Jon Jones is back on top of the world.
After a long road to return to the Octagon, Jones staked his claim as the best light heavyweight fighter on the planet, if not the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, as he settled his rivalry with Daniel Cormier once and for all at UFC 214 on Saturday night.
Of course Jones’ exile from the sport was all self-inflicted after he surrendered the title following a hit-and-run accident in 2015 before testing positive for a banned substance last July that ended with a one year suspension from the sport.
Jones spent the majority of the last two years cleaning up his life but his fight with Cormier was a chance to finally turn the page on his career while attempting to reclaim the title he never actually lost inside the cage.
It was clear during his first few exchanges with Cormier that the 38-year old former Olympian wasn’t going to just hand over the crown as Jones attempted to take back his throne.
The fighters wasted no time exchanging strikes as soon as the referee released them from the corner with Cormier drawing first blood with a big shot that sent Jones’ mouthpiece flying into the air.
The former champion didn’t look like he missed a step after more than a year away, but Cormier was constantly applying pressure and as the minutes ticked away he started to land his heavier punches with more regularity.
Included in those shots landed was a big overhand right from Cormier with Jones firing back with some of his signature kicks to the thighs. Jones was very active throughout the first five minutes but it appeared that Cormier landed the more damaging shots in a very close opening round.
Cormier seemed to gain confidence between rounds because he came out looking to attack immediately in the second with a very aggressive style, forcing Jones to back up and play counter striker.
Again and again, Cormier found a home for his overhand punches as he got inside of Jones’ long reach to land hard shots to the head. Of course, Jones was very active as well with short kicks to the legs and feeding Cormier a steady diet of straight punches from the outside.
Still, Cormier consistently beat Jones to the punch and he was even taunting his opponent throughout the round any time he’d land a shot while attempting to return fire.
— #UFC214 (@ufc) July 30, 2017
As the third round got underway, Jones made some adjustments to Cormier’s attacks and it made all the difference because not only did he get his timing down but he also found a counter attack that ultimately brought about the end of the fight.
Cormier was consistently ducking his head down before throwing punches, which left a perfect opening for Jones to launch a kick that absolutely blasted him flush in the face.
Cormier was rattled and reeling, which meant Jones smelled blood in the water.
Jones quickly followed up with a barrage of strikes as Cormier crumbled to the mat. Jones continued the assault with a series of damaging punches and elbows that left Cormier down and out as referee John McCarthy swooped in to stop the fight at 3:01 into the third round.
— #UFC214 (@ufc) July 30, 2017
Afterwards, an elated Jones celebrated with the title back around his waist while also paying tribute to Cormier after a bitter rivalry that lasted for the better part of seven years inside and outside the Octagon.
“It feels unbelievable. It’s a surreal moment,” Jones said. “I know it hasn’t been easy to root for me but I’ve had the most loyal fans ever. I love you all, thank you so much.
“I want to take this time to thank Daniel Cormier for being my biggest rival and motivator. Daniel Cormier, guys, he has absolutely no reason to hang his head. He has been a model champion, a model husband, a model father, a teammate, a leader and I aspire to be a lot more like that man cause he’s an amazing human being.”
Jones was all class in victory while Cormier was obviously upset and emotional in defeat after suffering a second loss to his greatest rival in mixed martial arts.
“I thought the fight was going well, I don’t even know what happened,” Cormier said. “I guess I got kicked in the head. So disappointing.
“I guess if you win both fights there is no rivalry.”
Win, lose or draw, Cormier has been a model champion for the UFC in Jones’ absence and has put himself into the position where he will be remembered as one of the best fighters in the history of the sport.
Saturday night belonged to Jones, however, as he took back the title and put himself back on top of the sport as the best fighter in mixed martial arts.