With Cormier out, Jones (21-1) opted to remain on the UFC 197 pay-per-view and now meets Ovince Saint Preux for an interim title in Las Vegas. It will mark Jones' first appearance since January 2015 -- and first since the UFC stripped him of his title last year, after he pleaded guilty to a felony hit-and-run charge in New Mexico.
Although Cormier (17-1) won't be involved in the main event, he obviously remains tied to it. He will eventually face the winner in a unification match, sure, but he has also been in a longstanding rivalry with Jones, who many consider to be the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world today.
As Cormier focuses on healing up, the champ spoke to ESPN.com on a number of topics ahead of UFC 197.
In regards to the injury that knocked you off the card, how did it happen and what will the recovery process be like?
I was sparring with one of my teammates and we check kicks every day. On this inside check, man, my leg went really numb. I fell down and shook it out, but when I went back to sparring, another guy barely kicked me and I fell again. So, I said, 'OK, I guess I'm done sparring for the day.' I had a youth wrestling club the next day and I went, thinking I just had a bruised shin. But the next week, my leg was still super swollen. I hadn't started feeling better. We took it in and got an X-ray and it showed there was no break, but the MRI saw a tear in my leg. I just have to rest it about six weeks. Of course, I'm going to do whatever I can do to speed up the process, so on Monday I did stem cell to try and help with the healing.
After you lost to Jones by decision in January 2015, you admitted to being too emotional for that fight. Is it hard not to get emotional about it again, as you two go back and forth on social media, now that you had to pull out and wait for it?
I actually think it's funny people believe I'm so emotionally invested. I feel different now, in regards to fighting Jon the last time. The fact Jon thinks he's in my head and it's affecting me is insanity. I'm actually more than fine. Yeah, I've been thinking about him because that's who I was fighting, but it's not like it was before. I used to charge at him and want to fight him every time I came into contact with him. That's not the case anymore. I think we see what we want to see as humans. I think people see me as this emotional wreck because they want to, when it's not the reality of the situation. And you know what? I don't mind it. I don't mind people going, 'Daniel's a wreck!' Are you going to tune in to watch? Because that's really all I care about.
At a news conference last month in Las Vegas, fans booed you and cheered Jones. You mentioned it that day, but was that surprising, given what Jones went through last year?
That's a little different. I don't ... I don't quite understand that. I think maybe it's absence. Sometimes, when people are away, we tend to miss them. So, I guess you can attribute it to that. Or people have an ability to look past anything outside of fighting. If they can do that, then obviously, for what Jon is inside the Octagon, he's something to behold. If you're able to differentiate all that then, yeah, he is something to behold and look at.
What was your reaction to the UFC creating an interim title -- especially given the fact this injury should not keep you out very long?
Initially I thought, 'I just fought recently.' I didn't think it made sense, but then I started thinking more about it and this is Jon Jones. Any time Jon is involved, it's for some sort of belt. Then it made all the sense in the world. I don't know if Ovince, after his last performances, should be fighting for a championship but it doesn't matter. As humans, a lot of times we view things only visually. When I started thinking about promoting a rematch between me and Jon from the standpoint of champion versus champion, both of us wearing belts, I understand the logic. I have friends that took more offense to it than I did. For the most part, they can't understand how I can stay even keel about it but I'm like, 'Man, what do you worry about?" I can't tell the UFC to not make an interim championship. What's it help me to stress about it?
You publicly offered to help train Saint Preux for his fight against Jones and a lot of people wondered why you would want anyone else be the first to legitimately beat Jones, saying, "Why doesn't Cormier want that opportunity for himself?" Can you explain that?
I do want it, but have you ever heard the saying, 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend?' I want to see anybody win but Jones. It doesn't matter who he's fighting. I do want to be the guy who beats him but my offer to Saint Preux served its purpose. It got a reaction from [Jones]. He called me all kinds of names. He came unglued a little bit. Him saying I'm a coward, that is the furthest thing from the truth. I'm no coward. Even if Ovince Saint Preux can't get it done against Jones, just to be in his corner and knowing the sight of me or the words I could speak would irritate Jon, that's good enough for me. Just me trying to help Saint Preux makes him say, 'I can't stand that guy.' That's a win for me.
Will you still attend UFC 197?
I don't know. I was asked to work [as a television analyst] but I said no. I just want to focus on my recovery now. I swear, I was having the greatest camp. Everything was perfect. Now I'm thinking the best way to get back there is to eliminate myself from everything else as much as possible.
Jones was arrested last month for violating his probation due to five traffic citations, including one for drag racing. Video surfaced of him interacting with the police officer and he spent two days in jail. He pleaded not guilty to the drag racing ticket. What were your thoughts?
I was trying not to pay close attention because Jon takes you on this roller coaster ride that you don't voluntarily get on. When you're tied to him, there are ups and downs and you're part of it because it's your fight, too. From what I saw in that video, the cop was being a little much -- but Jon was also being a little much. I think for as much flack as that cop got, I think he actually did Jon a favor, writing him all those tickets because it's so obviously excessive. Jon actually might end up being OK. If that guy would have just said, 'You're drag racing' and wrote him one ticket for drag racing, I don't know what would have happened. But when he's giving him tickets for hiding his license plate, this, this and that, it just shows he was upset and acting emotional.
If Jones does beat Saint Preux, when do you expect the rematch to take place?
I don't want to be sitting long. Jon said he was open to fighting at UFC 200 if he comes through this clean. I would definitely want to fight around that time frame, too. I don't want to wait until a November card in New York, waste a year in my career. I'm 37 and finally at the top of my game. I need to be competing.