The Shadow of the King: Anthony Johnson and Daniel Cormier Will Still Have To Deal With Jon Jones’ Presence At UFC 187

By Raphael Garcia

UFC 187 is just a few short days away. Anthony Johnson and Daniel Cormier will stand in the cage in the main event, and one of them will walk out of Las Vegas as the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. No matter which guy wins, however, he should be fully aware that he is not the star of that division. That man is Jon “Bones” Jones. Jones may not be attending the show this weekend, but his shadow is going to hang over the night’s proceedings.

The story surrounding Jones’ downfall has been told multiple times. His recent run-in with the law last month put the UFC in a position where it had to discipline its longest-reigning champion. Jones became the first champion in the promotion’s history to lose his title due to disciplinary reasons. The situation has become so dire for the New York native that some close to him believe his time in the sport is over. For example, Jones’ manager Malki Kawa has gone on record to say that he is potentially done with the fight game:

“It could very well be the last time we’ve seen Jon Jones in the Octagon,” Kawa told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “I think Jon Jones is gonna focus on Jon Jones. I think he’s gonna take the time to do whatever he’s gotta do. And if it’s the last time we’ve seen him fight, it’s the last time we’ve seen him fight. And I’m OK with that.”

On the other hand, there’s the conversation about what the UFC will do if and when Jones has his suspension lifted and makes his return to the cage. UFC President Dana White answered that question in the way many people expected:

“He comes right back and fights for the title,” White said while appearing on the Jim Rome show. “He hasn’t had the time Anderson Silva’s had, but he’s the most dominant champion. If you look at the murderer’s row of the 205-pound division that he went through, and he just went through it like a hot knife through butter, I mean he’s the man. Whenever he gets his stuff together, he can come right back and fight for the title.”

So what does that mean for Johnson and Cormier?

Basically, the winner may not carry the “interim” title that has accompanied many other “replacement” champions in the past, but he is clearly not the organization’s first choice to hold the title. Jones, liked or not, has become one of the company’s biggest cash cows. This is especially important at a time when the organization needs more people to carry the weight of pay-per-view cards.

So it will be interesting to see how the organization works to promote the new champion. The years that the company has put into building Jones’ brand are now useless. Johnson and Cormier are two fighters that are generally loved by the public, but love doesn’t turn into admiration in most cases. Just look at Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor — probably the two biggest UFC stars along with Jones — and both of those individuals are brash and probably offensive to some. Johnson and Cormier are neither. Yet the UFC doesn’t have much of a choice anymore. Jones may not be in the cage on Saturday, but the new champion will have to worry about him. The title belt is going to be wrapped around the winner’s waist, but he is also going to have to fill some very large shoes. Jones is the most dominant champion the division has ever seen. Some even consider him the greatest fighter to ever grace the sport. There’s no telling what state Jones will be in when he returns to the sport, or if he ever will. But at this point, his presence, or lack thereof, will be the main story before, during, and after UFC 187 within the 205-pound weight class. Hopefully the man who hoists the belt is ready to play second fiddle.

UFC 187

Anthony Johnson vs. Daniel Cormier (UFC Light Heavyweight Championship)

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UFC 187: Johnson vs. Cormier (formerly UFC 187: Jones vs. Johnson) takes place on May 23, 2015 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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