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UFC 197 Opinion: The week everything went crazy

Jed Meshew looks back at the crazy week that led us to the new UFC 197 main event.

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This past weekend, Daniel Cormier pulled out of his scheduled Light Heavyweight title defense against Jon Jones with a leg injury. However shortly after Cormier’s announcement, Jones issued a statement saying he was willing to fight a short notice opponent on the card and the UFC was ultimately able to replace Cormier with no. 6 ranked Ovince St. Preux and the LHW title with an interim championship.

To say the circumstances surrounding the creation of this bout are odd would be an understatement.

For one, the fact that any fight is happening at all is a minor miracle. Less than a week ago, Jon Jones was arrested for parole violation stemming from a traffic incident in Albuquerque, wherein Jones was cited for multiple traffic violations. Though the charges themselves were relatively minor, the totality of Jones' legal troubles put his return to the octagon in serious jeopardy. Jones’s arrest had many speculating that the main event would be replaced with the Flyweight title defense between Demetrius Johnson vs Henry Cejudo and that Dana White would be running into traffic over replacing one of his biggest PPV draws with his worst one. Fortunately for both the UFC and fans, it was announced that the fight would go on as scheduled.

A collective sigh of relief was breathed by all.

Then just a few days later, Cormier announced his withdrawal. Jones and his camp are notoriously fastidious in their preparation for opponents. The infamous UFC 151 cancellation (wherein Dana White referred to Jones’ coach Greg Jackson as a "sport killer") occurred because Jones refused to fight Chael Sonnen on 10 days notice when Dan Henderson withdrew from the scheduled title bout. (Granted, that was only 10 days before the event whereas this is 3 weeks before UFC 197, however that was against a Middleweight whereas this is against a top ranked and legitimate Light Heavyweight.) Preparation for MMA at the highest levels is not merely about getting in shape but also about preparing strategy and tactics and short notice fights impede the drilling required to appropriately prepare for a specific opponent. Jones and Greg Jackson are laser focused on the process of fighting and it was entirely plausible (and reasonable) that Jones would refuse to fight a short notice opponent.

To add to the weirdness, the fight was originally offered to former Light Heavyweight contender Anthony Johnson. That matchup has long held fan interest as Johnson’s other worldly power and striking acumen provide quite possibly the most dangerous threat to the dominance of Jones.  However, fans were denied that fight when Johnson declined to step in citing recent oral surgery. In and of itself, that wouldn’t be particularly odd but for the fact that just a couple of days before Cormier announced his withdrawal, Johnson’s camp made a statement about his ability to step in to replace Jones should his legal troubles and arrest prevent him from fighting at UFC 197.

The weird icing on this cake of oddity is the fact that now Jones and St. Preux will be fighting for the Interim UFC Light Heavyweight championship and, should Jones win as he is widely favored to do, he will hold an interim title in lieu of the actual belt which he never lost in the cage. It may be the first time in the history of combat sports that an interim title belt, which are usually looked upon with derision, will carry more weight than the actual championship.

Not to mention the absurdity of Daniel Cormier, current UFC Champion offering to pay for division rival St. Preux to use the remainder of Cormier's training camp to prepare for a number 1 contender bout for Cormier's own belt!

The utter insanity of the last week is proof positive that MMA is just as wild, crazy, and unpredictable inside the cage as it is outside of it.

And we still have 3 weeks to go.