Evans was once the light heavyweight champion and the light heavyweight representative in the UFC at trainer Greg Jackson’s MMA camp. Jones was brought in by Jackson to join the team and Evans was originally against it thinking that one day Jones would be good and he’d have to fight him. According to Evans, Jackson persuaded him to allow it by saying that even if they had to fight each other, he would never leave Evans’ corner. When Jones was given a title fight in lieu of the injured Evans and won the title, Evans decided to leave Jackson’s camp and it’s been a name-calling war ever since.
The rise of Jones only started four years ago. His first UFC fight was in August 2008. Just over a year ago, he won the light heavyweight championship, which has historically been the marquee division for the UFC all the way back to 1997 when Frank Shamrock became the 205 pound champion (though it was called the middleweight title until 2001) and was arguably the best fighter in the world at the time. When Shamrock vacated the belt in 1999, the man he beat in his last title defense, Tito Ortiz won the title at UFC 25, defeating future Pride megastar and current UFC middleweight (185 pounds) fighter Wanderlei Silva.
Ortiz was the UFC’s biggest star just prior to the UFC turning the corner in 2005, getting on Spike TV with The Ultimate Fighter reality series and increasing PPV buyrates. What was once a nearly dead company was now the top company of one of the fastest rising sports in America. By that time, UFC legends Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell stood atop the marquee division as the company’s biggest stars. Their second fight at UFC 52 did 280,000 PPV buys, helping the company become profitable and all of a sudden, the UFC was well on its way.
At UFC 57, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell fought for a third time and it did over 400,000 PPV buys. Soon thereafter, a returning Tito Ortiz did 425,000 buys in his fight with new star Forrest Griffin. With a new broadcast avenue in Spike TV and true stars in the division like Liddell, Ortiz, a retired Couture and a returning Ken Shamrock, the UFC was reaching new heights in business nearly every month. Their PPV shows were consistently doing above 300,000 buys without the top stars, and even more with their top stars. It also allowed them to make new stars in other weight divisions like Matt Hughes, Georges St. Pierre, and to a lesser extent, Rich Franklin. But still, the light heavyweight division was their bread and butter. With Chuck Liddell as champion and Tito Ortiz as number one contender, UFC 66 did their best buyrate of all-time with over 1 million buys for the grudge match (it was surpassed at UFC 100). Only WWE’s WrestleMania and boxing superstars like Mike Tyson and Oscar De La Hoya were doing numbers that high. When Liddell lost his fastball, the division wasn’t as marketable, though Rashad Evans and Rampage Jackson did over 1 million buys for a fight that wasn’t even a title fight in 2010.
Jones domination of Evans, who is a really good fighter in his own right has people thinking that maybe Jones is simply too good for the division. According to UFC president Dana White, Jones’ next opponent will be MMA legend Dan Henderson. But Henderson, who is 41 years of age to Jones’ 24, is similar to Evans. Henderson represented the US in the Olympics in Grecco-Roman wrestling in 1992 and 1996. But he’s a slower version of Evans with a better right-hand.
Evans’ flaw was simply that he was only 5’11 to Jones 6’4 and was at a reach disadvantage by 10 inches. Henderson is of similar stature to Evans. Evans didn’t fight with reckless abandon, instead trying to finish the fight on his feet, surviving rather than desperately trying to win. Jones took his will away after the third round and Evans seemed to be okay with the idea that he wasn’t going to win the fight. Henderson will fight with reckless abandon, taking a shot to give a shot and he always has a puncher’s chance, but with Jones’ destruction of Evans, it’s unlikely that Henderson will be able to do what Evans wasn’t and will probably meet his demise in much quicker fashion.
It begs the question. If Jones goes through Henderson like nearly everyone thinks he will, what’s next for him? He’s already beaten top contenders like Rampage Jackson, Shogun Rua, and Lyoto Machida. Rashad Evans didn’t have a hard time with up and comer Phil Davis, so it’s likely that Jones wouldn’t either. And it’s too soon to pit young fighter Alexander Gustafsson against Jones so early in his career.
Some would love to see a “dream fight” between he and Anderson Silva. But even though Silva is a big middleweight and has fought at light heavyweight before, Jones is still much bigger and it would be too much of a size mismatch. The solution just might be for Jones to move up to heavyweight. He’s humongous for a light heavyweight as it is and would be taller than most current top UFC heavyweights. His size, matched with improved striking and his great wrestling ability makes him a matchup nightmare for most heavyweights in the division. It would seem that to beat Jones, you’d have to be a good enough boxer with enough size and strength to control the octagon (what Evans was unable to do at all), and be a good defensive wrestler. The best match for Jones just might be current heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos.
Dos Santos is one of the best boxers in the UFC and has yet to be in a fight where he was really in much trouble at all. He ran through former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez easily, showing one-punch knockout power. I think he is the only fighter on the current UFC roster who would give Jones any real trouble at all.
Jones and Henderson will probably get it on sometime later this summer. Unless Dan Henderson pulls off the Hail Mary right-hand that Evans was unable to, it will leave Jon Jones without a real next opponent. If Dos Santos wins his next two fights, he may also be without a true top contender. By early 2013, the best fight to make just might be Jon Jones vs. Junior Dos Santos. We have a little ways before we get there, but if the chips fall like I think they might, it could be the best fight for either guy and a fairly marketable one for the company.
Featured photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images North America.
GG is also the editor of Fight Game Blog.