UFC gets some star power back with long-awaited return of Jones

A UFC fighter goes for itThe UFC has struggled to emerge from the shadow of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey, who both found a level of fame that transcended mixed martial arts through their presence and personality inside and outside of the octagon. All attempts to find a new superstar have fallen flat, but the answer could be someone who was there before McGregor and Rousey were household names: Jon “Bones” Jones.

Jones will fight Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight division title on Saturday in a long-delayed rematch headlining UFC 214. Their originally scheduled rematch was postponed when Jones received a one-year suspension for failing a drug test, adding to the brash fighter’s spotty history. While Jones has produced incredible performances inside the octagon, his career has been marred by incidents and suspensions, which led to him being stripped of his title on two separate occasions.

Jones’ lengthy absences have dimmed his star power, but he has yet to be defeated in the octagon. The only loss on Jones’ 22-1 record came through disqualification, and very few opponents have come close to presenting a challenge for him. Cormier came closest, but Jones still earned a unanimous decision the first time the two fought in January 2015. The rivalry between Cormier and Jones intensified after Cormier defeated Anthony Johnson to become the light heavyweight champion in place of a suspended Jones.

The verbal sparring between Cormier and Jones hasn’t subsided after more than two years since their first fight. Cormier—a former Olympic wrestler who has only lost to Jones in his UFC career—has successfully defended his title twice since that loss, and he looks determined to back up his trash talk and correct the only blemish on his record. Defeating Jones would finally lend credibility to Cormier’s title, while another loss would cement his legacy has a placeholder champion.

The UFC lost its main event at the last minute earlier in July when Amanda Nunes pulled out of UFC 213, making Saturday’s fight even more crucial. Jones and Cormier are headlining the strongest, deepest card the series has produced in a while, and their rivalry—mixed with Jones’ superlative talent—is generating the kind of buzz recent UFC events have largely lacked. Regardless of the outcome, Saturday should serve as a reminder that there are still superstars in the UFC, if you know where to look.