“Jon “Bones” Jones. The second coming of Jesus Christ.”
I don’t remember the video where I heard this phrase, but at the time, Jon Jones was the newly minted light-heavyweight champion, and we already knew he was something special inside the cage. Most of us only had a vague idea that he was putting on some kind of facade, then.
Fast forward to today, and our opinions of Jon Jones are vastly different. He totalled his car drinking and driving with two girls in the backseat. He was busted for out-of-competition drug use. He called Daniel Cormier a pussy on camera and threatened to kill him. He actually swung to hurt Cormier at their stare-down. He hit a pregnant woman in his car, ran away, then came back, not to help her but to stuff his cash in his pants and take off again. Most recently, he cursed out a cop after getting five citations and spent a night in jail.
So, when Jon Jones went on Instagram after Daniel Cormier was forced out of their bout on April Fools day (not a joke) with an injury, and said it had been a crazy year, he wasn’t lying. When he went on to say he felt he owed his fans, he wasn’t lying. And when he then offered to fight whoever the UFC could find, either in his own weight class or up to 265 lbs, it was an offer of goodwill that came to the fans and UFC like a drink of water on an Albuquerque summer day. Jon Jones is infamous for turning down a low-risk short-notice fight against Chael Sonnen on the advice of his coaches, and cancelling an entire PPV event, a first in UFC history at the time. This, however, may make up for it.
The ‘may’ depends on who steps up to fight the pound-for-pound number one fighter in the world on two weeks notice. The most logical option would be Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, both for the division and for the best possible matchup.
All very fluid at the moment but I would cross Rumble Johnson off your wish list. Multitude of reasons but he's no longer a top option.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) April 2, 2016
These reasons aren’t clear, but it is a huge risk for a fighter who has worked hard to position himself as the number one contender to fight Jon Jones on short notice. Rumble has already lost to Daniel Cormier. Another loss, to Jon Jones, could end his title aspirations in the near future.
But what other options do we have? For the risk-reward balance to pay off, a fighter needs to be divisionally ranked, but also in a no man’s land in terms of the title.
Here are a few fights that might make sense. Honorable mentions: Josh Barnett, Ilir Latifi, Ben Rothwell, Roy Nelson
Mark Hunt: Hunt’s name was the first to enter my mind when I thought of fighters who fit that Venn diagram of being ranked and also locked out of the title picture. Hunt was recently finished by both the heavyweight champion and the next challenger, so his road back to the title seems remote. However, he is still an elite heavyweight, with dynamite in his hands and two knockouts in a row. He just had a fight, so he should be pretty close to being in shape. If he can manage to cut back down to 265 lbs, he would make a great matchup to let us know how Jones would look at heavyweight, and potentially test Jones’ chin with the cement blocks he calls fists. Apparently his nose was broken against Frank Mir, though, perhaps when he was celebrating his walk-off KO, so that likely crosses Hunt off the list.
Junior dos Santos: Coming off a knockout loss to Jon Jones’ teammate Alistair Overeem, the former heavyweight champion finds himself in that no-man’s land (hence his inclusion ahead of Ben Rothwell, who is divisionally relevant) and represents a very dangerous, if not inconsistent test for Jones. The problem is, he’s already booked for the UFC Zagreb main event against Ben Rothwell. If the UFC could resign itself to having Derrick Lewis and Gabriel Gonzaga headline, then they could save their much bigger Pay-Per-View event from being headlined once again by flyweights.
Ovince St. Preux: The Canadian has volunteered himself for the fight and is apparently a favorite to get it. It makes sense in that OSP would never get this fight ordinarily, but is still a ranked opponent. It’s difficult to see this one being very competitive, however, or moving a lot of Pay-per-Views.
Rashad Evans: When Helwani announced this as a possibility on Twitter, the majority of the responses were negative. Evans has fallen far from the top of the division he once conquered. His reliance almost exclusively on his overhand right and his reluctance to commit have cost him ugly bouts with Little Nog, and more recently Ryan Bader. He does have history with Jones, but was beaten convincingly the first time they fought. One plus is that he is in shape already, having been in camp for UFC on Fox 19, and isn’t a headliner, so that card would be just fine without him
Luke Rockhold: I know, getting crazy here. But if Luke Rockhold stepped up to fight Jon Jones, you know you would watch it. UFC 199 is still far enough away to book a different headliner – Robbie Lawler, for instance, is an available champion – and that event has a backup plan in the ever-moving form of Dominick Cruz and his title defense against Urijah Faber. Rockhold would have little to lose, and a lot to gain, stepping up on short notice to take his teammate Daniel Cormier’s place. Rockhold is a huge middleweight, bigger than Rashad Evans, whose monstrous grappling game is centered around negating strong wrestlers. He has ridiculously hard kicks at Jones’ preferred range, and if he’s in shape (a big question mark), the cardio to match. He is a more formidable foe than anyone south of the light heavyweight limit, and we would effectively have ourselves a super fight with no belt on the line to risk. If he lost, it would be back to middleweight for Rockhold, still holding his belt, a hefty paycheck in his pocket, with Chris Weidman his likely opponent. If he won- still an unlikely event against Jon Jones- he would immediately jump up the pound-for-pound list and become must-see TV.
Who do you think wins the Jon Jones lottery? And by lottery, I mean gets locked in a cage with the pound-for-pound number one fighter in the world for twenty-five minutes to earn their paycheck?