Daniel Cormier is no longer the UFC light heavyweight champion.
Cormier told ESPN on Friday that he has decided to give up the 205-pound title rather than have it stripped from him once Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson fight for the belt at UFC 232 on Saturday night in Los Angeles.
"Today I am going to relinquish the UFC light heavyweight title," Cormier wrote in a statement to ESPN. "I am not going to be stripped of the belt that I've defended with my all for three and a half years. Being stripped of a title suggests you've done something wrong, and I haven't.
"I'd rather walk away this way, with my head held high as it always has been, than have the history books say I was stripped. I've defended this title this year. I was approached with the idea of fighting at heavyweight, so I took it. I fought three times in 2018. No champion has been more active than me. I am the fighter of the year. My story and my legacy will not include me being stripped of a title. They can have it."
Cormier lost the belt to Jones in July 2017, but it was returned to him after Jones failed a drug test, testing positive for oral turinabol. Cormier defended the belt in January against Volkan Oezdemir and won the heavyweight title in July when he knocked out Stipe Miocic. Cormier defended that belt in November when he submitted Derrick Lewis.
Cormier has maintained that he will retire once he turns 40 in March and that he has no desire to fight Jones for a third time.
Jones told ESPN on Friday that Cormier's decision to relinquish the title was "the smart thing to do."
"My opinion on that is, dude, you never were the champ," Jones said. "I think he knows that in his spirit. He never beat me. He actually lost to me twice. So relinquishing the belt, it's just like, it wasn't ever really his belt. I think in the fans' eyes, they know, it's been Jon Jones' belt ... since 2011. If it wasn't, why would you relinquish it? Why would you not fight and make a stink about it?
"He's giving it up because he knows the rightful owner of it is here. I feel like he knows that he won't beat me, and so he's making it look honorable by retiring. It's like being an NFL player and retiring before being cut."
UFC president Dana White refuted Cormier's reasoning for relinquishing his belt, telling ESPN on Friday that Cormier wasn't going to be stripped of the title but rather that the title was going to be vacated.
"He hates Jon Jones, so he is overly dramatic about all of this situation right now, because of the hatred that he has for this man," White told ESPN. "He wasn't being stripped of the title. The title was being vacated. Vacated and stripped are two completely different things. Of course Daniel Cormier wouldn't be stripped of anything. He was vacating the title. He couldn't defend it. And that's it.
"I love the guy. He hates Jon Jones. Jon Jones hates him. And I would expect nothing less than him being on a rampage like he is right now."