The Light Heavyweight Debate: Who Is Next for Jon Jones?

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Jon Jones
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

We’re a week removed from Jon Jones’s controversial win over Dominick Reyes, and there is much debate about who’s next for the dominant champion, so let’s look at the contenders.

Jon Jones is currently the pound-for-pound greatest fighter on the planet, and reigning light heavyweight champion of the UFC. Jones is also considered by many to be the greatest fighter of all-time. However, he’s at a bit of a crossroads in his career having come off of two extremely close fights. Many thought he lost one, or even both of his fights against Thiago Santos and Dominick Reyes respectively. Jones has discussed moving to heavyweight, rematching Reyes, or fighting anyone from Israel Adesanya to Jan Blachowicz.

With so much uncertainty in Jones’s immediate future, it only makes sense to look to the top contenders at light heavyweight for Jones next opponent. Jones has reigned over the division for close to a decade, but has looked more mortal in his past few affairs than ever in his career. With an abundance of contenders, the 205-pound division hasn’t had this much debate in years. With many having claims to contendership, it’s hard to be a matchmaker and pick Jones’s next opponent, but there are many contenders to look at and analyze.

So, let’s take a look at who might be next for Jon Jones.

Dominick Reyes

Dominick Reyes is looked at by many as the uncrowned king at 205 pounds. The formerly undefeated fighter gave Jones a massive test, with most media members seeing Reyes as taking the first three rounds of the fight and likely beating Jones on the scorecards. Despite this, Jones defeated Reyes via a controversial unanimous decision, with all judges siding with Jones and one judge even giving Jones four rounds on his scorecard. The result was so controversial that many athletic commissions and fighters are discussing the topic of open scoring, with Kansas even implementing it in March.

However, Jones still defeated Reyes. Dominick Reyes threw everything and the kitchen sink at Jon Jones, stuffed almost all of the takedowns, and he still came up short. The uproar for an immediate rematch was instant, with Reyes and Jones even discussing the rematch immediately following the fight prior to the scorecards being read. The immediate rematch would be an interesting choice, however, it is extremely rare for a challenger to get an immediate rematch against the champion after not succeeding the first time around. The only notable exceptions being Randy Couture defending against Pedro Rizzo twice, and Shogun Rua and Lyoto Machida running it back after a controversial decision.

If Dominick Reyes were to get an immediate rematch as well, the odds would not be stacked in his favor. Jon Jones is notably undefeated in rematches, having looked dominant in finish wins over Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson (the Cormier win was overturned due to Jones testing positive for steroids, it should be noted). However, Reyes also arguably beat Jones and presents many stylistic challenges to the champ. Through his length, boxing, athleticism, and rapidly improving skills, Reyes could be interesting to see in a rematch against Jones.

Reyes appears to be the frontrunner for the Jones fight in the fans and media’s eyes, however what Jones and the UFC want is a different story.

Jan Blachowicz

Jan Blachowicz’s knockout victory over Corey Anderson came at the perfect time. Blachowicz’s career turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable. On the brink of being cut following a loss to Patrick Cummins in 2017, Blachowicz has won seven of eight including massive wins over the likes of Jared Cannonier, Jimi Manuwa, Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza, and the aforementioned Corey Anderson. It’s worth noting that the only loss during his current run is a loss to Thiago Santos; Santos notably took Jones to a split-decision last July.

Blachowicz isn’t a particularly big name in the eyes of the public, but his knockout victory over Anderson brought a buzz to a Jones fight that many didn’t think it could. Following UFC 247 it seemed that an immediate rematch with Reyes was a foregone conclusion, however, a highlight-reel knockout over a red-hot Anderson has people talking about a Jones fight. The staredown between a cage-side Jones and a fired-up Blachowicz is a perfect clip to promote a fight, it’s something the UFC loves. However, Blachowicz may not be the best fight stylistically for Jones.

Jan Blachowicz continues to show new wrinkles in his game every time he goes out there, however Blachowicz’s takedown defense leaves lots to be desired. Gustafsson and Anderson both notably dominated him on the ground in the past, and while he looks very improved, it’s hard to not see him getting taken down by one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time in Jones. Blachowicz also is not one normally to lead, and we’ve learned that fighters who advance are the ones that typically have the most success against Jones. A.k.a. fighters that have a different strategy than Jan normally uses.

Jan Blachowicz could be facing Jon Jones soon if the UFC and Jones have their way; Jones has even said that he expects the UFC will potentially be matching them up soon following Blachowicz’s win over Anderson. He’s a popular pick for who is potentially next in the Jon Jones sweepstakes.

Glover Teixeira or Anthony Smith (UFC Lincoln)

The darkhorse in the Jon Jones sweepstakes could potentially be coming out of UFC Lincoln. The April card’s main event notably features two former Jon Jones opponents squaring off, both coming in red-hot. Glover Teixeira is currently riding the quietest three-fight win streak of all-time, having defeated the likes of Ion Cutelaba and Nikita Krylov in that stretch. Anthony Smith notably beat Alexander Gustafsson last June and while he lost to Jon Jones before that, he also was on a three-fight win streak with wins over former champions Rashad Evans and Shogun Rua.

While the least-likely option, it’s not entirely impossible for the winner of UFC Lincoln’s main-event to get the title shot if they put on an amazing performance. In a world where Jose Aldo is getting a title shot coming off of two losses, anything is possible for the winner of UFC Lincoln’s main event, especially considering they both have momentum at light heavyweight. That’s also factoring in that there is no clear contender for Jones right now. When there’s no clear contender, weird things happen.

The one massive downside to both title contender’s chances to get the Jones fight is that both lost to Jones badly in the past. Both lost via a wide unanimous decision to Jones previously, with Smith losing 48-44 to Jones at UFC 235, and Teixeira losing 50-45 to Jones at UFC 172. However, if the winner of the Smith-Teixeria fight puts on a great performance and calls Jones out on the mic, it could get some buzz for a potential rematch. The UFC could put on a title-eliminator fight between Reyes and Blachowicz and have Jones fight the winner of Smith-Teixeria in the meantime.

While the least likely option by a longshot, don’t entirely rule out the winner of UFC Lincoln’s main event getting the shot next. Just as fast as the talk turned off of a Reyes rematch into a Blachowicz title shot, it can turn into a title shot for Smith or Teixeira off of a good performance.

Of course, all this is dependent on Jones sticking around light heavyweight, and not jumping up to the heavyweight division. But after his last two performances, it seems that idea has cooled off just a little.

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