LOS ANGELES — Very few people in their right mind would call Daniel Cormier a stupid person.
The light heavyweight contender and former Olympic wrestler out of San Jose is one of the most perceptive and intelligent fighters in the sport of mixed martial arts. The fighter known as “DC” was fast to catch on as a Fox Sports UFC studio analyst, and he’s one of the media’s go-to guys for quick-witted quotes on subjects across the combat-sports spectrum.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that Cormier understands that while his UFC 178 news-conference brawl with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones on Monday in Las Vegas is the sort of thing that could cast the sport in a negative light, it will also set the cash registers ringing when the pair square off for Jones’ title on Sept. 27 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“It’s not for the good of the sport of MMA for us to be engaging in that kind of behavior,” Cormier told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday as he waited in his VIP dressing room before a fan Q&A session at Club Nokia. “We’re still new, and the verdict isn’t out on us yet. People don’t necessarily know us outside of the cage, so it is very important for us to put our best foot forward every time, which it wasn’t yesterday.”
But the brawl was also the sort of news that burst through the MMA bubble and into the mainstream. UFC 178 now figures to be the company’s biggest event of 2014, and PPV points are a fighter’s ticket to the sport’s biggest paydays.
“Even though what happened wasn’t acceptable, the fight is so much bigger than it was a couple days ago,” Cormier said. “We’ve had some big fights. Any time Georges St-Pierre fights, any time Anderson Silva fights, it’s a big deal. It’s on that level now. It was on Good Morning America. That doesn’t happen in MMA very often. [UFC CEO] Lorenzo [Fertitta] called us and talked to us. He was pretty upset man, but I don’t know how upset he is going to be with the PPV numbers.”
That big-event buzz, which the UFC has struggled to regain in 2014 in the wake of St-Pierre’s sabbatical and Silva’s injury absence, was back with a vengeance Tuesday, the second half of the two-day West Coast press tour to push ticket sales for the event. A rambunctious crowd was on hand in downtown Los Angeles for the event, which featured both main-event competitors, as well as featherweights Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier, who square off in another feature bout.
There was still much chatter in the air about what went down the previous day, from relief that no one got hurt in the scuffle, to an accounting of some of the damage done to items on the fighters’ persons (Jones had a pair of sunglasses destroyed in the melee; Cormier, for his part, lost his cell phone, only to have it returned by a fan when Cormier’s manager dialed his number and the fan answered).
For his part, McGregor, the bombastic Irishman, had a front-row seat for Monday’s doings, in which Jones pushed forward with a headbutt when the two were squared off for a photo opportunity; Cormier responded with a shove to the throat; and the scuffle was on in earnest before it was broken up.
In McGregor's mind, Cormier was at fault for the brawl.
“In my head, I was commentating on the situation,” McGregor told Yahoo! Sports. “The fans where there, it was a great occasion. This the fight game, but I don’t give a [expletive]. You don’t grab a guy’s throat. It’s one thing head to head, whatever, but you grab a guy’s throat, it’s on. If someone had grabbed my throat, I would have broken his jaw.”
With that in mind, there were extra LAPD reinforcements on hand and situated to the sides of the stage during the question-and-answer session Monday. But they weren’t needed. Jones and Cormier continued jousting throughout the 45 minutes of the event, but it was all of the verbal sort.
And, quite frankly, it got a little weird at times.
“It’s going to be intimate,” Jones practically purred, using the same word he used during a SportsCenter appearance on Monday in describing the brawl.
“And passionate,” Cormier added, using another Jones descriptor from Monday.
“I’m going to make you my wife,” said Jones, taking the conversation in a strange direction. “You’re going to be Mrs. Jones for the night. I’m going to rub on that big ol’ belly and you’re going to like it.”
“It’s going to be right in your face,” said Cormier. “I’m going to put it right on your face. I’m going to smother you with my big ol’ fat belly.”
With that, the event’s moderator, Megan Olivi, gave her thoughts on the banter: “This is getting weird.”
It had been a long couple days for all involved, a span of 48 hours which made UFC 178 magnitudes larger than it was before the media tour started. No wonder everyone was getting a little loopy.
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter @davedoylemma.