Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones will do battle once again at UFC 214. The two best 205-pound fighters of this generation, Cormier and Jones have presented MMA fans with the perfect rivalry through recent years. Like Batman and Joker, Peter Griffin and Ernie, and Dale Gribble and the government, the Cormier/Jones rivalry represents the ultimate clash of hero against villain. Which man plays what role, however, is based entirely on a certain point of view.
On one side, there’s the former Olympian, Cormier. The current UFC light heavyweight champion has become the poster child for what a martial artist should strive to be. Both respectful and respected, Cormier is the quintessential good guy. He doesn’t make mistakes away from his craft. He has a loving wife and beautiful children. He keeps his mind focused on his role as champion and does so with the utmost professionalism. Judging from everyone’s accounts of working with him, Cormier is a pleasure to be around. He can be witty and provides great insight into the sport from his time both on the wrestling mat and in the Octagon.
On the other side, there’s the anti-hero that fans either love or love to hate. Jones has seen public opinion wane in recent years due to a series of failures on his part. First it was the seemingly fake good-guy routine. The man with “Philippians 4:13” tattooed on his chest attempted to play the role of nice guy out of the cage while being one of the most ferocious in it. Fans and fighters alike didn’t buy the sincerity of Jones, though, and eventually that perception fell apart when Jones began his run-ins with the law. A DWI incident in 2012, a positive test for cocaine before his first fight with Cormier in 2015, a hit-and-run driving incident later the same year, and the UFC 200 drug test failure have all made Jones an unlikable character to some MMA fans. Add in the bravado that comes with being one of the best fighters in MMA history, and you can see why Jones has become a polarizing figure.
While their dislike of each other has come to the forefront of this intense rivalry, it’s ironic that both men need each other. For Cormier, Jones represents the final step in solidifying his place among the MMA elite. Like the final boss in a video game, Jones is the ultimate villain to conquer for Cormier. After all, every hero needs to overcome a seemingly unstoppable villain. For Jones, Cormier is his ultimate adversary. A guy who displays the virtue so many have come to respect, Cormier represents everything Jones isn’t. Jones may not be planning world domination like most of the villains we’ve come to know, but every bad guy needs a hero to clash against.
Outside of the good-guy/bad-guy storyline angles of their epic rivalry, Cormier and Jones bring out the best in each other. Fighting is one of the most emotion-fueled sports in the world. It takes a lot of effort and dedication to go through the rigors of training camps. Competing against not only someone you dislike but someone who is also an elite athlete provides an extra level of competitive drive.
The narrative of good vs. bad is one that the UFC has been spinning as it has built up UFC 214. Who fans see as the good guy depends on their perspective.
Jones represents the ultimate comeback story. He’s a fighter with unlimited potential who nearly threw it all away. He has his demons, but he’s seemingly come to terms with them and is on the path of redemption. And redemption is a story American sports fans have come to love dearly. If that’s the angle you’d like to focus on when it comes to Jones, it’s likely you view Cormier as the heel in this bout. The UFC champion has put Jones’ drug addiction and steroid allegations to the forefront of their spats in the media. He’s also carried himself like an undisputed champion in Jones’ absence, something those who see Cormier as a “paper champion” cannot stand.
As with any great story, the roles involve a number of complexities that MMA fans can weave into their own thoughts. However, one thing remains clear. No matter what man you choose to support at UFC 214, there is no room to sit on the fence with this. There can be no middle ground to agree on with both fighters and fans. It truly feels like a winner-take-all clash of epic proportions. While there won’t be any theatrical effects or fancy costumes, the battle between Cormier and Jones would feel right at home in a superhero comic as it does in the Octagon.