Jon Jones is a marked man.
From the top contenders in the division to the gatekeepers at the bottom, everybody wants a piece of the champ.
Can you blame them?
At just 26 years of age, Jones has already accomplished ultimate glory. Whether it's been his prolific light heavyweight title defenses or his ability to pick apart some of the best fighters in the world, "Bones" can already be considered one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time.
But all of that fame and overall greatness comes with a price. As the man at the top of the hill, Jones always seems to encounter hungry competitors clawing for their shot at the throne.
Guys like Alexander Gustafsson, Phil Davis and Daniel Cormier have all made claims as the next in line to challenge Jones and defeat him. Their transgressions are certainly lofty, but it comes with the territory, and professional champions like Jones know that.
However, at some point the Octagon carnivores need to step aside and wait their turn. Because as good as Jones is inside of the cage, it's impossible for him to fight every unsuspecting contender at once.
With a recent decision to stay active in the 205-pound division and relinquish his hopes of competing at heavyweight, Jones is going to have plenty of time to put a beating on every deserving name in the division. But it needs to happen over the course of a few years.
Former top threat Glover Teixeira found out the hard way that threatening Jones' crown ultimately ends in bloody defeat. A defeat that most fighters would call one of the most outmatched performances of their entire careers.
Texeira’s right eyebrow is literally hanging off. Jones landing uppercuts and elbows almost at will #ufc172— Sarah Kaufman (@mmasarah) April 27, 2014
So it makes sense for most of these guys, especially Cormier, to remain patient, gain valuable experience and wait in the wings as their skills develop enough to one day challenge the king.
A guy like Davis has already taken his name out of the hat. With a recent three-round collapse opposite a resurgent Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, who has regained divisional prominence in his own regard, Davis no longer carries the momentum to verbally berate Jones and push for a title shot.
Who has the best chance to defeat Jones?
When it comes to Gustafsson, a guy who took Jones to the absolute brink of defeat during a five-round war at UFC 165 back in September, a rematch with the champ is an easy decision for the UFC. The Swede looked sensational against an undefeated Jimi Manuwa back in March and looks ready to challenge for the title by the end of the year.
But as good as "The Mauler" fought the first time around, Jones didn't seem to be on the top of his game. He was getting beaten to the punch, was inactive against the cage and unable to take Gustafsson down. You better believe he'll be more prepared and equipped in their rematch.
In any case, Jones is going to have his work cut out for him as he attempts to reach 10 straight title defenses over the next two years.
Beating Gustafsson, Davis and the winner of Cormier vs. Dan Henderson would put him in that realm. But as a champion who has only fought twice a year since 2011, Jones needs to put his challengers on notice and make them understand that patience and performance will earn them a shot at gold.
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