The youthful UFC light heavyweight champion said "yes" to a bout against Rashad Evans on Dec. 10 in Toronto but he won't get his heated rival. Not yet. Evans had to back out Thursday after learning he needed another three weeks of rehab on his mending dislocated right thumb.
So, Evans sits. Jones waits. And fans will do so right beside them.
"Wait" probably isn't the best word to describe Jones' status anyhow. The UFC needed the young star in this spot -- UFC 140 marks a return to the city responsible for 55,000-plus attendance and a $12 million gate. He agreed and will stick with it. In Evans' place is Lyoto Machida, and while some have expressed dissatisfaction that the drama between Jones and Evans will linger, the bottom line is the kid is attempting to go 4-0 in 2011.
Jones dismantled Ryan Bader in February. He ripped apart Mauricio Rua to claim the UFC title in March. Less than two weeks ago he patiently dissected Quinton Jackson to score what most expect will be the first of many title defenses. If he walks through Machida, Jones will have successfully negotiated a historic year -- and that's an undersell. Fighter of the year, here he comes.
If the champion is willing to mix it up, it would be a waste to have him sit on the sidelines waiting for Evans. As an astute follower pointed out on Twitter, generally speaking, champions don't wait for challengers. If Jones is the fighter we think he is, he'll dispatch Machida. Evans should be on the other side. If not, a rematch with Rua or a fight against Dan Henderson. There's plenty to occupy Jones and he knows it. He's not going to go out of his way to preserve a fight against he a guy he dislikes.
As a practical matter, it's difficult to say how long Evans would sit out. You'd think an extra three weeks won't preclude him from fighting in January or February, but who's to say? A representative for Evans said the former UFC champion would fight anyone Dana White puts in front of him, and that includes a non-title contest.
Lyoto Machida holds a win over Rashad Evans and might prove the tougher challenge.
Evans apparently had no problem stepping aside for Machida. In a statement, Evans said the "UFC has to keep making fights that entertain the fans. I would have done the same thing as Dana in his position."
Evans raises an interesting point of discussion. From a sports perspective, is it healthy that a challenger can be replaced to preserve a date? UFC has long walked the line between business and sporting interest. Though it could be argued that Machida is a fine challenger (after all, he knocked Evans cold in 2009) the move to preserve Jones' fight on that date seems to be the real motivation to swap opponents. Again, maybe there's nothing wrong with that. Though it runs counter to tradition established by other sports.
I've always been a sports-first guy when it comes to this kind of stuff. For sustained growth, particularly as more casual sports fans take a look at the UFC, the product can't feel as if it's being manipulated. The UFC wields so much influence that it can move fighters like chess pieces as it needs. Compared to boxing, that ability allows UFC to operate with tremendous flexibility, but it can also lead to a place where business interests outweigh sporting ones.
UFC needed Jones on Dec. 10. Evans couldn't fight. Machida stepped in. If Evans was the true No. 1 contender -- and remember, UFC has never established a ranking system -- wouldn't it have been the right call to wait?
In the end, I'm siding away from my typical position. There's nothing really wrong with Machida as a challenger, even if you take exception with his recent results. He retired a 47-year-old Couture, arguably won a decision that went to "Rampage" Jackson, and was knocked out by and should have lost a decision to "Shogun" Rua.
Machida isn't the strongest challenger on paper, but in my estimation he's perfectly suitable.
Jones wins and we get the fight we want, maybe after a buildup that features him and Evans as coaches on the debut season of "The Ultimate Fighter" on FX. Or Machida's unique style works well against the youngster and the Brazilian gets his belt back. I wouldn't mind seeing a rematch between Machida and Evans.
Regardless, "Bones" Jones is putting in work right now. And that's not something to complain about.