Weighing the options for who’s next for Jon Jones
Jon Jones has found himself on a bit of an island as UFC light heavyweight champion. Once UFC’s marquee division, 205 pounds finds itself depleted of its star-power and mainstay talent. The instability of the division hasn’t helped matters, and that’s almost entirely on Jones who has been in and out of active competition for the past five years. His main rival, Daniel Cormier, seems unlikely to return to the division and will close out his career at heavyweight. Young up and comers like Johnny Walker came up short when they got within sniffing distance of a title shot. Established middleweight stars such as Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman went down in flames when they tried to move up.
Jones started 2019 optimistic that he would be very active. He kept that up through the summer with wins over Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos, but then he waited to see how things panned out with Rockhold, and then Weidman and Walker. All three could have been fast-tracked to a title shot with a win and all three went down spectacularly.
So who can Jon Jones fight? There are always options. Jones is established enough where any warm body should pull decent numbers but it is true that there’s no obvious contender. Let’s look at some of his options.
Corey Anderson has long been near the top of the light heavyweight division but is frequently overlooked by fans and the promotion. After a rough 2017 where he lost to Jimi Manuwa and Ovince St. Preux, Anderson picked up three in a row in 2018 with wins over Patrick Cummins, Glover Teixeira, and Ilir Latifi. He put a cap on his run and case for a title shot with his demolition of Walker at UFC 244. He may have to win another fight to convince UFC to give him the shot, but at this point, Anderson has earned it.
Since the loss to Anderson, Teixeira has quietly rattled off three in a row in 2019. Most recently Teixeira took a unanimous decision over Nikita Krylov in Vancouver. It’s been five years since Teixeira dropped a five-round decision at UFC 172, so with little else in the way of options, he is at least a recognizable name to take on the champ.
Dominick Reyes stuck a stick into the spokes of UFC and Jones’s plan to fasttrack Chris Weidman to a title fight. Reyes made short work of Weidman in an ESPN main event last month. He also holds wins over former title contenders Volkan Oezdemir and Ovince St. Preux. He’s undefeated, won a fight with style in front of a big audience, and he’s a fresh face, so Reyes makes a strong case to be next for Jones.
This is the most outside the box of the available options, but also the most lucrative. As outside the box as it is, it’s also right on point with how UFC likes to book. Champ-champ fights have been the trend of the last year or two but this one comes with significant risk. UFC has put a fair amount of promotional muscle behind Israel Adesanya, and to feed him to Jones at a higher weight class just as he’s starting to become a bonafide UFC star could derail all of that. Considering how other middleweights have fared at 205 as of late, this is a fight I would stay away from.
With no obvious choice from either a business or sporting perspective, a decision just needs to be made so that the division can move forward. Of the available options, I feel that Corey Anderson is the most deserving based on his recent record. Israel Adesanya is the best choice for box office, but the time isn’t right for that fight and it could mean a lot more in a year or two. With that in mind, I would give the fight to Anderson while he has some momentum and build towards a future super fight with Adesanya if the stars continue to align for that fight.
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