Welcome to the third edition of King and Slim, a debate column between writers Anthony Walker and Kristen King that answers a question or two related to a recent or upcoming event. This week, the pair discuss what Jon Jones should do after edging his way to another successful title defense at UFC 247.
Ant: I’ve got a question that has been asked by quite a few people and after Saturday night it makes sense to ask you now. Is Jon Jones still the wrecking force that he was earlier in his reign and what should be next for him?
Kristen: I think that Jon Jones is at a point in his career where he may start to slow down and look like he’s on the backside of his prime. The version of him we see now compared to what we saw in 2011-2012 is very different. A couple of factors come into play with this.
One, he is falling out of his prime. He’s been competing in this sport for over a decade now. It may be cliche to say this but MMA is a young man’s game. Of course there have been exceptions to the rule but it’s true in an overwhelming majority of cases. Secondly, I think he’s playing on a much more even playing field now. The contenders are more athletic and have some of the physical gifts that could be enough to defeat him. The combination of aging out of his prime and meeting contenders who are physically up to par with him makes this version of Jon Jones not seem the same.
Ant: I’m not sure how I should approach this one. He’s in his early thirties, which is when most people start seeing an athletic decline. Beyond MMA being brutal on the body, he was also a high school and collegiate wrestler, so he’s taken his fair share of punishment over the years.
On the other hand though, he’s not as old in fight years as you’d think for someone who has been a professional since 2008. Before his burst of activity since UFC 232, he had some serious stretches of inactivity thanks to his out of the cage issues and USADA controversies. If you’re to believe the rumors surrounding him in years prior, he hasn’t spent nearly as much time in hard training as his peers as well. It would be almost negligent to not wonder what factor drug testing could play into all of this considering his history with USADA.
There is a lot of conflicting information and circumstantial evidence to support both sides of the argument. However, one thing is certain: it’s incredibly hard to stay on top. For all of this time, everybody has been studying him. Everybody has been gunning for him. I’m not necessarily convinced that the current crop of light heavyweight contenders is better than the old guard that he tore through several years ago. But the Dominick Reyes’ and Thiago Santos’ of the world have seen atop of the mountain for their entire careers. Before they ever worked their way up the ladder to him, they’ve visualized dethroning him and have built up to that moment.
I’m reminded of Chris Weidman when he defeated Anderson Silva. In the lead up to that fight, he said that since he had any intentions on competing in MMA, his ultimate goal was to meet and defeat Silva. Being the hunted for a decade plus is extraordinarily difficult.
Do you think it’s time to move up to heavyweight?
Kristen: I think it would be fun to watch him do it. The light heavyweight division has contenders now than it did a couple of years ago, but I don’t think that’s in high demand outside of a Reyes rematch. It’s not like he has to prove himself anymore. Jones is at a point where a lot of fans want to see the fun fights. Why not take those? I’d love to see him versus Stipe Miocic or Francis Ngannou.
Is it the right time? Is there ever a right time? That’s obviously up to him and his team to decide whether the time is right. I love how he always says it’s up to the fans if he moves up a division. I’m telling you now, that’s what they want to see.
Ant: Translation: It’s up to the UFC to pay enough to make that move worthwhile. Getting the bag is the first priority for a prizefighter.
Jon Jones has a serious legacy rooted in meritocracy. He’s continuously fought the next guy up or legends of the sport and decimated them. We’ve only seen cracks in that armor recently. You’re right: there’s nothing left for him to prove at 205 or even as a champion even if you think Santos or Reyes should’ve gotten the decision.
I’m inclined to think that Jones is motivated to certain degree by the idea of making up for lost time. By lost time I mean lost income. He’s left a tremendous amount of money on the table with his suspensions and time out of the cage.
We’re talking about someone who within 8 months lost endorsement deals with Nike and Reebok. We’re talking about someone who has been on the verge of being a figure in the overall sports consciousness but has derailed himself multiple times. This seemingly more focused and dedicated version of Jones probably wishes he cashed in then.
Does he make up for that lost income by fighting the winner of Corey Anderson and Jan Blachowicz? Does that sound like the money fight? Or will some of the interesting match ups at heavyweight do more for his bank account?
It might be good for the light heavyweight division if he explores the water elsewhere, even if it’s temporary. When Georges St. Pierre won that controversial decision against Johny Hendricks and took his hiatus from the sport, the welterweight division had a seamless transition. Many people thought Hendricks won and were more accepting of him facing Robbie Lawler for a vacant title because it almost felt like it was his belt to defend.
If Jones were to go up now, something similar can happen. 205 can play out on it’s own with Reyes fighting the winner of Anderson-Blachowicz. Jones detours for those big fights.
Kristen: I don’t think Jones would relinquish that belt though and I don’t see a need for an interim title either. He can still hold on to the crown at light heavyweight while going after some of the fun fights. If he wants to come back down, he can face whoever is next in line. I suspect it would be the same cast of characters available right now.
Ant: Jones would be the one to flex some petty and say “I’m the king of this division and I’m not even there.” Either way, I’d love to see him face a new set of challenges. I actually think that the vulnerabilities he’s shown lately add some intrigue if he moves up. If Reyes and Santos were able to touch him up a bit, the idea of Alistair Overeem or Alexander Volkov seems more exciting to me.
Kristen: Did you see Israel Adesanya saying Jones was washed up? Of course he would say that but it’s so far from the truth. A good way to showcase that would be new challenges at a heavier weight.
Ant: Even if he’s washed up, he’s still the best light heavyweight on earth. May we all aspire to be washed up like Jon Jones.
Another thing, as much as he deserves it, I’d rather not see Reyes get an immediate rematch. Reyes had what could’ve been a star making performance. The UFC has done a terrible job of unnecessarily killing potential stars and forcing rematches too soon. Cody Garbrandt and Joanna Jedrzejczyk come to mind.
If you run it back right away and Jones wins in any fashion, then you’ve left Reyes in a no man’s lands and killed his chances at ascension. If Reyes wins, you dull some of the luster around Jones fighting at heavyweight. Strangely, it doesn’t seem to do either man justice.
My final word is that Jones should take this opportunity to finally fight at heavyweight.
Kristen: Agreed. Plus, Reyes is now the People’s Champ. Don’t squander that.