On September 21, 2013, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will put his title on the line when he faces the division’s No. 1 contender, Alexander Gustafsson.
Throughout Jones’ career, he has, for the most part, faced opponents of smaller stature. At 6’4”, Jones possesses the longest reach in the UFC (84.5 inches). The New York native has consistently used his length and size advantage to dominate every one of his foes.
At UFC 165, “Bones” will battle an athlete of similar size and stature. Gustafsson is 6’5”, and his record of 15-1 virtually mirrors that of Jones (18-1). However, Jones’ list of accolades is unparalleled, and his clearing out of the 205-pound division makes his move to the heavyweight division that much more logical.
Nothing Left to Prove
At 23 years old, Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history. Since then, he has beaten five former world champions and has recorded the longest win streak (nine) in UFC light heavyweight history. With a win over Gustafsson at UFC 165, Jones will surpass Tito Ortiz’s record for most successful light heavyweight title defenses (five). Jones, now 26, has accomplished more than most other fighters ever do in their entire career.
In an interview leading up to Jones' fight against Lyoto Machida at UFC 140, UFC president Dana White stated, "The sky's the limit for this guy (Jones). This guy could go down as the greatest ever."
A win over Gustafsson would, at least statistically, solidify Jones' standing as the greatest UFC light heavyweight champion of all time.
Where Are All the Contenders?
Currently, the light heavyweight division suffers from a lack of options in the form of viable contenders. Jones has defeated four of the UFC’s current top-10 light heavyweights: Machida (No. 4), Rashad Evans (No. 5), Chael Sonnen (No. 9) and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (No. 10). Other contenders include:
Gegard Mousasi: This No. 8 contender has fought only once in the UFC. He faced a non-ranked opponent at UFC on Fuel TV 9 and injured himself in the process.
Dan Henderson: The MMA veteran (No. 7) has lost his last two fights. He is currently scheduled to face Vitor Belfort at UFC Fight Night 32.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira: The Brazilian (No. 6) injured himself leading up to his last fight against “Shogun” Rua, which was scheduled to occur in June of this past year.
Glover Teixeira: Teixeira earned his No. 2 ranking and a possible shot at Jones' title by defeating a non-ranked opponent in Ryan Bader at UFC Fight Night 28. In fact, the Brazilian has fought none of the UFC’s top-10 light heavyweights, placing the legitimacy of his standing in question.
Phil Davis: It appears that the Pennsylvania native (No. 3) is the only legitimate contender to face Jones. Not only has Davis defeated three of the UFC’s current top-10 fighters, which includes the submission of current No. 1 contender Gustafsson, he is also on a three-fight win streak.
Given the contender options within the 205-pound division, following a UFC 165 win by Jones, a bout between the champion and Davis would make the most sense. However, if a fight of this magnitude fails to materialize, it would behoove Jones to seek out a greater challenge in the form of the heavyweight division.
The Champion Says So
On numerous occasions, Jones has expressed an interest in moving to the heavyweight division. With his size and athleticism, the champion would more than likely be able to make the transition without complication.
According to John Morgan of USA Today, back in 2012, Jones predicted his move to the heavyweight division, stating:
Because things have been going so well, right now it's about not putting limits on anything and realizing the sky is the limit. Really, I want everything, and I've said that since day one. I want to be the best. I want to be a record-holder in everything. I want to be a heavyweight champion and a light heavyweight champion. I want it all.
A year later, it appears that the light heavyweight champion’s dream of capturing the 265-pound title has remained intact. If Jones moves up and dominates the heavyweight contenders just as he has done to those of the 205-pound ranks, the New York native may find himself becoming only the third UFC fighter to hold a championship title in two separate divisions.
Given Jones’ accomplishments, his lack of viable opponents at light heavyweight level and desire to "be the best," a win over Gustafsson should send the 26-year old straight to the heavyweight division.