The UFC is selling greatness at the moment. It's a very specific kind of greatness—one that we haven't quite seen before and may not see again. It's a violent ballet, a bloody dance of rangy strikes and thunderous attacks on the mat.
It's the work of Jon Jones, an obviously prodigious talent from the day he first entered the Octagon, a man who may have no ceiling in terms of athletic accomplishment.
He's the light heavyweight champion, a title that has long been seen as the most prolific in the UFC but has been oddly diminished by Jones' dominance. People want to watch him, be it out of fandom or hatred, but most would agree that few 205-pounders out there can challenge him.
Part of the gulf between Jones and his challengers is the reality that some men are better suited to push the champion, but they can't be lined up in sequence. Despite the champion's demolition of a murderers' row of talent to this point, schedules don't always line up to keep the best of the best at the front of the line.
It happened to Anderson Silva, who found himself defending his belt listlessly against the likes of Travis Lutter (who blew his title shot and eventually his UFC career by missing weight for the bout) and Patrick Cote, a game but outmatched brawler.
It happened to Georges St-Pierre, who walloped Dan Hardy and then moved onto a largely pointless rematch with Josh Koscheck in the midst of his phenomenal run of title defenses.
Now, though perhaps for a shorter term, it's happening to Jones.
On Saturday night in Baltimore, he'll defend his title against Glover Teixeira in a bout that, for all the promotional bluster the UFC is trying to muster, is a blowout waiting to happen.
Jones is so far ahead of the curve that Teixeira, with his lumbering power game and unimaginative offensive approach, seems almost totally hopeless. Funny things happen in MMA, and great champions sometimes get a surprise, but no one in their right mind is serious about Teixeira as a threat to Jones going into their fight.
But the thing about that? It's OK. Actually, based on the circumstances of the fight game, it can be better than OK sometimes.
By keeping Jones away from his big-money opponents—most would point to Alexander Gustafsson (in a rematch) and Daniel Cormier—the promotion has a chance to build hype for those fights.
Dana White has already started, stating in his press scrum this week that a UFC 172 win followed by besting those other foes could make Jones the best ever. You don't think that line of reasoning will make another appearance if Jones leaves Baltimore the champion?
And if Teixeira somehow does the impossible, how does that hurt what the UFC is trying to accomplish? The promotion would do an immediate rematch, billing it as redemption for Jones against the man who shocked the world, and it would probably make twice as much money as UFC 172. Assuming Jones wins the rematch, you go right back to those other hot contenders like nothing ever happened—probably cashing in huge on three fights in a row.
The fact is that the role of the stopgap challenger isn't the most glamorous, but it's necessary. It's a role that Teixeira has fallen into in a way that Lutter, Cote, Hardy and Koscheck did for great champions before Jones, and countless others will fill for great champions after him.
It's not an insult. It's not meant to deride or dismiss Teixeira; it's just part of a sport that's built on the backs of individual people. You have to find a way to sell them, and whether you do or not, there's always a chance that the world will look past them and onto the next, more interesting challenge.
Great champions need those stopgap challengers just as badly as they need to face the elite of the elite. Sometimes it's just as important to see how a champion handles a perceived lull in competition as it is to see how he does against five former UFC champions in a row.
The world knows how Jones handled the latter. UFC 172 provides him the chance to handle the former.
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