MMA Debate: Is Dominick Reyes the Man to Pull off the Upset Against Jon Jones?

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2019

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 18:  Dominick Reyes celebrates after his TKO victory over Chris Weidman in their light heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at TD Garden on October 18, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Chris Unger/Getty Images

Undefeated UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones isn't done cleaning out the 205-pound division just yet.

Instead of moving up to heavyweight for a huge showdown against monstrous puncher Francis Ngannou or record-setting champion Stipe Miocic, he is turning his attention toward No. 4-ranked contender Dominick Reyes in a yet-to-be-numbered UFC pay-per-view event on Feb. 8 in Houston.

Without making the leap up to heavyweight, what else was Jones supposed to do?

After all, the 32-year-old fighting out of Albuquerque, New Mexico already holds wins over the top three-ranked 205-pound contenders in the UFC in Thiago Santos, Daniel Cormier and Anthony Smith. Do we really need to see those fights again?

Moreover, while Jones certainly envisions a superfight against unbeaten UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in the near future, that fight really doesn't make much sense from a promotional perspective just yet. 

They say Rome wasn't built in a day, but neither are the most lucrative pay-per-view events in history. 

So Reyes was the next man up. He's a relatively large and supremely athletic light heavyweight with serious power. 

Coming off that huge KO of former middleweight champion Chris Weidman isn't a bad look either, and the unbeaten American phenom had certainly put himself in position for the next crack at Jones by serving up other notable wins against the likes of Jared Cannonier and Ovince Saint Preux.

But here's the biggest question surrounding Jones-Reyes after Dana White informed ESPN toward the end of last week that the long-rumored fight was on: Does Reyes really have what it takes to pull off the huge upset?

That's what I asked the B/R MMA crew when we got together this time around, and here's what our group of experts had to say about it. 

John Locher/Associated Press

            

Lyle Fitzsimmons: OK, let's face it… not many people are expecting Reyes to beat Jones. And just for the record, neither am I.

But there's a fair gap for me between thinking he won't win and saying he has no chance.

Given the facts that my esteemed colleague Kelsey so eloquently crystallized, the fight makes perfect sense. Reyes is on a roll, he's got a respectable ranking, and Jones, let's say, is between options when it comes to making giant coin with either a rising middleweight or a worthwhile heavyweight.

Come to think of it, it may be a melding of those reasons that makes this particular challenger a dangerous commodity for a long-term champ making a routine defense of his title.

Spend enough time around combat sports—particularly boxing, for the purposes of this analogy—and you'll come across the tale of an ambitious champion forced to defend against a competent-but-not-exactly-enthralling challenger on the way to securing a mind-blowing payday elsewhere.

It's the stuff of which premium cable sports documentary series are made.

And while the UFC doesn't yet have a complement to HBO's old Legendary Nights collection, there's at least some reason to believe an upset of that level magnitude could happen in February.

Make no mistake, Jones is a two-time light heavyweight champion and the sport's reigning pound-for-pound king for a reason. His style is a wonderfully organic blend of wrestling and martial arts, and the elbows, knees and kicks he delivers from imaginative angles make him a preparation nightmare.

Still, a surging Reyes is no joke, either. Though he doesn't have as long a reach as Jones, he's still a 6'4" man with a significant wingspan (77 inches) and documented one-punch stoppage power.

His sudden finish of ex-middleweight Weidman last month in Boston proves he's got the mettle to go on the road and handle a championship-level opponent, while a three-round whitewash of Saint Preux was a masterclass for young fighters making their first appearance on a PPV main card.

Add in some trash talk—with Reyes recently suggesting he'd be the titleholding role model Jones has failed to be—and you've got yourself a mismatch just compelling enough to drop in on.

"It's a good matchup. It'll be a great fight between those two," ESPN2 analyst Daniel Cormier, a former Jones opponent, said. "This kid is the real deal, man. I am very, very impressed."

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 06:  Jon Jones of the United States looks on prior to his UFC Light Heavyweight Title bout against Thiago Santos of Brazil at T-Mobile Arena on July 06, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Jones defeated Santos by decision. (Photo by Sean
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

        

Jonathan Snowden: On paper, Reyes is the worst challenger of the Jones era. Reyes has built a record of 12-0 against middling competition. Jones has that many victories in title fights alone. In fact, he hasn't fought a bout that wasn't for UFC gold since 2011.

Jones dodged a bullet against Santos in his last fight, looking sluggish and even losing on one of the judge's scorecards, the first time he's fallen short like that in his career.  He was sleepwalking against Santos. The result almost certainly woke him up. Reyes will pay the price for Santos' success.

Obviously, no man is unbeatable. Eventually, Jones will fall victim to wear and tear, a fluke injury or a superior opponent.

It's hard to imagine Reyes as that man. 

It's also not entirely clear how he managed to find himself as the UFC's fourth-ranked fighter at 205 pounds. He's beaten a grand total of one fighter in the top 15—and that was a questionable split decision over Volkan Oezdemir in March where he looked all too human. 

The UFC's ranking system is broken. The mere existence of this fight is further proof.

John Locher/Associated Press

         

Kelsey McCarson: I suppose I'm just a sucker for a Jones fight.

Because I can't refute any of Jonathan's excellent points about the UFC's ranking system and how it's flawed, how Reyes might be the worst challenger on paper of any others in Jones' title reign or even about how the former college football star hasn't even really been in all that many fights yet. 

All that is true, and I still felt a tinge of excitement when the fight was confirmed. 

Maybe it's all the trash talk between the two on social media. Sure, as a seasoned combat sports writer, I'm not supposed to fall for promotional hyperbole like two adult men gabbing at each other like middle school rivals on the playground during recess, but every now and then, it just seems to work for me.

And I suppose I'm also content in accepting that Jones doesn't really seem interested right now in testing himself against the bigger and better competition in the heavyweight ranks. If I had a magic wand, I'd wave it around to make Jones move up so he could try his hand against Miocic the way Cormier did.

That, or I'd force him to step up to menacing mauler Ngannou. 

I think either of those fights would mean much more to Jones' overall legacy than simply going after the next man up at 205 pounds.

Still, as Lyle put it, Reyes is no joke. He'll come into the fight gunning for the win, and just about every fighter who has ever looked as dominant as Jones has eventually run up against a younger guy who simply had his number. 

So for me, Jones-Reyes isn't exactly all I had hoped for when I considered how Jones should start the New Year, but it's really not that far off, either. 

And Reyes is, by definition of the system in place, the right guy for the gig. 

But to answer my own question: No, I don't think Reyes has much of a chance to pull off the upset against Jones.

Jones is too smart. Reyes is too green. Both those things, and I'm still excited to see the fight. Unless...

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