Jon Jones has walked through fire to become and remain UFC champion, but when it comes to past opponents, he is incredibly disappointed in some of the lukewarm journeys that have birthed several light heavyweight contenders.
Alexander Gustafsson is included in that list.
Sure, the Swedish fighter was the toughest opponent in Jones’ professional career. The two light heavyweights battled it out for 25 grueling minutes in a bout some have pegged as the greatest title fight in UFC history.
Many hoped the UFC would offer Gustafsson an immediate rematch after dropping a close decision, but the promotion opted to thrust Glover Teixeira in the No. 1 contender’s seat and pair Gustafsson with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a title eliminator bout.
While Nogueira is a top-10 opponent, Jones doesn't believe a victory over “Lil Nog” is convincing enough to warrant Gustafsson another crack at UFC gold. During an interview with MMAFighting’s Ariel Helwani, Jones shared his initial thoughts when he heard about Gustafsson vs. Nogueira:
I was like, really? You want him to have the rematch that bad? No one is disrespecting Nogueira, but let’s see Gustafsson vs. [Daniel] Cormier. It makes so much sense. If me, Cormier, Gustafsson and Teixeira are the toughest guys in the division, let’s put us in a little Round-Robin pool and see who’s the toughest out of us four.
For Jones, it isn't about running away from his responsibilities as a UFC champion. He understands that a world title automatically makes him the hunted. There aren't any give-me bouts as a world champion, but in his eyes, the same should be true for a top contender.
Chael Sonnen was coming off a decisive loss to UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva when he earned his shot against Jones. Gustafsson received his shot after defeating Thiago Silva and an incredibly inconsistent Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Teixeira is the current No. 1 contender after winning 20 straight fights, but he has never defeated a top-10 opponent in his professional career.
In the UFC’s light heavyweight division, Jones believes he is the only fighter consistently facing top opposition:
I feel like they save all the dogs for me, and they just give the toughest guys the easiest matchups to get a title shot, Jones tells Helwani. Let’s see some of these top contenders fight each other. Either way, I’m going to fight the toughest dudes anyway so it doesn't matter what journey they’re on, but I definitely am noticing that it just seems like these top contenders aren't really fighting other top contenders at all.
MMAFighting.com announced last Thursday that Nogueira had to pull out of his fight with Gustafsson due to lingering back issues. Both Gustafsson and Cormier, who is expected to make his light heavyweight debut in his next bout, are left without an opponent.
Is there some truth to what Jones is saying? If so, should the UFC rectify the situation by pairing Gustafsson and Cormier together for a true No. 1 contender’s bout?