Jon Jones’ future has never been as in question as it is coming out of UFC 247. The light heavyweight champion looked vulnerable for the second straight fight and the majority of observers seem to have felt he lost a fight for the first time in his career. Of course, only three scorecards on the entire planet matter in any given fight and on that night, all three judges turned in cards that saw Jones as doing enough to retain his title.
Will Jones need to rematch Reyes in his next outing? Or will plans to move to heavyweight this year move ahead? Then there’s the long-shot possibility of middleweight champ — and emerging Jones rival — Israel Adesanya jumping up to light heavyweight to try and take out the king. While we may not know exactly who is next up for Jones, there are plenty of guesses to be made based on the information at hand.
Let’s take a closer, detailed look now at Jones’ best options for 2020, including the pros and cons of each man and the possibility of every opponent to unseat the G.O.A.T.
Dominick Reyes (12-1), No. 2 light heavyweight
Pros: The majority of media members — and fans, it would seem — scored the UFC 247 clash between Reyes and Jones for the challenger. While Thiago Santos (more on him later) did win one of the three official scorecards in his fight with Jones, even that performance did not feel as clear cut as what Reyes managed to do against the champ. Now, Reyes has a sort of “uncrowned champ” status and Jones’ claim to be the best light heavyweight in the world feels in question. That has not been something that could be truly said in the last decade. An immediate rematch feels like the most “sporting” thing to do.
Cons: There aren’t many cons to a rematch, although if we can identify one clear flaw in Reyes’ performance, it was he didn’t quite have the gas in the tank to follow his roadmap to victory. Reyes’ movement, pressure and offensive output had Jones on his heels for the majority of the first three rounds of the fight. He’d only been in one scheduled five round fight in the UFC, and that ended with a first-round knockout of Chris Weidman. Jones is a masterful tactician, something often overlooked when discussing what makes Jones truly great. He and his team know what to exploit now and will certainly plan their entire strategy around trying to leave Reyes in the state of distressed exhaustion he struggled through in Round 5. Reyes may benefit from a little more main event seasoning before facing Jones again. There’s also the fact that Jones facing Reyes again would delay the long-awaited Jones jump to heavyweight.
Can Reyes win? Absolutely. That was proven this past weekend.
Stipe Miocic (19-3), heavyweight champion
Pros: Fans have wanted to see Jones challenge himself by moving up to heavyweight for years now. Recently, Jones admitted such a move was in his future and likely something that would happen in 2020. “I feel like I really want to fight Stipe Miocic,” Jones told ESPN ahead of UFC 247. “I feel like I could beat him.” Jones did include that his plan involved a return to light heavyweight after moving up. That means a battle with Miocic is of more immediate concern than testing the waters against a lower-tier challenger. But, for sheer pound-for-pound interest, seeing what Jones looks like as a heavyweight is among the most intriguing concepts in the sport.
Cons: A lot of this speculation revolves around the idea that Miocic has room in his 2020 calendar. He is still on the sidelines dealing with eye injuries suffered against Daniel Cormier in their rematch. And Cormier is up next for Miocic, at least according to the UFC. Miocic’s camp has talked about wanting to face new challenges and fighters they haven’t yet defeated. So between being sidelined, needing a training camp for a fight against (presumably) Cormier, time to recover from that fight and then engaging in another training camp, Jones vs. Miocic happening in 2020 seems iffy at best. And that’s without taking into consideration the extremely real possibility that Cormier wins.
Can Miocic win? Absolutely. Jones at heavyweight is a mystery and Miocic is one of the best big men in the history of the sport.
Don’t count it out
Thiago Santos (21-7), No. 4 light heavyweight
Pros: Santos won a scorecard against Jones when they fought at UFC 239. No other man on earth can say they won an official scorecard against Jones in MMA — even if Reyes should be able to say that same thing. That alone makes a rematch between Santos and Jones a compelling option. Santos also fought much of that fight on a bad leg, having suffered a torn MCL, PCL, ACL and meniscus in his left knee during the fight. That injury limited Santos’ offensive weapons to a big degree, and his leg kicks were causing serious damage to Jones. Along with Reyes, Jones having to put up or shut up against men who can claim to one degree or another that they deserve to be champion has become somewhat legacy-defining.
Cons: The aforementioned knee injury means that Santos has to get back in the Octagon, and a fight with Jones may not be the best way to test things out. It also needs to be said that the majority of observers felt that Jones deserved the victory in their first clash. The official scorecard turned in for Santos was largely anomalous in the larger view of the fight. MMAdecisions.com has 14 media members tracked as scoring the fight for Jones and only four scoring for Santos, an almost completely reversed version of Jones’ fight with Reyes.
Can Santos win? Sure. Though Santos’ case isn’t as strong as Miocic and Reyes.
Winner of Jan Blachowicz (25-8) vs. Corey Anderson (13-4), No. 3 and No. 5 light heavyweights
Pros: Anderson and Blachowicz are set to meet on Feb. 15 and the winner would have a strong case as a fresh opponent for Jones at light heavyweight. The idea of a fight that isn’t a rematch has its own appeal, which is somewhat ironic given Anderson vs. Blachowicz is a rematch built on a “they’ve come a long way since then” narrative. Anderson’s brutal TKO win over Johnny Walker, who was a trendy “next man up” pick for Jones at the time, boosted his profile to that of a potential title challenger. His athleticism and wrestling background make Anderson an interesting Jones opponent. Blachowicz is riding high off wins over Luke Rockhold and Jacare Souza in his two most recent fights and has lingered on the edges of title contention for years now.
Cons: Shogun Rua, Jimi Manuwa and Ovince Saint Preux. Those are three men who have defeated Anderson in the last five years. Alexander Gustafsson, Patrick Cummins and Thiago Santos. Those three men beat Blachowicz in the same timeframe. That isn’t quite as alluring on paper as someone like Reyes, who has only lost to Jones. Blachowicz and Anderson are fringe contenders for exactly those reasons. And Blachowicz’s two most recent wins were over middleweights trying to jump to 205. And no one should be rewarded for the dreadful fight he offered up against Jacare.
Can either man win? Nah. It’s hard to see how either man has a reasonable path to victory outside of “maybe Jones is old and shot now.”
Not as likely
Daniel Cormier (22-2), No. 2 heavyweight
Pros: Jones recently described his long beef with Cormier as “over,” but we all know the two men could flip the switch in an instant and go back to the same trash-talking, press conference-shoving rivalry that defined years of their careers. Sure, we’ve seen Jones beat Cormier twice, the second time more definitively than the first, though erased from the record books due to a failed drug test by Jones. A third fight between the two isn’t compelling … unless it’s at heavyweight. Cormier is one of the best heavyweights of all time, while Jones has never fought in the division. And UFC president Dana White has already mentioned possibly needing to kickstart the division if Miocic’s eye injury keeps him out of action for too long. The most compelling interim title fight possible would be Cormier vs. Jones 3.
Cons: Cormier wants Miocic. He also wants to retire. In fact, Cormier has already said he will retire if he doesn’t get the Miocic fight. If he does get the trilogy fight with Miocic, Cormier says it will be his last. Nowhere in Cormier’s talk of the end of his fighting career has the idea of a Jones fight entered the equation. Maybe a title fight against Jones at heavyweight would fill that need for Cormier, but there’s no guarantee. Then there’s the fact that we know Jones is the better man in the Octagon and that isn’t likely to change just because they’ve moved to heavyweight. And if Cormier has retirement on his mind, would he truly be zoned in on a “second choice” fight?
Can Cormier win? Unlikely. Jones has proven he’s a terrible fight for Cormier. That isn’t going to change at heavyweight.
Don’t count on it
Israel Adesanya (18-0), middleweight champion
Pros: Adesanya and Jones have built quite a rivalry through social media and interview shots thrown in both directions. Adesanya talks often about wanting to go to 205 and face Jones and openly mocked the light heavyweight champion as “washed up” after the Reyes fight. A superfight between two champions is always an intriguing possibility and one that carries the novelty of something fans have rarely seen in the sport. Between the trash talk and the fighters’ styles, there’s tons of appeal to Adesanya vs. Jones.
Cons: Jones has already made it clear he has no interest in fighting Adesanya. Also, Adesanya has a lot of work to do in the middleweight division before he starts thinking about conquering new worlds. With light heavyweight options already in place for Jones and Jones looking up at heavyweight, not down to middleweight, a fight between the two seems completely out of the question. Now and forever.
Can Adesanya win? Maybe. Between Jones slowing down a little while looking a bit vulnerable on the feet in recent fights and Adesanya’s great striking, the possibility exists.