Since becoming the youngest champion in UFC history, Jon Jones has remained the centre of the UFC’s light-heavyweight division. Jones ran through a hit-list of ‘the old guard’ featuring some of the biggest names in the sport. Despite several breaks from the sport for various reasons, Jones has even outlasted his biggest rivals in Daniel Cormier who is now targeting his exit from the sport at heavyweight and Alexander Gustafsson who has retired but is looking to return; also at heavyweight.
A light-heavyweight division without Jon Jones is a strange picture to paint however following a Twitter dispute with UFC president Dana White, Jones has said that he will vacate his title and take a break from the sport for now. If the pound-for-pound king is serious, what is next for the division he has long dominated and can it really exist in the shadow of the man many call the greatest of all time?
When a title is vacated, it allows new contenders to get their time in the spotlight. When looking at the current state of the division, there are five viable contenders right now. At the very top is the man who many will look to in order to carry the division in Jones absence, Dominick Reyes. Reyes’ only loss is to Jon Jones in a fight many thought he won and at 30 years old he still has a lot ahead of him in the sport. The man many are saying will fight Reyes for the vacant title is Poland’s Jan Blachowicz who has put together an impressive 3-fight run with wins over Luke Rockhold, Ronaldo Souza and Corey Anderson. Many believed Jan would be the next to challenge Jones and at 37 years of age, this could be his last shot at gold.
The last man to beat Jan was Thiago Santos who also lost a close fight to Jones. After suffering significant injuries in his title challenge, Santos has not fought since July of last year however due to his performance against Jones, Santos is definitely still in the mix. Outside of those three, you have the veteran Glover Teixeira who has put together a great set of four consecutive wins and could be the man to welcome Santos back. Finally, there is Volkan Oezdemir who is likely one fight away from being in the title picture and at 30, still has a lot to give to the light-heavyweight division (he also lost a controversial decision to top dog Dominick Reyes). Though there are several top contenders who can step-up into the spotlight left by Jones, whether controversial or not, he’s beaten three of them and not fought the other two.
Though I believe Dominick Reyes will make an imprint on this division, will it be enough to get fans invested in light-heavyweight contests and stakes without Jon Jones? The large shadow of Jones will hangover whoever holds the belt as they haven’t beaten him. Without Jones, are fans invested enough in the division?
Depth at 205:
Without a star in Jon Jones in the division, new ones need to emerge in order to keep fans invested. Outside of the top contenders already mentioned, there are several other names like Anthony Smith and Corey Anderson that round out the top end of the division. Outside of them, light-heavyweight is relatively thin when looking at depth; something that the division has always struggled with. The likes of Aleksandar Rakic, Johnny Walker and Jim Crute make up the top 15 and though all have promise, they have recently suffered setbacks that have halted their momentum.
The depth is just not there when looking at light-heavyweight. Though the UFC will be hoping that if Jones does decide to leave the division, it will give the opportunity for new talent to shine, will fans see it that way? Without a personality as big as Jones in the division that all the fans have become accustomed to, will there be enough interest in the division? Jones giving his closest competition some room to breathe could allow them to really raise the bar at 205 by putting on more competitive and therefore enticing fights, after all, it can be hard to get excited about a Jon Jones title defence when he’s such a heavy favourite. Can it exist? Of coure it can, the real question is it will it be able to grow in Jones’ extremely large shadow.
What do you think? Can the light-heavyweight division successfully continue in a post-Jones era? Who do you think will step up to the mantle in his absence? Let us know.