Jon Jones is the best light heavyweight in the history of the UFC.
There isn’t a metric out there that one can apply which doesn’t lead to that conclusion, save for total title defenses. Even that one is likely just a matter of time.
He’s beaten everyone in every way, doing it with a level of ease that is frightening to behold.
At UFC 159, the maligned, excessively despised champion will have a chance to cement his legacy as the best ever when he meets professional mouth with fists Chael Sonnen in New Jersey.
Beat Sonnen, and Jones will be tied with Tito Ortiz for total defenses at 205 lbs, the final mark to fall in what has been a meteoric, sometimes turbulent and always impressive run to the top.
But what if he doesn’t? What if West Linn, Oregon’s favourite son pulls off the upset of the century and derails a seemingly invincible champion a decade his junior?
Well, that would be just about as damaging to Jones' reputation in the cage as drunkenly wrapping his Bentley around a light pole was to his reputation outside of it.
The fact of the matter is that Sonnen earned his chance at Jones after a steady run at middleweight and a steady run of verbal campaigning once he moved to 205.
He didn’t get there on in-cage merit. He didn’t get there because he was the best light heavyweight in the world. He talked louder and better than other guys, and he said he’d fight Jones when not many others seemed keen on it.
Sonnen is aging in a sport that doesn’t forgive the old, and he’s got a skill set that’s almost comically underequipped to handle the most dominant champion in light heavyweight history. He relies on tireless takedowns and volume striking on the ground, occasionally backed up by some deceptively effective boxing.
Except good wrestlers—Matt Hamill, Ryan Bader, Vladimir Matyushenko, Rashad Evans—couldn’t put Jones on his back, and good boxers—Evans, Vitor Belfort, Stephan Bonnar, Rampage Jackson—couldn’t put a hand on his chin. Even more versatile strikers like Lyoto Machida and Shogun Rua had no answer for Jones on the feet.
So what’s Sonnen going to do that’s different? What’s he going to do that will prove more successful?
And that’s where the pitfall is for Jones.
If he loses to Sonnen, it will tarnish his legacy in a way that can never be washed clean. He’ll have lost to a guy perceived to have talked his way to an undeserved title shot, who also happened to have the worst style possible to try and dethrone the champion. A guy who, by the way, is essentially a blown-up middleweight returning to a division he hasn’t won in since 2005.
Even if Jones were to win a return engagement, there would always be that blemish.
Don’t think so? Look at Georges St-Pierre. St-Pierre lost a fight on a lucky punch by Matt Serra, who was almost out of the UFC entirely before winning his title shot on a reality show.
He came back to utterly demolish Serra in one of the most focused beatings the UFC ever put on pay-per-view, but he still can’t outrun getting clipped with one punch from a guy who should never have been in the cage with him at all.
So it would be for Jones with a loss to Sonnen. No matter the circumstance, there would be no justifiable, easy way for the champion to lose to this particular challenger. He could go on to win a hundred fights in a row afterward, and still his legacy would never be the same.
Fortunately for the champion, though, there’s an easy solution to that problem. He has to go into the cage in Newark come April and blast Chael Sonnen right out of the building.
No close calls. No trouble spots.
Then he can go on building what is already one of the most impressive resumes the sport has ever seen, and no one will be able to question it.