MMA: Cain Velaaquez
April, 11, 2012
By Chuck Mindenhall
Ross Dettman for ESPN.comThe UFC light heavyweight belt has proven to be a perfect fit for Jon Jones.In the “who’s out there to challenge Jon Jones” discussion, Alexander Gustafsson is the light heavyweight intrigue right now. He is the horizon, the challenge looming at the end of the Mayan calendar for the current champion. Should he lose to Thiago Silva this weekend in his native Sweden in the biggest fight of his young career, intrigue becomes pretty scarce in what has traditionally been the UFC’s glamour division.
So what happened to the well depth at 205 pounds?
Jones happened. Jones happened so fast and Jones pummeled so furious that people are already talking about what he can do to as a heavyweight. Everybody knows that imagination is always first to round the curve, but in this case it feels like meteorological forecasting. Jones is a storm front. In fact, he himself says his days at 205 pounds are numbered, because those skinny legs that earned him the nickname “Bones” will eventually fill in.
And all of this is conversational because Jones has yet to meet his equivalent in a weight class that had for so long been defined by parity. He’s already defended the belt more than anybody since Chuck Liddell’s run from 2005-2007. Since then Quinton Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida -- remember the Machida Era? -- and Mauricio Rua have tried on the belt, couldn’t handle its weight, and ceded it. They’ve all become afterthoughts to Jones’ run -- except for Griffin (who no longer looks like an imposition) and Evans (whom he faces in Atlanta on April 21).
None of the above has made it even so far as the judge’s scorecards.
If Jones defeats Evans at UFC 145, he will still have to get by Dan Henderson, who has been patiently waiting in line since November. After Henderson? As much of a stretch as it seems, it’s Gustafsson. That is, if Gustafsson continues to win. If Silva triumphs in Stockholm over its native son, it could be the heavyweight division sooner rather than later for Jones.
Richard Wolowicz/Getty ImagesThe "Machida Era" was one of many light heavyweight conquests that fizzled out quickly.
In other words, it’s possible that Jones will have cleaned out the division by summer of 2012. Nobody cleans out divisions nowadays -- nobody. And you know the power of his star is immense when there’s nothing far-fetched in any of this, except for the usual cautions that come with taking anything for granted. For as dominant as Jones is, this sport was not founded on foregone conclusions. If there is a wrench, it looks like this: Jones beats Jones. This is what Greg Jackson and the entire Albuquerque crew are guarding against as much as they are Evans’ takedown ability.
But the next two weeks could clue us in a little bit on Jon Jones’ (extrapolated) future. If Gustafsson holds court, he will have effectively graduated to title talk, which is big in a division of expiring names. Gustafsson might still have to win one more in pursuit of the 205-pound title, but he’d at least appear as viable. In the game of marketable matchmaking, appearances might have to do.
Would Silva look as viable? It’s possible. But right now Silva’s biggest wins are against guys that looked far more imposing before he fought them than after. Guys like Houston Alexander, Keith Jardine and Brandon Vera (which was overturned to a "no contest" due to steroids). Silva is set further back than Gustafsson. Even if he beat the Swede he’d have a harder time convincing the masses that he’s the fork in Jones’ road.
The bottom line is this: If the two favorites in the next two UFC main events win, that means a collision course is setting up. If Jones wins and Gustafsson doesn’t? It’s one last defense with Dan Henderson, and then a lot of talk about how Jones will match up with the likes of Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez.