UFC 252 Thoughts, Jon Jones Title Relinquishment, And What Is Next For The UFC
The third chapter in the Cormier-Stipe trilogy came to an end Saturday night in Las Vegas as UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic defeated Daniel Cormier via unanimous decision (49-46 x2, 48-47) at UFC 252. The 25-foot cage at the UFC Apex looked to be no problem for the champion Miocic, as he used his superior size to keep Cormier at a close distance and used his underrated grappling to hand Cormier a loss in what we believe is his last UFC bout.
Despite Stipe reaching unseen heights in the UFC’s heavyweight division with his record 5th title defense, arguably the biggest story line coming into the fight was the attempt for Cormier to finish his career in MMA as a champion. The sport we all love tends to remind us that in the fight game, there are rarely ever happy endings. With the Cormier loss, the former two-division champion has now lost the final two bouts of his professional career, along with being on the wrong side of two rivalries after a bitter rivalry with Jon Jones at light heavyweight years prior.
Going into the fight Cormier stated often that this was his final walk to the octagon, and although he did confirm that he will never compete again in the UFC, it will not be the last you will see of DC. The former champion has grown into an ambassador for the promotion, serving in roles such as the host of the Ariel & DC Show, an amazing color commentator for UFC broadcasts, and a newly announced role of ratings adjuster for the newest edition of EA Sports’ UFC 4. Although Cormier doesn’t get to ride off into the sunset as he wished, the fighter who was often smaller than his opponents reached heights that were quite gigantic. Cormier retired with a record of 22-3-1 with 10 of his 14 UFC bouts being for gold. Not too bad for someone who entered the cage for the first time at 31 years of age.
The saying goes "when one closes another one opens," with Cormier hanging up the gloves it clears up the logjam atop the heavyweight division. The consensus favorite to get the next crack at the champ is Francis Ngannou, who since losing to Stipe back at UFC 220 has won four of five fights with all of his wins coming via first-round knockout. Although it was said by UFC President Dana White in the post-fight press conference that Ngannou is next for Miocic, the world of MMA has been turned on its head when Jon Jones took to Twitter to announce the relinquishment of his light heavyweight championship.
With money, or the lack of depth in the division being the motive for Jones to relinquish the light heavyweight strap, the promotion reacted by immediately booking Jan Blachowicz vs. Dominick Reyes for the light heavyweight title on September 26th, so it seems like Jones is closing the chapter of his 205 pound career forever.
As Jones potentially prepares to move up in weight, it will be no surprise if Jon is next to challenge Stipe Miocic due to the marketability of the fight. However, it would be criminal for Francis Ngannou to not be next to fight for the heavyweight title, especially since Jones has never fought in this division. Despite Jones giving in his gold, he should not have the right to skip the line. With contenders such as Derrick Lewis, Curtis Blaydes, and Jairzinho Rosenstruik all winning in recent weeks, it would be very hard to justify Jones being next for Miocic, especially since Dominick Reyes gave him his toughest test back at UFC 247 in February with that fight being at light heavyweight.
In the cards co-main event fight, Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera handed Sean O’Malley the first loss of his professional career via first-round TKO. The hype train surrounding the ‘Suga Show’ got derailed after O’Malley looked to have seriously hurt his foot following a Vera leg kick. To make matters worse for the undefeated O’Malley, he could not walk off on his own and has now seriously hurt that same right foot twice in his brief UFC career. The flashy haired O’Malley had rising star written all over him and his meteoric was even compared to Conor McGregor in preparation for this bout. Now a day removed from the fight questions are surrounding his foot's durability as we expect another long layoff.
Between O’Malley’s foot injuries, and his two-year battle with USADA over a failed drug test, he has been tested in his young career. One can compare O’Malley’s current state to a circa 2012 Stephen Curry. O’Malley is young and flashy like Curry was in 2012, showing the unlimited potential in his flashy array of striking and charisma when in combat, but hasn’t been able to fully emerge as a star due to his ability to remain active. With Sean O’Malley suffering his first loss maybe it will alleviate pressure going forward for the 25-year-old, but until he makes the walk again speculation will be brewing if we will see Suga Sean at superstar status.
The victorious Vera has now won six in a row at Bantamweight and with a win over a rising star like O’Malley, it is time for Chito to now get a step up in competition. Expect the previously unranked Vera to get a number next to his name and another contender to try and climb the division. This is a fight that did not get to live up to the hype and jawing these two did leading up to it, however, it is a fight that plays out long enough to deserve an immediate rematch. With Vera deflating the Suga Show we now see an intriguing young contender at 135, and Dana White is now presented with a good problem with yet another bright contender entering the fold at an already loaded Bantamweight division. Up next, ranked fighters such as Merab Dvalishvili or Raphael Assunçao could be potential foes for Vera.
As we expect ranked opponents such as those two it will be interesting to see how Vera does, because not only will it allow Vera to rise yet again, but it can also speculate if O’Malley just has bad luck, or if the Suga Show is just smoke and mirrors. No matter what UFC President Dana White elects to do, there are a ton of amazing potential fights to be made, which makes no time like the present to start taking a deep dive into the UFC if you enjoyed watching Saturday’s night of fights.
(Cover Photo: Joe Scarnici, Getty Images)