Daniel Cormier wanted Jon Jones' belt by beating the
Turns out, Jones beat himself, compounding the positive cocaine test he submitted in December with an April hit-and-run car crash in which he injured a pregnant woman.
So after permitting Jones to leave a drug-treatment facility after just one night following the cocaine alarm, the UFC stripped Jones of his light-heavyweight championship belt.
That move transformed Jones' scheduled title defense into a Saturday night championship shot for Cormier against Anthony Johnson at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
The co-main event of the pay-per-view card is Chris Weidman's middleweight title defense against Vitor Belfort.
On Jan. 3, Jones beat Cormier by unanimous decision. Then came word of the positive cocaine result and the UFC defending its position to let that fight proceed.
In light of the April crash, in which Jones fled the scene in Albuquerque, N.M., and drug paraphernalia was found, Cormier (15-1) was given another chance at the belt.
"My resume carries weight," Cormier said. "The UFC has to look on facts, and the facts are I've won 15 of 16 fights, I've beaten former champions and I fought the top pound-for-pound fighter for five rounds five months ago. The UFC weighed all the guys available for this spot and they decided, 'What D.C. has done means more.' "
Johnson did enough, too, spoiling original plans for a Jones rematch against Alexander Gustafsson by going to Sweden and scoring a first-round knockout of Gustafsson on Jan. 17.
Now, Johnson (17-4) is one win away from completing a stirring comeback from getting cut by the UFC for having weight difficulties. He's on a run of nine consecutive victories.
"Where Anthony has developed most is confidence and maturity," Cormier said. "He doesn't question himself in the octagon anymore because he's realized with success, he's comfortable. He's recommitted himself.
"By maturing, committing himself to his craft ... mentally is where he's improved the most. The guy has always had ability. Being so sharp is why he's winning these fights the way he has."
Cormier said he's wary of Johnson's striking power, but has worked to tighten his stand-up defense since the Jones loss and aims to tire Johnson by relying on his wrestling strength.
"Once you get him fatigued, you can start to pull away in this fight," Cormier speculated.
It also might help, Cormier said, to be removed from the toxic feelings he exhausted while preparing for Jones. The pair not only brawled on a stage, they engaged in a venomous off-air conversation during a joint television interview.
"Emotionally, I'm not tied to this one like I was for Jones ... too much hate," Cormier said. "Now it's just another chance to compete and I'm at my best when I'm just out here competing. I had bad ill will against Jones, wanted to hurt him, and I carried that into the octagon with me. I've always worked to leave emotion out of it, and I didn't for that fight."
Yet, mixed martial arts is minus a powerful presence without Jones being around, something akin to removing Tom Brady from NFL action.
"Any time you lose a guy that's defended the belt eight times against eight different guys, is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, has endorsement deals, is on television all the time ... it hurts," Cormier said.
"But at the end of the day, you have to look at someone for his value as a person and not just as a fighter too. He's made mistakes. At some point, the UFC owes it to Jon to actually set him on the right road to correct himself, because eventually it will just get worse, as every situation has -- from a single-car accident to the drug test to now actually hitting someone and leaving the scene of the crime. What's going to happen next?
"They owe it to him to give him some time to work on Jon. Let's not worry about Jon the fighter anymore. This is more important than his value to the organization. They need to do something to help this guy get his act together. He'll end up being his biggest undoing if anything gets much worse than where it is now."
Into the void, perhaps, steps Cormier, who said he takes pride that, "I carry myself in and out of the organization the way I should.
"I can only be who I've been over the course of my career. When people start acting the way others expect them to be, it's when you lose yourself. You have to be honest to yourself. I'll continue to do things the way they're supposed to be done."