Sports

Cormier can't escape Jones ahead of UFC championship defence

UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, left, stares down Volkan Oezdemir during their weigh-in the night before their Ultimate Fighting Championship bout Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, left, stares down Volkan Oezdemir during their weigh-in the night before their Ultimate Fighting Championship bout Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

BOSTON — Daniel Cormier has shed his last 10 pounds to make weight, is pumped to defend his UFC light heavyweight championship and says he can beat Volkan Oezdemir.

Well, that's the message Cormier tries to push when he's not continuously pressed about the one guy he won't be fighting.

"He hurt me with that kick," Cormier says of his last fight against Jon Jones. "I've been hurt before."

Oezdemir has had only three UFC fights, yet his fourth will find him lined up against ...

"I hate that he did some dirty stuff," Cormier says, again of Jones. "But he did a lot of great things to finish that fight. I accept that."

Oezdemir is still surprised to see his name on the poster and in a championship fight so quickly, but ...

"When you look at Jones' body of work, you see a guy that can compete and win at the highest levels," Cormier says.

Wait, are we still talking about Jones?

The coke-snorting , erection-pill popping , drunken-driving UFC star widely regarded as the best fighter in the world, yet can't keep out of trouble long enough to stay champion?

Yeah, that guy.

Jones has been the anchor that's put more weight on Cormier than the light heavyweight championship belt he'll wear around his waist headed into the co-main event against Oezdemir at UFC 220 .

Cormier can't duck Jones — inside the octagon out or out — and knows his career always will be defined by the two times he failed to beat the fighter nicknamed "Bones" and the myriad of controversies that are hooked to one of UFC's great rivalries.

Champion or not, Cormier always will be considered a step below Jones, and maybe not even a true champion.

Cormier is clean.

Jones is the class of the division.

Cormier (19-1) seemed more Mike Torrez than Bucky Dent this week in Boston as every media scrum, every TV interview was focused on the shadow Jones still hovers over the champ.

Cormier could show Francis Ngannou-esqe KO ability and put Oezdemir out in the first round and his career would still come with an asterisk: has never defeated Jon Jones.

"My career is very closely tied with Jones. It will never change," Cormier said. "But I'm still here, right? I'm still doing this. That's what matters. In the grand scheme of things, the most important thing is being here, being able to fight for this."

With that, the 38-year-old Cormier patted his UFC light heavyweight belt, an explicit sign to the UFC faithful that the champ is here.

Bring on Oezdemir at TD Garden.

The 28-year-old Swiss native earned the title bout on the strength of his last two fights that lasted a total of 70 seconds. He defeated Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa with unexpected knockouts in stunning time to rise in the ranks and earn a fight against Cormier.

Oezdemir could be the fighter that makes Cormier look real old, real quick.

With a win, Oezdemir might even put Switzerland on notice that there's more to its athletes than tennis great Roger Federer.

"It's two different worlds but I'm going to get there," Oezdemir said. "People recognized me, people follow it. There are also people that don't really care about UFC but they follow it only when I fight. It's really something new for them and something that's getting big in my country."

Cormier would be a ranked contender instead of champ had it not been for Jones' latest folly.

UFC stripped Jones in September of its light heavyweight title for a third time and reinstated Cormier as the 205-pound champion after Jones' latest failed doping test. UFC made the call after the California State Athletic Commission changed the result of Jones' victory over Cormier at UFC 214 in July to a no-contest. Cormier had lost the belt to Jones in a third-round stoppage.

But the USADA announced Jones had violated the UFC's doping policy with a second positive test. The California commission made its no-contest ruling after Jones' backup sample also failed a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency test for the same substance, the banned steroid Turinabol.

"I think he's going to be gone for a while. As unfortunate as it is, that chapter in my career is over," Cormier said. "I don't believe that he'll back in time for us to fight again. That's sad."

Jones recently passed a polygraph test that he says proves he didn't knowingly take the steroid Turinabol. Cormier balked at that defence , joking that serial killer Ted Bundy also passed a lie detector test.

"There's just some weird people leading him," Cormier said. "For them to actually make that public was a little bit of a bad mistake, I thought."

Cormier, who also works as a UFC analyst, enters the fight as the favourite .

"I can knock him out, I can submit him, I can beat him by decision," Cormier said. "He can knock me out. That's his only path to victory. I'll take the three over one."

Cormier trash-talked the challenger this week at Fenway Park, insistent that a successful title defence was on deck.

"You know what's going to happen, Volkan!"

"Walk away. Walk away."

"I'm not going over there," Oezdemir said as he headed toward the first base side exit.

"Bye, Volkan," Jones said, laughing.

Oezdemir walked out without looking back at Cormier. He'd rather look ahead at a fight that could crown him a champ.

More on Metronews.ca