For all of the knee-jerk reactions as to whether UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has lost a step following three straight decision wins — including two of the disputed variety — the answer depends more upon your perspective.
Jones (26-1, 1 NC) rallied to escape a determined Dominick Reyes on Saturday in the main event of UFC 247 in Houston by a unanimous decision that was anything but universally celebrated.
From the standpoint of whether Jones is washed up or no longer elite, the answer is a firm “no” for the fighter who carries the equal blessing and burden of being recognized by many as the sport’s G.O.A.T. while still navigating his prime. Any conversation about Jones’ performance needs to be quickly hedged by recognizing just how great the 30-year-old Reyes fought in a star-making effort that firmly announced him as elite.
Yet Jones, 32, is decidedly not the same fighter he was throughout a four-year run that created his legend — spanning from a 2011 destruction of Mauricio Rua that saw him become the youngest champion UFC history to his 2015 win over Daniel Cormier that preceded his first of a record three times being stripped for disciplinary reasons.
While he still maintains championship levels of defense and unique intangibles like chin, fight I.Q. and reach, it’s clear how much the elite of the division have caught up with Jones physically just as the mileage of a 12-year career and occasionally wild lifestyle has helped level the playing field. Even though Jones isn’t currently facing the same string of legendary names he once did at 205 pounds to open the decade, he doesn’t possess the same level of explosiveness — in striking as well as wrestling — that once set him apart.
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Jones certainly isn’t in any fear of hurting himself or damaging his legacy by staying around longer at light heavyweight. In fact, he turned out to be the fresher fighter late against both Reyes and Thiago Santos in his two most recent fights, and any respected critic will agree that he’s no worse than the second or third-best fighter in the world at the moment.
But with years of film on him to study, Jones’ new crop of competitors have unquestionably caught up to him ever since he returned in late 2018 from a year-plus USADA suspension. Which brings into question the idea that Jones has never found a more perfect time than right now to execute a plan he has teased in such a passive-aggressive manner for so many years.
Considering Jones has already cleaned out the division at 205 pounds two times over, the time is now to move up to heavyweight on a full-time basis to make the conversation of him being MMA’s G.O.A.T., as Jones said before the Reyes fight, “not much of a conversation at all.” Jones has the kind of physical frame at 6-foot-4 with a freakish 84.5-inch reach to compete today. Even better, he’ll be getting a head start in a division best suited among all in MMA to help ease the burden of aging.
The advantage in speed and athleticism that Jones should have against just about any elite heavyweight will likely be startling. The move should also see a return to the impact of his wrestling game given that most super heavyweights are head-hunting sluggers who lack five-round stamina. Jones also has a level of punch resistance that is quietly legendary, which should quiet fears of the heavier striking coming back at him.
A move to heavyweight could serve as a fountain of youth to Jones in the same way it has for his biggest rival Cormier, not to mention it provides access to much bigger names from the standpoint of making the biggest, most marketable fights possible.
One has to believe that UFC president Dana White would lick his chops at the idea of seeing Jones headline PPVs against the likes of Cormier, Stipe Miocic, Francis Ngannou, Anthony Johnson, Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem and even Brock Lesnar, should opportunities for some or all arise in the near future.
While Jones is the current G.O.A.T. among experts who care about declaring such a designation, lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is right there with Jones in the race for active pound-for-pound king, which is a title Jones could also possibly reclaim by winning a title in a second division.
For CBS Sports’ updated divisional rankings,.
Men’s pound-for-pound rankings
Dropped out: None
Just missed: Jorge Masvidal, Conor McGregor, Dominick Reyes, Robert Whittaker, Colby Covington, Dustin Poirier, Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero
Women’s pound-for-pound rankings
Dropped out: None
Just missed: Rose Namajunas, Tatiana Suarez, Jessica Andrade, Claudia Gadelha, Aspen Ladd, Marina Rodriguez