Stop me if you've heard this one before: Jon Jones is still the UFC light heavyweight champion.
Jones capped perhaps the most violent pay-per-view card in UFC history with a plodding, close split-decision win over Thiago Santos in the main event of UFC 239. Jones was as measured and as calculated as he usually is; we haven't seen him willingly involve himself in a war of attrition since he nearly lost his first fight against Alexander Gustafsson back in 2013.
But when Jones plays it relatively safe, he's nearly untouchable.
That wasn't quite the case on Saturday night.
Santos did land a few notable strikes, but all seemed like mere annoyances to Jones rather than moments of actual damage. Santos blew out his left knee in the second round, which hampered his power striking game, and by the third round, Jones was loose and confident Santos had nothing for him. But he curiously did not adjust to Santos' knee injury and continued with what what he believed was a smart fight. As a result, the bout likely came down to the final round, and Jones can consider himself lucky to still hold the title.
Jones is the greatest fighter in the history of the sport, and it's not even close. He is also its greatest enigma. There has never been a fighter so talented, so driven, so frustrating and infuriating. His otherworldly physical skills make him dangerous enough, but it is his intelligence—he is a voracious consumer of videotape on his opponents, and he and coach Greg Jackson develop a binder of notes and multiple game plans for each Octagon outing—that makes him far and away the best we've ever seen.
Thiago Santos is a dangerous opponent for most UFC light heavyweights. He hits harder than anyone else in the division. For six years, from his UFC start at middleweight and continuing at light heavyweight, we've seen Santos obliterate opponents with thunderous punches and kicks. He is violence personified, and if it were any other opponent standing across the cage from him in the main event of UFC 239, he would've had a chance of grabbing his first UFC championship.
But even at his worst, Jones is still good enough to beat the best, and he can usually do so on cruise control.
For nearly a decade, Jones has carved a path through a division that was once considered the UFC's premier weight class. And at this point, he has to ask himself one question: What's left? The light heavyweight division has a few interesting prospects on the rise, but we've seen what happens when a rising talent gets in the cage with Jones. How many times will he find intrigue in facing opponents many levels below him? How can he possibly continue to find new and fresh challenges in fights that present no challenge?
What else is there?
There's Luke Rockhold, who made his light heavyweight debut Saturday night. Or, at least, there was Rockhold. Maybe not anymore. Rockhold is plenty skilled, but he's also plenty arrogant and believes he's better than he is, which is why he found himself flat on his back and unconscious at the hands of Jan Blachowicz. It was a career win for Blachowicz, who had to endure Rockhold's smug visage during all the pre-fight buildup to his debut. But Blachowicz would perhaps be a historic underdog against Jones.
If Jones wants to chase a sort of greatness that will make him nearly untouchable for generations to come, his only option is a move to heavyweight. There are so many potential blockbuster fights for him in the UFC's heaviest weight class. Beyond a third bout with current heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier—a contest we'd all pay to see—there are potential matchups against Stipe Miocic. Francis Ngannou. Alistair Overeem. Derrick Lewis.
All are more intriguing than anything remaining at light heavyweight, and that's not even counting a potential return by Brock Lesnar, who has wanted a bout against Jones for years and who would almost certainly take a leave of absence from his cushy WWE schedule for the opportunity to fight in the biggest bout of his career.
If Jones stays at light heavyweight, he's still the greatest fighter we've ever seen, and it's a joy to watch him compete (which makes it all the more disappointing how his actions outside the Octagon have cost so many opportunities to see him at his best). He can keep dominating whichever light heavyweight is unfortunate enough to earn a title shot, and he'll keep cementing himself as the greatest ever.
But if he moves up, if he chases true glory by felling bigger men and earns the mythical title of baddest man on the planet?
Forget about being the greatest fighter we've ever seen.
He'll be the greatest fighter we'll ever see.