Jon Jones, what hath thou wrought?
In perhaps the coda of what has been an absolutely disastrous couple of years for the former light heavyweight champion, Jones appeared before the committee of the U.S. Anti Doping Agency (#USADA) last week to undergo arbitration stemming from the out-of-competition drug test he failed prior to what should have been his rematch with #DanielCormier at #UFC200. The meeting lasted a grueling, soul-crushing 10 hours, and when all was said and done, Jones was hit with a one year suspension from the sport, the maximum possible sanction for a first time offense.
That Jones' positive test traced back to a tainted sexual enhancement pill (like fellow great #AndersonSilva before him) has only added insult to injury in the immediate fallout of his hearing, as does the fact that Jones has yet to appear before the #NevadaAthleticCommission to receive further punishment. But looking beyond the personal woes caused by this whole mess, what could another year without Jon Jones mean for the light heavyweight division as a whole?
While Jones has already managed to book a grappling match against #DanHenderson to keep him busy, you could almost feel the last gasps of air deflate out of the light heavyweight division as Jones' punishment was handed down earlier today. Easily hit the hardest by Jones' suspension (other than the man himself) is that of current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.
By now, we've likely all seen the moment captured by the UFC's 'Embedded' crew in which Dana White informed Cormier of Jones' positive test (I've thrown it above, just in case). In less than a minute, Cormier basically runs through all five stages of grief before our very eyes: first denying the news, then stomping his foot in anger, then bargaining with Dana about signing a release, and eventually settling into a heartbreaking combination of depression and acceptance.
It's easy to see why Cormier would be so upset: aside from losing his chance to even the score with the most bitter rival of his career, he also lost out on his biggest payday. Instead of headlining a pay-per-view that netted 1.2 million buys, Cormier was instead forced to take a cut of half his base salary to face Anderson Silva in the third billed fight of the main card. Gone was the prestige of headlining what was meant to be the biggest night in UFC history, gone was the chance to prove his doubters wrong, and perhaps most importantly, gone were hundreds of thousands of eyeballs who would have been filling his pockets had Jones decided to ask more than "a friend" about the ingredients of his knock-off Cialis.
And now, Cormier is arguably facing an even more dire scenario: a division without challengers. If the list of contenders at 205 lbs. was looking bleak before Jones' suspension -- which, the rebooking of Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson seems to argue that it was -- then it's certainly going to be in trouble now that he's gone. Of the top 5-ranked fighters in the division, there is not one fighter who either Cormier or Rumble (or in some cases, both) have not defeated in the recent past, and even fewer guys who could be considered a draw by any stretch of the imagination. And with Georges St-Pierre's name having been officially removed from the list of possibilities for #UFC206, it's likely that Cormier will miss out on another payday -- a concern which Cormier has openly stated.
"Financially, it's a ton. Cause I know what Anthony and I did at UFC 187 numbers wise, and we made some money but not what we would make if Georges St-Pierre fought," said Cormier in an interview with Fight Network recently.
In all reality, we are looking at a title picture in which "DC" would likely benefit the most by losing at UFC 206, which is about as depressing a scenario as you can imagine for the former Olympian.
Further complicating things for a Jon Jones-less light heavyweight division is something I like to call the "Dominick Cruz syndrome," or what happens when a name that is essentially all that the casual viewer has to connect them to a division is suddenly removed from the discussion. With Cruz, you had a long-standing, undefeated (in the UFC), and well-spoken champion who could have served as the poster boy for a weight class that is regularly disregarded by fans and fighters alike. With Jones, you have a legitimate star who has not only obliterated any contender that stepped before him, but has shown flickers of the charisma necessary for crossover marketing opportunities. Neither fighter actually lost their belt in the cage, and in both cases, the result was a fundamental disconnect between fans and the champions who took their place.
The sad truth is that T.J. Dillashaw and Daniel Cormier could have defended their titles 15 times in the next few years with nary a controversial decision between them and still be considered "paper champions" by many of the sport's fans. It's why, after Cruz returned from his injury and re-captured his title from Dillashaw, we were treated with headlines about why the UFC's bantamweight division was "suddenly interesting again" and "so much fun." It's why the middleweight division hasn't been the same since the demise of Anderson Silva. It's why we spent a year pondering the return of Ronda Rousey while the women's bantamweight title was bouncing around between champions like a hot potato. A division is only as interesting as its champion to many viewers, and without a Jones or a Rousey to carry it, you can guarantee that it will begin to suffer.
Unfortunately for the light heavyweight division, it looks like the suffering has only just begun.