In life, it’s easy for our focus to be swayed or distracted by something else. Perhaps it’s a shiny new car. Or maybe it’s a fancy new restaurant. These items are meant to distract you from the crumbling neighborhood around you. They might make you forget that you need to work two or three jobs at a time just to try and afford these luxuries. Great magicians have used a similar technique for decades. It’s called the art of misdirection, and it’s being used right in front of your eyes right now, MMA fans.
In the world of MMA, the flashy item is none other than Conor McGregor. The Irishman has been the UFC’s saving grace while the promotion has suffered a steady decline in appearances from previous big draws like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Ronda Rousey. It was Jones who made the UFC’s light heavyweight division exciting again. Sadly, it was Jones who was responsible for the division falling by the wayside when he was stripped of the title.
The bout between Jones and Daniel Cormier at UFC 183 was one filled with anger, adrenaline and pride. Jones came out on top, but it seemed a rematch would be imminent, even though fans had heard this many, many, many times before. Take a look at Alexander Gustafsson. The man put Jones on his heels and had the former champion in a world of trouble multiple times. Gustafsson was involved in arguably one of the best fights in the division’s history. He was promised a rematch, too. However, Cormier jumped the line and received a title shot that he arguably didn’t deserve in the first place.
The fight that fans really wanted to see would have pitted Jones against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. Johnson’s career resurgence has been something out of a fairy tale — a very badass fairy tale. The man used to compete in the welterweight division, but it seems obvious now why he had trouble making weight for the 170-pound bouts. He was fighting two weight classes below where he eventually found his home. Rumble had brought a sense of unstoppable knockout power when he returned to the light heavyweight division. Surely his time for a chance at the title would come soon enough. Finally, it was set: UFC 187. It would be Jones against Rumble. This fight had all the makings of a classic. Rumble clearly possessed knockout power unlike Jones had ever seen, even when tasked with going up against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Jones was involved in a hit-and-run incident that led to a suspension and the stripping of his championship status. The title fight would now feature Cormier and Rumble. The initial feedback again was quite negative when it was revealed that “DC” would get another title shot on the heels of his failed bid for the same title just four months prior. Other fans were excited, as it seemed Rumble would work to finish the former Olympian and secure his name among the greats that have had the privilege of being UFC light heavyweight champion. However, those dreams came crashing down in an instant when Cormier was able to secure a rear-naked choke and claim his crown. Since that night, Cormier has defended his title just once. He has had the belt since May 2015, but he still has only one title defense.
In all fairness, it isn’t his fault. Cormier was supposed to rematch Jones at UFC 200 in July. The build-up was intense. The stage was set. Then there was the severe letdown that came when Jones was pulled just three days prior, robbing “DC” of his revenge, redemption and a title defense. Anderson Silva stepped up to save the day. Cormier secured the victory, but it just wasn’t the same.
That was six months ago.
The division has been in limbo ever since. Cormier was briefly linked to a rematch with Rumble, but the fight fell through when Cormier was injured.
With all of these fizzled match-ups and Cormier’s lack of title defenses, the light heavyweight division has been overlooked for the past two years. A champion was stripped of his title. Injuries prevented bouts from coming to fruition. There was plenty of last-minute craziness, too. These are not things that draw fans into watching a fight. They no longer want to get excited about a potential scrap until that cage door shuts with the two men inside. Instead, everyone has been watching what McGregor has done, how Rousey has fallen hard (not once, but twice in the past year), and how Michael Bisping is deservedly enjoying his tenure as the reigning and defending UFC middleweight champion.
When Jones was champion, fans were foaming at the mouth for what could happen next. Jones made it look easy. He showed no visible weaknesses, other than in his bout with Gustafsson. His fights were crowd-pleasing affairs that showcased the experience the young fighter had been able to obtain in such a short amount of time. Cormier stands at the opposite end of the spectrum, but he has a chance to change that with the recent announcement of the rebooked rematch with Rumble in Buffalo, N.Y.
This really is a chance for Cormier to bring excitement back to the weight class. The light heavyweight division has a lot of new blood coming up the ranks and fighting their way to a title shot. Rumble likely will not have the same issues he had in their first bout and will be looking to use those massive weapons he calls fists. In the end, it’s time for the misdirection to end. The focus should be back on the roster as a whole, not just the guys asking for ridiculous amounts of money while never defending their belt(s).
Stay healthy, Cormier. Stay healthy, Rumble. The division needs you.