The sport of mixed martial arts evolves and expands every day toward mainstream status. From being broadcast on Fox, NBC and CBS, the sport is a far cry from the once-forbidden sideshow it was made out to be.

So when one of the sport’s biggest stars, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, is involved in a chaotic melee during a pre-fight media event, people take notice.

In the aftermath of Jones’ scuffle with challenger Daniel Cormier on Monday in Las Vegas at the promotion’s pre-fight media day for UFC 178, there are two schools of thought: the skirmish was a step backwards for the sport or that no publicity is bad publicity.

Yet, in truth, it goes much further than that.

For a sport that is based on rendering your opponent unconscious or unable to compete, it would be silly to think that its combatants are devoid of emotion and adrenaline prior to stepping in the cage against one another. Yes, many of the sport’s athletes are mild-mannered, college-educated individuals, but they’re still human beings and will react to a tense situation like anyone would. While the UFC certainly doesn’t condone the pair’s actions, the promotion made no effort to conceal it from the public eye.

The events in Las Vegas were an anomaly for a UFC press event, but it’s certainly not the first time that combat sports athletes have gotten into an altercation prior to competing against one another. Numerous boxing press conferences have turned into circuses, and even former UFC champion Anderson Silva delivered a shoulder strike to challenger Chael Sonnen during the UFC 148 weigh-ins.

Just because there is past precedent for similar events, it does not absolve Jones and Cormier for their actions. Both have publicly apologized and the event is being reviewed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the UFC. Given the high-profile nature of the fight and the athletes, the repercussions will likely be a slap on the wrist.

However, the biggest takeaway from Monday’s brawl might be the realization that these two men genuinely can’t wait to get in the cage on Sept. 27. The UFC’s biggest success in recent years has come from loud-mouthed, over-the-top personalities that manufacture bad blood with their opponents. From the WWE antics of former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar to the similar methods of the multiple-time title challenger Sonnen, fans have grown accustomed to borderline nonsensical trash talk as part of pre-fight build-up.

Monday gave the MMA world something different. Although Jones and Cormier have traded barbs over social media, it was largely lighthearted in nature—including the involvement of the fighters’ children. Both men had stated they respected the other’s skills in the cage, but something changed as they faced off on stage in the MGM Grand lobby.

As the long-reigning champion Jones leaned forward into Cormier and made contact with his forehead, the 27-year-old exhibited a sense of vulnerability. Even though Jones has defeated some of the biggest names in the sport—Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Alexander Gustafsson, to name a few—he has not faced the kind of threat that Cormier presents. And while Jones has repeatedly polarized himself from fans with juvenile antics on social media, he’s never acted threatened in a public setting. But, as he pushed UFC Director of Public Relations Dave Sholler out of the way to throw a left punch at Cormier, Jones proved that he’s not about to relinquish his belt without a fight.

For Cormier, this fight means everything. At 35 years of age, his time in the sport may be limited. After kidney failure robbed the Louisiana native of his chance at Olympic gold in wrestling, dethroning Jones may be the pinnacle of his athletic career. It was passion and resolve that led Cormier to push away Jones and prove that he’s not afraid of the champion. Now, the undefeated fighter will look to hand Jones the first true loss of his career when the door to the Octagon shuts.

Without a doubt, the UFC will take actions to prevent a repeat of Monday’s melee, but that doesn’t mean that it was all bad. Instead of a fake, manufactured feud to sell a few more pay-per-views, the UFC fan base now has a true rivalry between two of the best 205-pound fighters on the planet and Sept. 27 can’t come soon enough.

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