411's Dan Plunkett looks at Jon Jones's win and his next move!

mma / Columns

What’s Next for Jon Jones After UFC 232?

December 31, 2018 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Jon Jones

After Jon Jones successfully defended his light heavyweight title against Alexander Gustafsson in a surprisingly competitive 2013 bout, the word on the street was that the bout was only close because Jones didn’t train seriously for the fight. Whether or not that was the most significant reason we saw an all-time classic fight instead of the expected Jones beatdown is now an outdated debate.

On Saturday, five turbulent and trying (largely of the self-induced variety) years following the fight of his life, Jon Jones showed why he is regarded as the best cage fighter in the world. He fought a better Alexander Gustafsson than the one he competed tooth-and-nail with in 2013, and this time he didn’t let Gustafsson sniff the title.

Jones shut Gustafsson down from the beginning. The 31-year-old Swede couldn’t get inside punching range, wasn’t able to work the uppercuts that were so effective against Glover Teixeira, and never found comfort standing in front of Jones’s mixed attack. This was Jones at the peak of mixed martial arts, attacking with an assortment of kicks from range, landing knees and elbows, and throwing in the occasional takedown attempt to make his opponent cognizant of that threat. Putting aside the valid performance-enhancing drug questions, Jones is the smartest fighter in the sport. He comes in with an excellent game plan, executes it, and has a great feel for the fight. Gustafsson is the third or fourth best light heavyweight of his generation, and Jones completely shut him down.

When you combine that mind with the rest of his attributes—the dynamic striking, the wrestling, the length, the chin, the endurance, the will, the murderous top game—you’re left with a fighter that appears to be as unbeatable as it gets in this wild sport. More remarkable is that, unlike other fighters that have looked similarly unbeatable in the past, Jones is not looking this impressive in a new division that hasn’t had time to develop viable challengers yet. He cleaned out the old guard at light heavyweight—which was the sport’s most celebrated division for years—and his biggest rival is one of the six or so best fighters ever.

In a sport in which everyone loses, where if you’re on top everyone is paying attention to you and looking for holes in your game, it’s almost unfathomable to reach the level that Jones has reached.

With the Gustafsson chapter behind Jones, we now move on to what’s next. Realistically, there is only one option.

The modern light heavyweight division is weak, although better off than it was a year ago. Ignoring the obvious selection for a moment, the division’s contenders include Anthony Smith (three-fight win streak), Jan Blachowicz (four-fight win streak), Thiago Santos (three-fight win streak), Dominick Reyes (10-0), and Corey Anderson (three-fight win streak). None of these fighters are remotely ready for Jones. Furthermore, none of them have the name value that would justify thrusting them into a title shot. At this point, I would only be interested to see Jones fight these contenders if the UFC lined them up for him to fight one each month.

That leaves us with the obvious. For the past four years, every road for Jon Jones has led to Daniel Cormier. Every road for Daniel Cormier has led to Jon Jones. I’ve written about this matchup for at least five years now, and this almost certainly isn’t the last time I’ll do so. It’s not so much an odd case of the universe pushing these two fighters on a collision course as it is these are two of the best fighters ever competing in the same time and space; they beat everyone else, so it’s only natural that their paths keep crossing.

The argument against the fight is that we’ve already seen it twice in four years and know how it goes. Cormier can mix things up for a bit, even take a round, but Jones has too much in his arsenal. The odds would be in favor of a third meeting evolving in a similar manner. But Cormier is too good, too proven to ever be counted out. And if not Cormier, then who? No sane mind will argue that the other potential light heavyweight contenders stand a better chance at beating Jones that Cormier does. Plus, outside of a Conor McGregor or Khabib Nurmagomedov fight, Jones vs. Cormier III is the biggest fight the UFC can make.

Cormier, the reigning heavyweight champion, has been linked to a Brock Lesnar fight since last July, but there appears to be no movement on that front. If there’s no Lesnar for a relatively comfortable payday, then Jones is the move.

There are two obvious sticking points with the third fight. The first is drug testing. With Jones’s history of test failures and recent tests still returning positives for a long-term metabolite of Turinabol, Cormier is probably going to want some agreement for additional drug testing.

The second sticking point is weight. Jones wants the fight at light heavyweight, because it seems that in his mind winning at light heavyweight will prove Cormier’s light heavyweight title reign in his absence was invalid. Cormier has also spoke of only wanting the fight at light heavyweight, wanting to right his wrong. However, Cormier is much more comfortable at heavyweight and fights better at there, where he doesn’t have to suffer through a taxing weight cut. For that reason, the fight is a better sell at heavyweight, which is where UFC president Dana White prefers the fight.

The odds appear to be in favor of Jones vs. Cormier III, and based on the preference of the fighters, my guess is that it occurs at light heavyweight. But in the interest of seeing the best fight possible, heavyweight is the best place for it.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

article topics :

Jon Jones, UFC 232, Dan Plunkett