Two years ago, the thinking went a little something like this: Jon Jones was so good, and so young, that it was only a matter of time before he'd clean out the UFC's light heavyweight division and move up to challenge the biggest men in the sport.
He was already well on his way. He made victories over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans look easy. This is no small feat, in large part because professional fighting is very rarely easy, no matter how good you are. Even the very best in the combat fraternity rely on a touch of luck to help them become successful in a sport where the slightest mistake can result in you being woken up on the canvas by a strange-looking referee and a doctor waving his penlight in your eyes.
Are you OK? Of course you are not OK. You lost. And what's worse, you're laying on your back in front of your family and friends.
It's easy to forget just how special and dominant Jones was before he stepped in the cage with Alexander Gustafsson. This is not to say he is no longer special; if anything, I believe he displayed a gritty portion of his game that was previously not believed to exist. He made it through the fight not just on skill and preternatural athletic gifts, though it would be silly to say those things did not play a part. They certainly did.
But it was Jones' heart and determination that saw him through. His competitive fire. It's easy for those of us who do not have it to sit back and say that heart is a figment of a sporting fan imagination. For instance, the idea of allowing myself to trade punches and submissions with another human being for the purposes of proving who is the better man? That's foreign to me. I'll gladly proclaim you the better man and we can move on or get some Tex-Mex down the road.
Jones is still special. He's perhaps even more special, now that we know he can face adversity and then methodically overcome. But I no longer have much of a desire to see him move up to heavyweight.
Could Jones beat Cain Velasquez? Perhaps. He'd still have a reach advantage, even over the heavyweight champion of the world, and if he put on the kind of weight that would allow him to stop Velasquez and his ever-tiring bullying ways, he'd have a chance. Jones is far more well-rounded than Junior dos Santos; unlike the Brazilian, Jones uses all facets of his game instead of just viewing himself as a professional boxer. That mind-set instantly gives Jones a leg up on dos Santos.
And it's not as though Jones is a small man, and he certainly has the genetic makeup to become a hulking heavyweight. One look at his two NFL-playing brothers and a glance at Jones' frame will tell you that much. He already walks around at 240 pounds when he's not in training camp; eight to 10 months to add 10 to 15 pounds of muscle would put Jones on par with the biggest heavyweights on the roster.
So if Jones can do the heavyweight thing and do it the right way, then why don't I think we'll see him do it next year? Jones has always noted that he saw heavyweight in his future, and that 2014 would likely see him make the transition. What's changed?
Here's what: He has logical contenders. That, and we've seen that nobody on the planet is going to come close to touching Velasquez any time soon.
Daniel Cormier is moving down to 205 pounds. He's easily the most interesting challenger for Jones, and he's not even the next contender. That honor goes to Glover Teixeira, who will face Jones at some point in the awakening months of 2014. After that, it could be Gustafsson, or it could be Cormier. Or perhaps Cormier and Gustafsson will square off in a top contender's fight to determine Jones' next challenger. Hell, throw Phil Davis' name in the hat there, too.
Meanwhile, Velasquez has Fabricio Werdum to contend with. Travis Browne and Josh Barnett are probably approaching title contention.
At some point, you have to figure that dos Santos will beat everybody else and find himself back in line for a futile title attempt.
Stipe Miocic, though he needs a few more wins, is an interesting potential challenger for early 2016 and beyond.
And perhaps—and this is only theoretical because it goes wholly against what we've seen so far—Roy Nelson will finally stop relying on his one-punch knockout power, get over the hump a few times against highly ranked contenders and earn a title shot that would increase his already-high popularity tenfold.
With that said...
I don't believe any of the men I listed above have much of a chance of beating Velasquez.
I don't think Teixeira will beat Jones. I believe Jones will use his cyborglike fighting intelligence in the second fight against Gustafsson; it will be nowhere as close nor not nearly as exciting as the first bout.
I do, however, give Cormier a chance to beat Jones. His wrestling is unmatched, except perhaps by welterweight Ben Askren, and it will be difficult for Jones to deal with. Couple that with a striking game that is evolving at an alarming rate, and I believe Jones has his hands full with the former Olympian.
And so, it's quite clear: Both men have their own worries, in their own divisions. There's no reason to discuss a "Bones" move to heavyweight, because he still has a legacy to cement at 205 pounds. Yes, he's the most successful light heavyweight champion in UFC history—in terms of wins, at least—but he wants to be the Floyd Mayweather of this generation. He wants to go down in history as the greatest fighter of all time, regardless of weight class. He wants to be the gold standard.
Moving up to heavyweight, at least in the next 15 months, will put that in jeopardy. Jones will stick around and do what he does, and Velasquez will continue dominating the heavyweight division.
We can revisit this idea in 2015, but it makes little to no sense right now. And you know what? That's fine with me.
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