After Jon Jones’ victory at UFC 235, we look to who could be next for the light heavyweight champion.
Jon Jones dominated from bell to bell in his fight with Anthony Smith at UFC 235. With the exception of an illegal knee where he was deducted two points in round four, Jones took every single round with ease. Jones, since his return from his second USADA suspension, has dominated in both fights, dispatching of Alexander Gustaffson in the third round, and then winning 48-44 on all three judges’ scorecards last Saturday.
Following the fight, there were a couple of options brought up as possible opponents, from the likes of Jon and his team, as well as feedback from Dana White himself. We are going to take a look at some of those options. Honorable mention goes to Dominick Reyes, one of the light heavyweight division’s brightest prospects, but he is scheduled to fight Volkan Oezdemir in London.
1. Thiago Santos
Thiago Santos is a lot like Anthony Smith in his rise through the UFC’s 205-pound division. Following a win over Kevin Holland, Santos made a change and went up in weight to 205 pounds. Since moving up last August, he’s won three fights in a row against Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa, and Jan Blachowicz. The last win, which was one week before Jones’, was seen as a potential title-eliminator fight.
Santos was brought up as a potential challenger to Jones by Dana White following UFC 235, and while some may scoff at the idea, you can make a good argument that Santos deserves the shot at the title. Santos is one of the most active fighters in the sport, and has the second most knockouts throughout the promotion’s history, second only to Vitor Belfort.
Santos presents some interesting challenges for Jones, as he likely has the most knockout power of anyone to fight Jones. He also will likely throw caution to the wind to get in against Jones, something that we figured Anthony Smith would do, but didn’t. We’ve seen Santos do it on multiple occasions as well, and it has gone well for him.
Santos is the most deserving contender to fight Jones for his light-heavyweight strap, but sometimes in the UFC, “deserving” doesn’t matter for much.
2. Brock Lesnar
Following Jon Jones’ victory over Daniel Cormier at UFC 214, he got on the microphone and called out former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. Lesnar responded back with some talk after the fight, and it seemed like it was bound to happen. However, after the fight, Jones would test positive for the turinabol and was suspended 18 months for the infraction. Following his positive test, the talk of the bout went on hold, and talk of a Lesnar fight with Jones’ rival Daniel Cormier emerged.
However, that talk has now returned, following his victory over Anthony Smith, Jones once again displayed a desire to fight Lesnar. This fight makes a lot of sense for both men, as they’re the two biggest draws at their respective weight classes, and in the age of money fights, it makes a lot of sense from a cash standpoint.
However, it doesn’t seem the UFC is on board. Dana White shot the fight down in the post-fight press conference, saying that Lesnar vs. Cormier is the fight to make and that he wants to make the fight for DC as his retirement bout. Now while the Jones and Lesnar fight can happen following the DC fight, it appears to be on hold for the moment.
3. Johnny Walker
Johnny Walker has emerged as one of the UFC’s rising stars. He’s become a fan-favorite and has shown knockout power in spades. After winning a contract on the Brazil Contender Series, he was matched up with Khalil Rountree, who himself had a fair bit of hype behind him as he had just knocked out Gokhan Saki at UFC 226.
Walker made the most of the big fight, as he knocked out Rountree with a vicious elbow inside of one round. He was then matched up with Justin Ledet in February, who he knocked out with a spinning backfist in only 15 seconds. Following a win over Ledet, he was moved into the top 15 and stepped in on short notice at UFC 235 against Misha Cirkunov. He then knocked out Cirkunov in 36 seconds with a flying knee.
Following both of their victories, one of Jon’s coaches, Brandon Gibson mentioned Walker as a potential challenger for Jones. However, Dana White shied away from that idea at the post-fight press conference, saying that they’re going to take it slow with Walker and his development. It makes sense as you don’t want to throw the 26-year-old in there too soon.
Maybe one day we will see Walker-Jones. However, it likely won’t be next for Jones.