I'm making two bold predictions . . .
1. Jon Jones will be a heavyweight by the end of the year
2. Nobody will believe the next champion is truly the champion of this division.
The UFC has done their usual spin job through Primetime and building up to next week's fight between Jones and Rashad Evans to make us believe it will be a fight. They've tried that on me too many times for me to call bullshit on it. I do not envision, save for a flash knockout, what Evans can do to Jones. Bones is faster, a faster striker, and has a more diversified offensive attack. Evans is shorter and lacks the range to get in on Jones. I believe Jones is also stronger than Rashad I think the Champ will play around in the first round or two, but once Evans's game plan fails he won't know what to do. Disregard the build up and the talk, this is a fight between a guy that is just better than the other guy. I think that is at the heart of the dispute . . . the Jackson camp understood that to move forward with Jones meant more business and Rashad did not want Jones there because he knew the kid was better than him. He didn't mind having Jardine around because Keith wasn't a threat. It is just the way this game is. Guys are good, and then better guys come up. It will happen to Jones as well. I envision much of how the Machida fight went with Rashad moving forward and Jones shows he has a stronger chin than thought, that he has great takedown defense, and then he will pick Rashad apart and drop his unconscience body to the ground.
So that being said . . . what is next?
Obviously Dan Henderson, the hardest of hard luck MMA title challengers. HIs first two fights post-Pride were againt an in-his-prime Rampage Jackson and a just-arriving-in-his-prime Anderson Silva and he lost. He goes to Strikeforce to try and front-run a lesser organization only to get wiped out by Jake Shields before moving back to 205 to get the strap from a weak division full of young, inexperienced fighters. But his back to back wins over Fedor Emelianenko and Shogun Rua were impressive . . . though in the Shogun fight he was the won at the bottom at the end of the fight. Henderson will, to my mind, be Jones's toughest test. He's tougher than nails, has a cannon right hand, and knows all the ticks of the trade. But after Henderson, what is next? This is the problem here.
According to Bloody Elbow's own ratings, after Evans and Henderson the top contenders are Shogun Rua, Lyoto Machida, Phil Davis, Ryan Bader, Quinton Jackson, and Forrest Griffin. Light Heavyweight as a division, in fact, remains weak enough as a whole that Tito Ortiz remains in the top 20, as does Rich Franklin who hasn't fought since February 2011. Machida, Davis, Jackson, and Griffin are coming off loses. Both Shogun and Bader where decicively defeated by the current champion.
Shogun Rua seems to be the favorite going into the clubhouse to get a title shot after Dan Henderson, and will probably get a trilogy fight against Lyoto Machida as preparation. Shogun, like seemingly always, was hurt going into the title defense with Bones though the challenger had a fight a month before. But if Shogun loses his next fight, that opens things up suddenly for a resurgent Ryan Bader, doesn't it? And now suddenly Alexander Gustafsson looks to be emerging from prospect to contender. HIs only loss is to Davis, who got his shot at the big time when he fought Rashad Evans, and lost. Forrest Griffin seems contend to ride the legends circuit . . . fighting Tito Ortiz, Rich Franklin, and Shogun Rua in his past three fights before he fights Tito for a third time. HIs days as a contender are over unless he rediscovers the fire he had from 06-08.
So its a mess.
I think what they need to do is pull the trigger on Shogun Rua vs. Ryan Bader as the next #1 contender's fight. The rumors of Rua vs. Machida 3 are nice, but Rua is still a top contender while Machida has fallen back down after losing his second straight title fight. Here is how I think the next few contender's fights shape up:
- Ryan Bader vs. Shogun Rua
- Phil Davis vs. Rampage Jackson
- Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Alexander Gustafsson
- Lyoto Machida vs. Stanislav Nedkov
The question will be . . . will Jon Jones still be a light heavyweight fighter by the time this all plays out?