UFC Light Heavyweight Jon Jones is Moving to Heavyweight, Now What?
Jon Jones to Heavyweight
Jon Jones is moving to heavyweight. After a very public feud with the UFC top brass, Jones will leave behind the division where he carved out one of the most impressive careers in the history of the sport. The departure is hardly a bang but certainly not a whimper, but whether you believe Jones has officially cleared out the division of legitimate challengers or you think he’s running from a rematch with Dominick Reyes, this leaves a massive void at the top of the UFC light heavyweight rankings.
During Jones’ tenure as champion, many of the top contenders under him have disappeared, whether they made the drop to middleweight like Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort, made the jump to a heavyweight like Alexander Gustafsson, or left the UFC altogether like Daniel Cormier or Ryan Bader. Just recently, Corey Anderson was granted a release from the UFC to sign with Bellator.
The State of the Light Heavyweight Divison
What was once the most competitive division in the UFC is now one of its weakest. The difference between a potential title challenger and another top 15 ranked fighter is night and day. The official light heavyweight rankings are a mess of struggling prospects and mid-tier fighters. For reference, former division champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua is ranked thirteenth in the division at 38 years old despite not beating a ranked fighter since 2016. The division is extremely shallow in terms of could-be contenders and there’s not much help coming, but the division’s current top contenders make for a truly interesting scenario that I think many are overlooking.
Opponents of Jon Jones
At the time of writing this, a fight for the vacant belt is scheduled for UFC 253 between the aforementioned Reyes and Jan Blachowicz. Reyes, the most recent challenger for the belt, gave Jones one of his toughest tests yet. The fight drew a stark parallel to George St. Pierre’s controversial win over Johny Hendricks before vacating the welterweight title. Reyes brought pressure to Jones unlike anyone has in a long time in a herculean effort, but the judges ultimately scored the fight for Jones despite fans, media personalities, and fellow fighters expressing that they scored the fight in favor of Reyes.
Reyes, the division’s current number one contender, shocked many with his performance against Jones in only his sixth fight in the UFC, boasting wins over fighters like Volkan Oezdemir, Ovince St. Preux, and Chris Weidman. He boasts excellent striking and athleticism, but it’s unknown if his fight against Jones was a one-off phenomenon or if six fights were really all the experience he needed. His opponent for UFC 253, Jan Blachowicz, makes for a hell of a litmus test.
Blachowicz has been a mainstay of the division since leaving KSW in 2013. With wins over Jacare Souza, Jimi Manuwa, Nikita Krylov, Luke Rockhold, and his most recent against Corey Anderson, Jan has established himself as a legitimate force. With a great all-around game, serious knockout power, and as good of a resume as anyone left in the division, Blachowicz certainly makes for as interesting of a fight as you can make at light heavyweight right now.
Jones vs Santos
Outside of these two, there’s a Fight Night main event scheduled between former title challengers Thiago Santos and Glover Texiera. Santos pushed Jones to his only career split decision and likely could have won the fight if not for a leg injury in the early rounds. Outside of his loss to Jon Jones, Santos has three fights at light heavyweight — All of them wins and all KOs or TKOs.
Santos would likely need another big win following this fight to get another title shot, but his opponent Glover Texeira is also likely angling for a return to the top of the division in his own right. Texeira rode a twenty-fight win streak into his fight title fight against Jones in 2014 and has been a consistent presence in the division ever since. His current four-fight win streak includes a lopsided fight against Anthony Smith and a split decision over Nikita Krylov, both of whom are ranked in the top ten in the division.
Keeping 205 Alive
Reyes, Blachowicz, Santos, and Texiera are the four main players at light heavyweight for the time being, but there are two wild cards in play – Jiri Prochazka and Aleksandar Rakic. Prochazka, the former RIZIN light heavyweight champion, made his UFC debut at UFC 251 with a highlight-reel knockout of Volkan Oezdemir, establishing himself as a serious threat at light heavyweight. Rakic is coming off a decision win against Anthony Smith and has a highlight reel knockout of his own against Jimi Manuwa. While I have a personal preference for Prochazka, Rakic’s past resume in the UFC likely gives him an edge in matchmaking, but both fighters are among the youngest of the division’s top contenders and could very well be in the title picture for the foreseeable future.
The UFC has an opportunity to give life to a division in desperate need of it, and I think there’s a clear playbook for the organization to do this. If I personally got the final word on matchmaking, I would most likely have the winner of Reyes vs Blachowicz fight the winner of Santos vs Texiera in the first title defense. The loser of Reyes vs Blachowicz faces Rakic, the loser of Santos vs Texiera faces Volkan Oezdemir, Prochazka faces Nikita Krylov, and Anthony Smith faces the winner of Johnny Walker vs Ryan Spann. This gives the division plenty of new, interesting matchups and could really set the foundation for the division going forward.