Jon Jones and the Five Fighters Who Could Dethrone Anderson Silva

Dustin FilloyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2013

Jon Jones and the Five Fighters Who Could Dethrone Anderson Silva

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    Many pundits forget how Chael Sonnen produced the proverbial blueprint needed to dethrone pound-for-pound kingpin Anderson Silva in their first middleweight title fight at UFC 117 in August 2010.

    That’s probably because Silva made that performance an afterthought and solidified his status as the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighter when he finished Vitor Belfort, Yushin Okami, Sonnen and Stephan Bonnar in succession following his Hail Mary triangle armbar on Sonnen late in the fifth round at UFC 117.

    There also aren’t many experts chattering about how Sonnen dominated Silva in the first round of their second title fight at UFC 148 in July, and rightfully so. After all, Silva stormed back and smashed Sonnen in spectacular fashion, and at that point, that was all that mattered.

    But the bullseye that’s been lingering around Anderson Silva’s back since he won the belt in 2006 has recently started to come into focus. Fighters who’ve been trained properly and who possess the physical and intellectual ingredients to challenge a legend like “The Spider” are lurking in the shadows.

    Here’s a look at five fighters who possess all the required tools to knock off Silva, a man who hasn’t tasted defeat in 16 UFC fights.

Thus Far, No Chinks Have Been Revealed in Jon Jones' Armor

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    If Silva were to ever entertain a fight with Jones, the virtually unbeaten light heavyweight champion, he’d have to deal with a reach disadvantage for just the third time in his UFC career.

    The only former opponents who enjoyed a reach advantage over Silva (77.6 inches) were Thales Leites (78) and Bonnar (80), two fighters he dispatched of with relative ease. Jones, who sports an 84.5-inch reach, has held at least a five-inch reach advantage over every fighter he’s faced except Bonnar.

    Jones would also represent the strongest, rangiest and most efficient wrestler Silva has ever faced.

    A former JUCO wrestling champion at Iowa Central Community College, Jones has racked up 23 takedowns and allowed none in his 18-fight pro career.

    Jones, who’s slated to face Sonnen at UFC 159 in April, probably wouldn’t engage in a toe-to-toe strikefest with Silva. “Bones” is more likely to mix punches, kicks and knees with attempts to clinch with Silva and repeatedly press his back against the fence. Once there, Jones will trip, sweep or slam Silva to his back in an attempt to deliver a fight-ending punch, elbow or submission.

    If a Silva/Jones fight ever materializes, the potential entertainment value of the bout will make the pay-per-view a night for the record books. But will this superfight ever come to fruition?

    Bones essentially said a fight with Silva wouldn't surprise him in an interview with Ron Kruck.

    "Everything's a possibility. I really can't count too much out. I do believe that we're put on this earth to think big and dream big and not limit ourselves, and fighting Anderson would be a definite testament of my faith and my warrior spirit, and things like that, so who knows what will happen in the future?"

No Fighter Has Stopped a Georges St-Pierre/Firas Zahabi Game Plan

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    Silva and St-Pierre have experienced similar meteoric rises in the UFC, which is probably why they’re the two most compared fighters in MMA today.

    Many superlatives apply to both fighters, but it’s difficult to think of many weak points in the games of Silva or St-Pierre.

    Both fighters have dominated their respective weight classes in recent years, with The Spider defending the middleweight title 10 times since he took it from Rich Franklin at UFC 64 in October 2006 and “Rush” defending the welterweight strap seven times since he TKO’d Matt Serra at UFC 83 in April 2008.

    They have equally impressive striking and submission skills, although St-Pierre holds a clear advantage over Silva in the most important facet of MMA: wrestling.

    In Silva’s past 10 fights, he’s scored just two takedowns while allowing five. St-Pierre, on the contrary, has piled up 54 takedowns and surrendered just two (both to Josh Koscheck) in his last 10 bouts.

    Like Jones, St-Pierre would try to close the distance against Silva with a plethora of strikes. But unlike Jones, who loves to clinch, especially against the fence, St-Pierre would likely favor his patent blast double-leg takedown to ground Silva.

    But in the press conference following his win over Carlos Condit at UFC 154, St-Pierre, who’s scheduled to take on Nick Diaz at UFC 158 in March, elaborated on how Silva’s size advantage could discourage him from taking the fight.

    “He’s a big guy. He’s a very big guy, and I don’t know how much he can come down. Not a long time ago, he used to fight in Japan at 168, which is a smaller weight class than me. Who knows? Sometimes, I’m sure UFC can make magic things happen. So we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

Chris Weidman Will Soon Rule the Middleweight Division

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    A dynamic rising star in the middleweight division, the unbeaten Weidman has made the most of his five fights in the UFC and has proven along the way that he’s one of the sport’s most well-rounded fighters.

    Like Jones and St-Pierre, Weidman has used his wrestling dexterity to dictate the flow of his fights. In his brief UFC career, Weidman has racked up 13 takedowns and given up none. A former NCAA All-American wrestler, Weidman also loves to score with ground-and-pound and submission attempts once the fight hits the mat.

    With a 78-inch reach, Weidman would enjoy a slight reach edge over the long and extraordinarily accurate Silva. Weidman has outstruck each opponent he’s faced in the UFC, which includes landing a remarkable 46 strikes to Mark Munoz’s one at UFC on Fuel TV 4 in July.

    In an interview with The MMA Hour’s Ariel Helwani, Weidman explained with utter conviction why he’s a tough matchup for Silva by saying:

    “I’ve beat two top five guys in a row, and I think I’m a stylistic nightmare for Anderson Silva. And I’m not like a lot of these guys (who) I see them go on record (and) basically say, ‘I’d just love a shot at Anderson Silva to see how I could do.’ I’m not in there just to be able to share the cage with Anderson Silva, that’s not my goal at all. I’d be far from content with that.

    I’m going in there to beat Anderson Silva and to finish Anderson Silva. And I’m not saying that out of the side of my mouth, either. I’m being completely truthful. If I get a fight with Anderson Silva, I’m going in there to finish him. And if I was just to win against Anderson Silva, I wouldn’t even be satisfied. I need to go in there and finish him. And that’s the truth. I might be out of my mind, but I really believe that.”

Alexander Gustafsson Has Been Untouchable Since Losing to Phil Davis at UFC 112

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    Silva has no quarrels bumping up a weight class or taking a fight at a catch weight, so a scrap with the slightly bigger and rangier Gustafsson certainly wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities.

    Granted, a fight with Jones would make more sense at this point, but the 6’5” Gustafsson comes equipped with vastly improved grappling skills, upper-echelon striking chops and a 76.5-inch reach, all indicators that he has the components needed to upstage an icon like Silva.

    Gustafsson has finished five of his eight light heavyweight opponents in the UFC and has tasted defeat just once, getting submitted by current teammate Phil Davis in his second fight with the promotion at UFC 112 in April 2010.

    Gustafsson has scored 10 takedowns and allowed just three in his UFC career. He also outstruck the past four opponents he faced, which included landing an astounding 128 strikes to Mauricio Rua’s 51 at UFC on Fox 5 in December.

    With just a slight reach disadvantage and an edge in the wrestling department, Gustafsson could chose to engage in a striking contest or a ground war with Silva.

    But because he’s a less polished striker, Gustafsson would have more incentive to floor Silva and employ a heavy ground-and-pound assault.

    Gustafsson throws beautiful combinations on his feet, but no one’s as smooth and accurate as Silva.

    “The Mauler’s” best option would be to get on top and drop punches and elbows on The Spider’s head.

Rashad Evans Is Hungry to Wear UFC Gold; Will He Try His Hand at Middleweight?

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    Few fights in the light heavyweight division, other than a rematch with Jones or Lyoto Machida, would entice Evans if the 33-year-old former Michigan State University wrestler happens to get past Antônio Rogério Nogueira at UFC 156 in February.

    So perhaps Evans, the former UFC light heavyweight champion, will seek satisfaction with a bout against Silva at a catch weight. Or maybe the 5’11” Evans will pull a Frankie Edgar and drop down a weight class to challenge Silva for the middleweight belt.

    If so, a match between Silva and Evans for the middleweight belt sure seems captivating.

    Evans not only brings a 75-inch reach to the table, but he also possesses the speed of a lightweight, the strength of a heavyweight and some of the most highly regarded functional wrestling skills in the business.

    In his last five fights, Evans has amassed 15 takedowns and allowed four. He also outstruck Quinton Jackson, Tito Ortiz and Davis in succession before falling to Jones at UFC 145 in April.

    When asked if he would take a fight with Silva at middleweight on UFC Tonight, Evans answered with certainty by saying:

    “I would. It’s a big opportunity to fight Anderson. Anderson’s one of those guys who I consider one of my favorite fighters to watch and to have an opportunity to fight him would be a dream come true for me.”