A few years ago MMA was cursed with the dreaded injury bug. Headliner after headliner were pulled from events as guys just couldn’t seem to get healthy long enough to do the damage to eachother in the cage. This year the injuries have seemed to have subsided (or at least become less frequent) but the new craze that is currently ravaging the landscape is drug testing violations. Since the implementation of USADA, a score of fighters have been pulled from events for drug testing failures, be it relatively unknown men like Tim Means or superstars like Anderson Silva, it has hit at every level of the sport, and today news broke that Jeff Novitsky had just claimed his biggest scalp to date: Jon Jones is no longer fighting Cormier for the light heavyweight title. In fact he probably won’t be fighting anyone for quiet some time. A minimum suspension of two years has been floated around the internet, and if true we may very well have seen the best of Jon Jones’ fighting career. Very few men come back from extended layoffs looking the same as the men they were, from Mohamed Ali to Georges St Pierre, everyone suffers at the hands of father time.
The question that faces us today however is one of more immediate concern, who, if anyone, should face Daniel Cormier now that Jones is out of the main event of what was supposed to be the biggest PPV event in UFC history? Cormier has gone on the record to say that he is willing to take a fight as high as 225 pounds, so his will to stay on the card is obviously there, and there are a few options available to him, even on such short notice. Each option comes with his own pros and cons and we won’t know until later who they actually decide to pick, but it can’t hurt to take a look.
Gegard Moussasi (Record: 38-6-2):
This is probably the matchup that makes the most sense from a timing perspective. Moussasi was already scheduled to fight on UFC 200, but as a middleweight. That is not to say that he would be walking in with no credentials at all: he fought a lot of his career at 205 pounds and won the light heavyweight title in Strikeforce. He has fought big men before and holds wins over 205ers like Illir Latiffi, Ovince Saint Preux, Sokoudjou and Babalau, as well as victories over legitimate heavyweights like Gary Goodridge and Mark Hunt. He has said he would be willing to step up and fight 5 rounds for the title, so the UFC gets to keep the belt on the line, but as a fighter Mousasi has had his ups and downs since he came to the UFC. He is fantastically well rounded, he has one of the best jabs in the heavier divisions, he is used to fighting big guys, and he is famously calm under pressure.
The biggest stumbling block here are the stumbles Mousasi has made in his career since joining the worlds premier mixed Martial Arts Organisation. After a debut win at 205, Mousasi dropped down to Middleweight and there he has lost to every big test in the UFC so far (his current UFC record stands at stands at 5-3, with losses to Lyoto Machida and Jacaré along with an upset knockout loss to Uriah Hall) and his problems have always been against men who could take him down and hold him there like Muhammad Lawal or Jacaré, although his ability to survive has always been exemplary. It would be a good fight to save the card and it is good that Mousasi is willing to step up to the big stage on such short notice but as a competitive matchup Mousasi may be in trouble if he gets this one, and his UFC record at Middleweight (4-3) certainly wouldn’t justify a title shot at 205, even if it would be interesting to see how his famous stoicism and poise holds up under Cormier’s bulldoggish aggression.
Michael Bisping: (Record: 29-7)
Michael Bisping is currently the UFC Middleweight Champion, and he too has a history at light heavyweight. Originally a light heavyweight winner of the third season of The Ultimate fighter, going 14-1 as a 205er and 4-1 in the UFC. A split decision loss to future champ Rashad Evans saw him make the move down to Middleweight, where he was up and down for most of his career before winning the belt from Luke Rockhold about a month ago. My problem with this fight is that as a light heavyweight, Bisping was always a little round, his frame is much better suited to 185, and he never fought a big name before Rashad Evans. His only win over what you could possible call a credible Light Heavyweight was the infamous robbery against Matt Hamill, where the Hammer threw everything but the kitchen sink at Bisping and Bisping won by using his skills of not getting knocked out and being from England, where the fight took place.
That being said, a champion versus champion fight would certainly sell, even if the fight itself may not be especially competitive. Bisping has always talked a lot of trash, and he just won the title as a short notice replacement against Luke Rockhold, a fight he also had no business winning, so he has proven before that he can step up and pull an upset out of nowhere at least. Before that he pulled off one of the biggest wins of his career by upsetting Anderson Silva. If he could cap that run of upsets off by beating Cormier it would probably be one of the only things that could eclipse his previous two wins.
Rockhold also happens to be a close training partner of Daniel Cormier, so if he can get the chance to smash the man who just knocked out his teammate, he may just jump at it.
Alexander Gustaffson: (Record: 16-4)
This fight has me conflicted in so many ways. On one hand, Gustaffson is 1-3 in his last 4 fights. His last loss was to Daniel Cormier, and he has not fought since then. He has openly questioned his commitment to the sport, and he has not been in a training camp recently like Bisping, nor has he been scheduled for a fight just like Mousasi. On the other hand he is the only legitimate light heavyweight on this list, and his loss to Cormier was a back and forth war where both men had their moments and Gustaffson came within a hairs breadth of finishing the champ. His title fight with Jon Jones was similarly close, and it is arguable that Gustaffson could be either 1-1 or even 2-0 in those fights with one different judge. He has put on two of the best title fights in light heavyweight history, and while he may not be have the current resume to fight for the belt, there is nobody more deserving of a second chance (or even a third) than Gustaffson. He has come so close on so many occasions, and his lateral movement based style gave Cormier problems in their first fight, so on paper at least it seems to be the most competitive matchup the UFC could put together on such short notice.
There are a plethora of other fighters who are clamoring for a shot at Cormier at UFC 200, from Roy Nelson to Uriah Hall, but in my opinion these three options are the most likely. They have potential to be interesting matchups, they have the potential to draw, they have the potential to be exciting. After everything that he has been through, Cormier deserves to be able to perform on the biggest stage the UFC has ever set up, and if he doesn’t get to show his talent, it is really us as fans of the sport who lose out.