Archrivals Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier will both return to the cage before the end of the year.
It just won’t be against each other.
Jones is set to return from the second performance-enhancing drug suspension of his career for a UFC 232 headlining bout against Alexander Gustafsson on Dec. 29 at T-Mobile Arena.
It’s the first time Jones has competed since returning from suspension to knock out Cormier to reclaim the light heavyweight belt in July 2017. The UFC decided to strip Jones of the belt and return it to Cormier after Jones tested positive.
Now it will be stripped from Cormier and be awarded to the winner of the bout between Jones and Gustafsson.
Cormier has another belt to defend.
He currently holds the heavyweight and light heavyweight belt and will put the heavyweight belt on the line Nov. 3 at UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden in New York, less than two months before the other one is slated to be taken away.
Cormier will face Derrick Lewis, who is coming off a spectacular comeback win over Alexander Volkov at T-Mobile Arena on Oct. 6 that was followed by an even more memorable postfight interview in his boxers.
It’s a risky fight for Cormier, who could have opted to hold out for massive paydays against either Jones or wrestling star Brock Lesnar.
Cormier, however, believes he will get through Lewis and still have one or both of those options available in the future.
“I didn’t think I was going to fight on this card, but the deal I got was so good. There was no way I could say no, honestly,” Cormier told ESPN. “I would not have accepted a rematch against (former champ) Stipe Miocic on short notice, he’s too good under these circumstances I’m not saying Derrick isn’t good, but Stipe is capable of beating me in different ways. He does different things well. I think in this fight, Derrick has to knock me out to win. Usually, if a guy only has one path to victory, I do pretty well. Yes, I will admit the opponent factored into this.”
Cormier still insists he will retire by the time he turns 40 in March.
“The one opponent that would matter to me most is Jones, because he’s beaten me twice,” Cormier said. “The one that would mean more financially would be Lesnar. I think I would always pick the one that means more, but my wife might have something to say about that.”
Jones is a minus-280 favorite over Gustafsson at the Westgate sports book. Cormier is an even more prohibitive favorite over Lewis at minus-600.
Tukhugov out of UFC Fight Night 138
Zubaira Tukhugov has officially been removed from his UFC Fight Night 138 bout against Artem Lobov and replaced by featherweight contender Michael Johnson.
Tukhugov’s removal is believed to be a result of his involvement in the postfight brawl between his friend and training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor.
Nurmagomedov has threatened to quit the organization if Tukhugov is released from his contract.
Lobov is a friend and training partner of McGregor. An interview he did on Russian television critical of Nurmagomedov was a major catalyst for the tension between the fighters and their camps. He was also part of McGregor’s entourage during the infamous bus attack.
UFC 138 takes place in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, on Oct. 27.
Lee set to headline UFC on Fox 31
Las Vegan Kevin Lee will return to action on Dec. 15 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The lightweight contender will headline UFC on Fox 31 against Al Iaquinta in a rematch of a bout Lee lost by unanimous decision back in 2014.
It was Lee’s first career loss and came in his UFC debut when he was just 21 years old.
Both fighters have come up short in title opportunities since their first meeting.
Bellator final set
Heavyweight star Fedor Emelianenko will fight for the Bellator tournament championship against Ryan Bader on Jan. 26 in Los Angeles after both fighters scored semifinal wins over the weekend.
Emelianenko dropped Chael Sonnen with a right hand early in their bout and eventually finished the fight with a series of punches on the ground late in the first round.
The 42-year-old Russian had last won a fight in the United States in 2009 before beating Frank Mir in the first round back in April.
■ Oct. 27: UFC Fight Night 138 (FS1), Moncton, New Brunswick
■ Nov. 3: UFC 230 (FS1/PPV), New York
■ Nov. 10: UFC Fight Night 139 (FS1), Denver
■ Nov. 15: Bellator 209 (Paramount), Tel Aviv, Israel
■ Nov. 17: UFC Fight Night 140 (FS1), Buenos Aires
■ Nov. 24: UFC Fight Night 141 (FS1), Beijing
■ Nov. 30: Bellator 210 (Paramount), Thackerville, Okla.
■ Dec. 1: UFC Fight Night 142 (FS1), Adelaide, Australia
■ Dec. 8: UFC 231 (FS1/PPV), Toronto, Ontario