The UFC's light heavyweight division has not had a dominant champion since Chuck Liddell dropped his belt to Quinton Jackson at UFC 71. The fight was supposed to be Liddell's fifth title defense, tying the record set by Tito Ortiz. Jackson was able to defend the belt once against Dan Henderson. Since then the division has played a game of "hot potato" with only Lyoto Machida defending the belt. This past weekend Jon Jones joins Machida and Jackson on the incredibly short list of defending champions. However, after his almost flawless performance this past Saturday, is it possible that a dominant champ is bad for business?
First and foremost, the UFC is in the entertainment business. The pay per view model means that fans need to feel compelled with the match ups in order to spend upwards of $55 for a single fight card. Following UFC 134, there were many people on twitter within the MMA industry saying it would be the last Anderson Silva card they'd ever purchase. Silva, it seems, is too dominant as a champion and when there is little doubt that he'll steamroll his opposition, it becomes a hard sell to fans. My fear is that Jones is on a crash course towards this exact situation.
In the lead up to UFC 135, David Castillo of HeadKickLegend.com stated that the big issue with Jones is that no matter how hard fans work in the gym, they will never possess the physical gifts of Bones. These physical gifts are what set him apart from his peers at 205. Fans often commented how big Liddell and Tito Ortiz were for the weight class and how Forrest Griffin walks around at 245+ in between fights. Jones dwarfs everyone. He has the reach of a heavyweight and gets bigger every fight. Even if all the skills were consistent across the division, Jones' body would still set him apart.
The UFC's light heavyweight division is sold as the most deep division in the sport. Housing names such as Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, and Dan Henderson at the very top, there is no shortage of opponents to test out Jones. The issue is that once you leave the top tier, there is a massive gap in perceived skills. Phil Davis and Alex Gustafsson are interesting prospects, but have yet to develop their skills to match Jones should they meet right now. Antonio Rogerio Noguiera and Rich Franklin are quickly moving into the realm of over-the-hill veterans whose best days are behind them.
Jackson and Rua are both recent victims of Jones which removes them from the list of possible title challengers. Dana White has stated that the winner of Rua/Henderson will receive a title shot once Rashad and Jones settle their score but does anyone really think that either fighter possesses the skills and ability to defeat Jones? Evans is selling the match up and many are convinced he can push Jones mentally and physically. But does he really have the skills to end the Jon Jones era?
Jones is at a spot where even before the fights get booked, fans are already counting out his opponents. He finds himself in a similar position to Anderson Silva and to a lesser extent Georges St. Pierre and Jose Aldo. Zuffa, despite their best efforts, have been unable to convince fans that anyone at 185 is a real test for Silva. Chael Sonnen put on a hell of a performance but testing positive for PEDs and losing to an injured Anderson Silva has some questioning how he would do in the rematch. St. Pierre and Aldo are fortunate that the landscape of their divisions is ever changing with the UFC bringing Hatsu Hioki for Aldo and Jake Ellenberger propelling himself into the top 10 with the knockout of Shields.
The UFC is desperate for fans to buy into the Jon Jones hype. From planting the story about him stopping a mugging in Patterson, New Jersey to trying to sell him as the humble fighter with a warrior's spirit, they want him to be the champion of the future. The issue is that using the press is only one part to a greater issue. If he doesn't ever face someone who can push him, it won't matter how many spinning elbows he can throw in a fight. Fans want to see compelling fights that force the champion to dig down deep to overcome adversity. Jones and the UFC will need to find a way to keep fans' interest or they will quickly run into difficulty ensuring that people will still buy his defenses. Jon Jones is dominant, he could just be too dominant for the UFC.