The Jon Jones critics are still out there, but they’re starting to sound more and more desperate with each passing day.
Hard to find much to criticize about Jones in the wake of last Saturday’s UFC 135, where he outclassed Quinton “Rampage” Jackson en route to a fourth-round submission without ever seeming to shift out of first gear. Jones toyed with Jackson throughout their 16-plus minutes together, starting the bout crawling around the cage on all fours (just because he could) and at one point dumping the former champion over his shoulder like a child after the horn to end the second round (just because he could).
The list of things Jones appears capable of at this point is endless, but you can’t blame the UFC and fight fans alike if they’re proceeding with caution here. After all, it wasn’t too long ago we all got burned by the “Lyoto Machida Era,” which felt a lot more like the “Machida Paragraph” after he lost his light heavyweight title to Mauricio Rua after less than a year.
Right now, it feels like Jones is that revelatory talent we first mistook for Machida, but even considering everything the 24-year-old has accomplished in his short and stellar MMA career, it would still take merely a moment for him to join the lengthy list of 205-pounds also-rans. Proving he’s something different entirely could be a process that takes his entire career.
Or perhaps just the next year.
As is turns out, the next 12 months will be perhaps as good a test of any of what kind of talent Jones can truly become. After defeating Jackson with relative ease last Saturday he only inherits more difficult challenges.
Barring serious injury or other unexpected setbacks, Jones will next take on former friend and training partner Rashad Evans, who he’s developed a bitter feud with during the last few months. Given their history together, Evans’ quickness and his own dynamic fighting style, he may well constitute the biggest threat to Jones’ dominance in the current landscape. Just to give an idea though, early betting for their bout began this week, with Jones as 4-1 favorite. Fans quickly bet him up to 5-1.
If the odds play out according to chalk in that one, Jones would likely get the winner of Dan Henderson’s upcoming clash with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua next. After that? Perhaps Phil Davis or even Machida, depending on the status of Davis’ injured knee and when the UFC succeeds in putting together a meeting between those two.
If Jones manages to navigate this gauntlet successfully, it will amount to the single most impressive run by a UFC light heavyweight champion and put him one title defense shy of Tito Ortiz’s record of five consecutive. It might also set up a much-talked about superfight with world No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter Anderson Silva, if the UFC can get its 36-year-old middleweight champion (who will be 37 or even 38 by this time) to agree to take the fight.
It’ll also be time to declare the Jon Jones era in the light heavyweight division. And not a moment sooner.