What Jon Jones did to Rampage Jackson last night at UFC 135 was nothing less than a masterclass.
Throughout the fight, Jones frustrated Jackson by picking him apart from the outside with a brutal and varied array of kicks. When Jackson was able to get inside, Jones was able to neutralize him with clinches, and threaten with submissions and takedowns.
Perhaps most-wild of all, Jones attempted a rare and spectacular flying triangle choke that could have ended it had the round not expired.
By the end of it all, Rampage Jackson, a perennial elite fighter at 205 pounds, looked dejected, beaten-down and utterly without any hope of winning.
With elite wrestling and great distance striking, Jon Jones is starting to look like a 205 pound version of GSP (except that Jones is finishing fights). It's difficult to imagine anybody at 205 pounds challenging Jones, but let's take a second to have a realistic look at the potential challengers.
Rashad Evans: The No.1 Contender
Evans looked great in his one-sided beatdown of Tito Ortiz, but let's face it: Rashad Evans is a tiny light heavyweight and Jon Jones is a giant one. It seems unlikely that Evans is really going to get the better of Jones in the wrestling department, and the reach advantage will likely be too much for Evans to overcome.
Evans will cash in a big paycheck for fighting Jones, but if Evans ever wants to hold a UFC title again, he should cut down to 185 pounds—because he has a better chance of beating Anderson Silva than he has of beating Jon Jones.
Dan Henderson: The Strikeforce Champion
After a weak debut in Strikeforce at 185 pounds, Henderson moved back to 205 pounds where he won the belt with his big right hand bomb.
That said, Henderson doesn't really represent any more of a threat to Jones than Jackson did. Henderson's only real weapon on the feet is that big right hand, and it's going to be nearly impossible for him to get inside on Jones where he could land it.
At one time, Henderson was known more for his wrestling than his striking, but it seems pretty unlikely that he's going to be able to wrestle Jones.
Mauricio Rua: The Perennially Injured Former Champion
After Jones beat Rua the first time, many people were quick to say that Jones didn't beat the "real Shogun."
While it may be true that Shogun didn't look like he was in great shape, the truth is that he's always had a bit of a muffin top rolling over his shorts, and he's usually been a pretty wild striker who relies on being able to barge in—which Jones was having none of.
I can imagine a Shogun with better cardiovascular fitness lasting longer that he did the last time, but since he has nearly no defensive wrestling, it's hard to imagine Jones not being able to do to Shogun exactly what he did the first time.
Phil Davis: The Better Wrestler
If there is anybody who might be able to challenge Jones in the wrestling department, it might be Davis, the 2008 NCAA D-1 champion at 197 pounds.
Davis has a much better wrestling pedigree than Jones, and at 27 years old, still has time on his side. That said, Davis struggled more in wrestling with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who is a passable defensive wrestler, than Jones did wrestling Jackson, who is a great defensive wrestler. So, at the very least, Davis has a long way to go before he's ready for Jones.
Anderson Silva: The Greatest Of All Time
At this point in time it's pretty safe to say that Anderson Silva is the greatest MMA fighter we've seen so far in the short history of the sport.
Silva might be the one fighter who has a distinct striking advantage over Jones and, although he would still be at a reach disadvantage, it wouldn't be insurmountable. Unfortunately, Silva's wrestling still leaves much to be desired, so I find it unlikely that he'd be able to keep the fight on the feet long enough to land anything significant.
This fight would be a huge draw but, ultimately, it wouldn't be very competitive.
Lyoto Machida: The Karate Kid
Perhaps it is no surprise that the last man who was proclaimed to be nearly untouchable at 205 pounds is still seen by many as the most interesting threat to the current "untouchable" champion.
Along with his karate style, which is unique to MMA, Machida is one of the better counter-wrestlers in the division, along with being an underrated takedown artist and submission grappler.
Unfortunately, it seems that Machida isn't in the UFC's good books after asking for extra compensation to take a high-risk fight against Rashad Evans on short notice.
Although he landed a highlight reel crane kick on Randy Couture April, he's still yet to be booked for another fight inside of the UFC.
Aside from these aforementioned few, there doesn't seem to be much of a challenger for Jones at the present time. Strikeforce's Yoel Romero and Mo Lawal possess wrestling pedigrees to threaten Jones in that area, but neither has the overall skill set.
Gegard Mousasi is a great striker, but would come up short due to his lack of wrestling.
The UFC light heavyweight belt has been passed around like a hot potato for the past few years, but it seems as if there is almost nobody who can even threaten Jones, let alone beat him.
If there is any actual threat to Jones at all in MMA right now, it might be in the heavyweight division where elite wrestlers Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier might be able to use their AKA-honed close-range boxing, or otherwise put Jones on his back.
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