The head of Jon Jones’ has now been etched onto the most prominent position in MMA’s Mount Rushmore. Debate it all you like, argue that Jones has been taken to the wire in recent fights, that he escaped with victory from the jaws of defeat. Yet fight by fight, physically and figuratively, name by name, Jones sits atop the best of the best. Longevity and controversy the twins enveloping the last decade of his fighting resume.
The sculpted stance, the kicks, the timing, and now familiar tash and shaved cranium, face of study and raised palm and finger approach as a dare to those who attempt to usurp him, now a well worn silhouette in the UFC Octagon. A brand enigma. But as Bones has edged nearer to the greatness on paper that his record suggests and has outshone the ever-decreasing list of challengers, so a lethargy has crept in.
More an expectation of victory than a display of his immense armoury. Strategist, champion of longevity, yet a lack of tensile virility in his performances of late, It seems almost ludicrous to put pen to paper to suggest a negative tone in this regard, as Jones is simply so good, so rounded, so huge at the 205lb weight category that he has dominated for a decade from the age of 23. There can be little doubt that Jones is the greatest of all time. The GOAT of GOATS, the king of kings in the UFC.
But there is no doubt that there is a need for new challenges. It is time to see whether Jones can truly become the king of kings, as a UFC heavyweight. We have now waited long enough for Jones to make that step up, the move that will make it all so interesting again, a move which will make him use every sinew of his athletic prowess.
As long as four years ago, I suggested in Fighters Only Magazine that Jones should move on to heavyweight. The UFC’s ‘great one’ against the biggest fighters on the planet. After all, he has had a dress rehearsal – twice – against a quasi heavyweight in Daniel Cormier. Right now, it would be a saving grace for Jones, and a saving grace for the division.
Fight sports have never been purely about a popularity contest – though it has helped some garner their riches – yet Jones could do with winning a pageant, or three. For all his drink/drive proclivities, and his drugs demeanours – there is genuine intrigue for MMA’s enigmatic No 1 pound for pound fighter,
a thrill indeed, at the thought of Jones moving up 60lbs to challenge the best at 265. Moreover, the UFC heavyweight division is really missing an X-factor stirring the pot, and that catalyst is clearly the man named Jones. The announcement would light up the division instantly, and create intriguing match-ups with any number of heavyweights.
Let’s be honest, again – with respect to those who inhabit it – it has been a division of slumbering giants, a shallow talent pool, with no clear dominant force until Stipe Miocic won it, lost it, and won it again. We all love the yeoman Miocic, but throw Jones into the mix and it immediately gives the heavyweight division an altogether different feel. Questions start to pop out at us. Can Jones hold his own with the giants ? The match-ups, the risks, would be insane. And, let’s be honest here, they would also generate huge pay per views.
Let us imagine. Jones could be set the task of slaying a line-up of contenders, or even, just as he did in defeating five former UFC light-heavyweight champions in a row in 2010-11 – Shogun, Rampage, Machida, Evans and Belfort – could Jones now take on the the onerous task of defeating, say, the top five UFC heavyweight champion. In 2016, I suggested Jones could do it against Mir, Barnett, Dos Santos, Arlovski, Velazquez and Werdum. At the time, there was also Hunt, Browne, and Rothwell. Many of those names have moved on, retired, or simply grown old. There is nothing like heavyweight fights for raw power and knockout endings, and Jones would now have to finesse his way through Miocic, Ngannou and others. But the cupboard is fairly bare, in many ways.
The truth is that Jones is not guaranteed to beat any of them. But wouldn’t that be some run, some story, if he could move up 60lbs, the biggest leap in any division, and defeat the biggest fighters in the world ? It’s a thrilling thought.
There are many reasons for Jones to ‘step up’: he has the biggest body type in the 205lb division, with that broad and rangy physique, and allied to his diverse skills – wrestling, timing, speed, movement and that 85ins reach from his height of 6ft 4ins – you could not rule out another period of dominance. In fairness, that really would make him the GOAT immortal.
But perhaps more importantly, there is also the sense that he could create a ‘newly-invented’ Jones, and by recent standards, he really does need to reinvent himself.
Since 2011, Jones has made a rod for his own back by going off the rails, and falling foul of the authorities. Up he rose as a champion, down he plummeted in public, firstly crashing a deluxe Bentley into a telephone pole, while driving under the influence of alcohol. He tested positive for cocaine in 2015. Re-hab followed. But the incident which saw Jones fall to a new low was in April 2015. Jones left a party in the wee hours in a rented car, was texting on his mobile through a red light, and crashed into a car being driven by a pregnant woman who suffered an arm injury in the collision. Jones even fled the scene, and only exacerbated the incident by returning to collect money from his car and drugs. The only decent thing Jones did was to turn himself in and plead guilty to charges. Punishment followed. The UFC stripped Jones of his title and suspended him.
We’ve seen ‘Jones the perennial favourite’. Let’s see ‘Jones the underdog’ at heavyweight. Many will tune in to see him get beaten, or even KO’d, but I guarantee you, if Jones sets a winning streak in the heavyweight division, the fans will turn to support him. Jones really could prove that he is not just the best, but the baddest man on planet MMA.
For ‘Bones the fighter’ … it is now the time to make the jump. Since 2016, moreover, Jones has only beaten Cormier (again, later declared a no contest), Gustafsson (again), and Anthony Smith, Thiago Santos and latterly Dominick Reyes. But there is something stale about his 205 reign now. Moving to 265 would renew his sharpness. It would have to.
Jones successfully defended his UFC Light Heavyweight Championship at UFC 247, handing the unbeaten Reyes his first taste of leaving the Octagon without his hand having been raised. But this fight was shrouded in controversy. Many felt that Reyes, in a very close fight, took three of the five rounds with his tenacity and striking. Ergo, and in its wake, therefore, there is a case for Jones to announce that he is moving to heavyweight, once he has rematched Reyes. Make it for July, then sling his 205 hook and ready himself for the big boys. But there is one other option in between. Jones shared with Sports Illustrated that he is open to the idea of working with WWE, and if he were to make the move to WWE, Jones could finally have his match against Brock Lesnar, a fight unlikely to ever occur in the Octagon.
“I think it’s inevitable,” Jones told the publication. “I’ve always respected WWE, and I feel like the sports can be so similar.”
Several MMA stars have transitioned to pro wrestling. Former UFC champion Cain Velasquez is roaring as a pro wrestler, creating something of a personality he never had as an MMA fighter. “I have the size and athleticism and the following to transition over really well,” said Jones. “To get the opportunity to just show up, even as a special guest, would be a dream come true.”
Jones refused to commit to a move to heavyweight in his postfight interview in the Octagon after his unanimous decision victory over Reyes. But he did broach the subject with Ariel Helwani when he asked Jones whether his next fight will come at heavyweight, and Jones said, “There’s a really good chance.” Now those are the words we all want to hear.
As pointed out by ESPN’s writer Jeff Wagenheim, Jones has fought 26 light heavyweights and been defeated by none of them. He has cleaned out the division more than once. What more can he accomplish in the domain he has ruled for almost a decade?
We must all concur that Jones ‘made his name by fearlessly challenging himself, and nothing would fit that career narrative better than his venturing into the land of giants’, reckoned Wagenheim. There is a thrill just thinking about Jones standing before Miocic, and then Ngannou. Then, another option for Jones, especially if Miocic’s injury keeps him out for more than a year, is a trilogy fight against Daniel Cormier at heavyweight. Hard to make, they are hate amigos of course, yet it would do huge pay per view numbers.
There is also the enduring feeling that Jones, still on an upward climb towards the summit of greatness, is still battling for acceptance in his achievements by so many in the sport. Again, heavyweight fighting for Bones, may create the equaliser with his haters in the sport.
“For some reason people don’t want to acknowledge what I’ve done in the Octagon, but I know what I’ve done and the record books show what I’ve done. So I just continue to move forward and do what I do.” Fighting at heavyweight – and winning of course – may change all that.
The fighting aura around Jones reminds me of another time, when Muhammad Ali was ‘The Greatest’. There was a time when the rival heavyweights considered beating Ali as the objective.
He had a power over the division which mesmerised the other contenders. Foreman had won the heavyweight title of the world against Joe Frazier. But it was Ali whom he needed to defeat. Both in his mind, and in the eyes of the public.
Foreman told me recently: “I remember when I won the championship of the world, we didn’t want to be called ‘champion’; what we really wanted was to be the guy who beat Muhammad Ali. We wanted that more than to be champion of the world. That’s really what we all wanted: to beat Muhammad Ali.”
“But really, nobody could beat Muhammad Ali. Even when you beat him, people said you hadn’t really beaten him, nobody would say that he had lost, and they still wanted to get his autograph, and get the chance to get hugged and kissed by him.”
That’s the kind of level, the kind of aspiration, Jones should be reaching for. Bulking up, but keeping his speed, his flexibility. Can Jones be beaten ? Of course he can. This is a high stakes, high risk sport. One slip and defeat is there.
“I definitely don’t fear anyone’s skill-set. My coach always tell me to fear not art, just respect it. Boxing, wrestling, kickboxing or jiu-jitsu – they’re all different arts. I’ve been training for about five years now to fear no art. I’m not saying I’ll necessarily fight to his strengths, but I certainly won’t fear his strengths. The fight can go anywhere and I’ll embrace any area of the fight.”
The leap to heavyweight would set a new challenge for his ubiquitous training group: Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn, Brandon Gibson, a triumvirate of great minds of MMA. Students of Sun Tzu. Conor McGregor may always be the bigger crossover star, the force of the red button sales, but it is Jones who sits alone as ‘The Greatest in MMA’. He really has no equal in resume. He is truly peerless. Not just a winning run, but the evisceration of a generation of fighters. Jones, at 205, is simply a target now for every young rising light heavyweight. Move now, before a Reyes, or a Thiago Santos does edge him out, and force him up a division.
Truth is, heavyweight fighting for Jones is a win/win. Emerge victorious, and it will be a bonus. Lose, and even lose again, and it will simply be a case of his not being big enough. The earning potential must also be a factor for the fighter, and his management team. And if Jones does put pen to paper, what would there be not to like, or admire, about Jones’s willingness to expose himself to the challenge of the giants ?
That’s the beauty of Jon Jones. We do know that he will fight anywhere, in any style, even in his opponent’s backyard in terms of their skillset. That’s why he sees himself as the mixed martial artist with ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ tattooed into his mindset, and his fighting style. Long may that mantra continue, but it is now time for him to come, see it for himself, and conquer.
This article first appeared in FIGHTERS ONLY magazine in February 2020.