but didn’t want to make a big weight cut to do so, has fought at heavyweight long enough to establish himself as one of the elite talents there. Throw in his teammate (and good friend) Cain Velasquez as the UFC heavyweight champion and Cormier is left with two options: find a new camp and challenge for a title or try to make 205 and face Jones.
The problem is that Cormier nearly died the last time he tried to cut weight. In 2008 Cormier wound up hospitalized, treated for renal failure, as a hard weight cut to 211 in the Olympics nearly killed him. Cormier has refused to cut weight since, fighting at heavyweight and slowly losing weight so that 205 is an easy cut. He’s even consulted with veteran weight-cutting guru Mike Dolce on ways to lose the weight healthily, of course, but the problem remains.
Should he be given a title shot immediately?
The biggest problem coming in is if Cormier can make the weight in a healthy manner. The last time he tried a water-cut, which is the standard weight cutting technique in MMA, he nearly died. Cormier’s older now and the body has a harder time losing weight (especially water weight) as it gets older. If he makes 205, and then can’t fight the next day because of medical reasons, it’d be just as bad (and probably worse) as getting injured two weeks out.
Cormier hasn’t proved he can make 205 safely yet and that has to be a big concern for all involved going into a potential fight for him at 205. If he can’t make 205 safely then any shot of him fighting for the 205 title is off the table permanently. Trying to make a new weight for the first time without the one pound wiggle room title fights are provided isn’t a certainty for Cormier; most fighters have discussed in the past that the first time they cut to a lower weight is always the worst, because it’s new for them (even after a test cut). It would be a gamble for Cormier but the UFC has been about gambles with its champions in the past 12 months, it seems.
Cormier wouldn’t be the first opponent Jones fought someone without a recent history in the division as champion. Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort both fought “Bones” after no recent time in the division and that’s just at light heavyweight. Nick Diaz got a title shot vs. Georges St. Pierre despite losing (and being suspended for a failed drug test) and Anthony Pettis was scheduled for a shot at Jose Aldo at featherweight despite never having fought there before, either. Frankie Edgar got a shot at Aldo earlier this year, as well, so there is some precedent for it.
The Olympic captain would be a bigger fight on the sizzle scale than the probable next challenger (Glover Teixiera) would be. Cormier is on the short list of guys who comprise the “best wrestlers in USA Freestyle history never to medal” and Cormier’s wrestling accomplishments are second to only a select handful in MMA. He’s also defeated a number of elite heavyweights in the past year, dominating both Josh Barnett and Frank Mir along the way, as he’s clearly an elite talent. And with his wrestling ability Jon Jones flawless takedown defense percentage has a reasonably good chance of going away.
Cormier is also an engaging personality, and a tremendous analyst in his free time, thus making him a preferred opponent for Jones. There is some bad blood between them as well, for the mouth breathers in the crowd who enjoy that sort of thing, and would probably feel bigger as a fight for Jones (if he gets past the Swede) than whomever earns the next shot while currently fighting in the division. Any combination of Phil Davis, Dan Henderson, Teixiera or rematches with Rashad Evans or Lyoto Machida doesn’t have the big fight feel like Cormier/Jones would have.
The downside of being the best is that Jon Jones has nearly every scalp that matters in his division at a relatively young age. The potential of Cormier as a title challenger is more tied into Jones’s ability to have cleaned out the light heavyweight division in short order than it is with him being the most worthy challenger.