The rise of Jon Jones over the past ten years is one of the UFC’s biggest rollercoasters, and only fight fans with a heart of icy stone find themselves unable to root for him. A career chequered by controversy and rebellion against authority may now reach a peak that could represent a new dawn for ‘Bones’, if his recent tweet meant what many fans think it does.
Back on 17 August, Jones stated on Twitter:
“Just got off the phone with @Ufc, today I confirm that I’m vacating the light heavyweight championship. It’s officially up for grabs. It’s been an amazing journey, sincere thank you to all my competition, Ufc and most importantly you fans.”
Like any man with rumoured aspirations to fight in the heavyweight division, Jones would face the potential challenge of an opponent that is unbridled by limits if moving up. As such, his first opponent in the division would have to be a shrewd pick – but who among the realistic candidates would be a good choice?
It would be pure Jon Jones if he was to simply waltz his way into a showdown with the current heavyweight champion, pound him mercilessly and walk away with the belt. The result of Miocic’s showdown with Daniel Cormier – a former rival of Jones – could be an indicator as to how Jones might fare against Miocic, but only to a certain degree.
Back on August 16, Miocic won by decision against Cormier. Jones’ only previous legitimate win over Cormier ended the same way, hinting at a narrow result in the hypothetical ‘Miocic v Jones’ showdown.
The fact that Jones beat Cormier in January 2015 might detract from its potential to act as such an indicator. But as reflected in his unbeaten pro MMA record, Jones has always held a degree of ruthlessness. So too does he have the ability to dominate fights, with an equal rate of knockouts and decision wins from his first 26 pro victories showing this.
Even a narrow decision loss against Miocic would not be a tragic way for Jones to begin life as a heavyweight, even if it did end one of the UFC’s most promising unbeaten runs.
Junior dos Santos
Given Jones’ sizeable fanbase, he will want to repay the faith shown in him. That faith manifests itself in diverse ways, from people subscribing to his social media channels to backing him in the latest UFC moneyline betting markets. To ensure the best chance of immediate success if moving up, Jones might be inclined – somewhat uncharacteristically – to play it safe. Enter Junior dos Santos.
Despite recently losing his third bout in a row via TKO punches, dos Santos is still set to end August ranked sixth in the heavyweight division. As such, any matchup between Jones and dos Santos would not necessarily be a Masvidal/Askren-style squash over in seconds. Dos Santos’ rank would allow Jones to maintain credibility in the event of a victory, even if the Brazilian’s losing streak and age may detract from the win.
Form aside, dos Santos’ age alone gives Jones an ever-shrinking window of opportunity, to get a guaranteed heavyweight debut win against top-seven opposition.
Winner of Sakai vs Overeem
September’s staging of UFC Fight Night 176 sees Alistair Overeem take on Augusto Sakai in the main event. Such is the pre-fight narrative, with the experienced Overeem taking on a promising opponent with a 4-0 record in the UFC alone, this match may provide Jones and his camp with some productive ideas.
If Overeem wins, and accepts a challenge from former light-heavyweight icon Jones, the subsequent bout would see Jones take on a respected top-five contender. In many ways, that would be Jones’ ideal acid test, given that he could exploit the perceived ‘slow’ nature of some heavyweight bouts. Meanwhile, a victory for Sakai and an accepted challenge from Jones would be enthralling, seeing a ‘5-0er’ in the UFC come up against an icon with the ability to adapt his approach.
Who else currently occupies the UFC heavyweight division’s top seven?
Francis Ngannou (UFC: 10-2) is currently the closest contender beneath Miocic, and finds himself without his name on a card, as of the penultimate weekend in August. Fourth-ranked Jairzinho Rozenstruik is also without a slated opponent, while third-ranked Curtis Blaydes takes on seventh-placed Derrick Lewis in November’s staging of UFC Fight Night 185.