Hands down, the most frustrating thing about discussing a potential superfight between Jon Jones and Anderson Silva is that -- for whatever reason -- the two people least interested in making it happen are Jones and Silva themselves.
The mere idea of watching the UFC’s legendary middleweight champion square off with its legend-in-the-making light heavyweight titlist is enough to make the most jaded MMA fan salivate like a giant cartoon dog. UFC brass too ought to sprout glittering, emerald dollar signs in their eyes when they think about a dream matchup between two of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Simply put, this is the kind of fight that could come around but once in a generation. For fans, it would have potential to be the most-anticipated MMA event of all time. For the UFC, it could provide a significant pay-per-view boost in the wake of losing Brock Lesnar to retirement and Georges St. Pierre to a serious knee injury.
But as for Jones and Silva? Frankly, they just don’t seem that into it.
"I'd rather not deal with Anderson ...,” Jones reminded us over the weekend, during an interview with a Portuguese language news outlet. “I respect and look up to him so much. For me, the ideal scenario would be having him as my mentor and learn with him after he retires. It would be great for me."
These sentiments only echo those already voiced by Silva, who has made it known he’d like to finish out his career at 185 pounds rather than chase bigger prizes at light heavy. Even UFC President Dana White conceded recently that Silva-Jones likely isn’t happening any time soon. With Silva already 37 years old and Jones content to do his own thing, it feels less and less likely with each passing day that this superfight will ever come to pass.
So, what gives? Why don’t Jones and Silva appear to want anything to do with what would undoubtedly be the most lucrative and most important fight of their careers? Why does Jones make it sound like a household chore when he says he doesn’t want to “deal” with Silva?
To hear the principals tell it, there’s just too much mutual admiration floating around. Jones has made no secret of the fact that he idolized Silva during his brief formative period in MMA. That he obsessively watched videos of Silva’s fights and did his level best to emulate his style. Silva too is on record saying he and Jones are now “friends” and that he has little interest in fighting the sport's next big thing.
It’s hard not to wonder if both fighters also see this bout as a tremendous risk. For Silva, maybe it feels a little late in the game to put his celebrated six-year, 14-fight win streak in jeopardy against a next generation version of himself. To be honest, I can’t blame him. If the options are to either tempt fate against the bigger, younger Jones or to coast off into retirement undefeated in the Octagon and as the consensus pick for greatest MMA fighter of all time, well, the choice seems pretty clear.
Obviously, Silva doesn’t lose all of that political capital if he’s defeated by Jones, but for a guy who has nothing left to prove in the sport, what's really to gain?
While the stakes would be less grave for Jones, he too owes much of his current drawing power to the aura of invincibility that surrounds him. It's hard to imagine him passing through the rest of his UFC career without suffering a legitimate loss, but why take this particular risk? Sure, if he wins he becomes the man who took out Anderson Silva -- an aging, out-of-his-weight-class Anderson Silva -- but Jones probably believes he’ll pass Silva on the GOAT list anyway if he simply stays the course. Especially if after this year he finds success in the heavyweight division, as he says is his plan.
On the other hand, take a loss (and possibly a knockout) at the hands of a guy from a lighter weight class? Even if that guy is the best ever, that smarts for the ol' legacy.
In the end, maybe we’re left with the reality that as fans (which is short for fanatic, remember) MMA is our passion. For fighters, maybe it’s just a job. One where it's not worth risking friendship and future gains for a one-off superfight that everybody else wants to see.