Jon Jones isn’t Declining, but the Light Heavyweight Division is Catching Up

by Jordy McElroy

Jon Jones is just a man.

Top light heavyweight contender Dominick Reyes uttered those words over and over again leading up to UFC 247. It was his own way of humanizing an opponent that had in many ways become a deity. Years of turning countless legendary names into mere punching bags on a rainy day elevated Jones to a level of icon status that will forever be revered in MMA history.

But Reyes was correct. Despite how nonsensical the words sounded leaving his lips, he was right in his determination that Jones was just a man. That lone truth was reflected in his ability to drag the reigning light heavyweight champion into the deepest water of his professional career.

The bout came nearly seven months after Thiago Santos fought Jones to a split decision loss at UFC 239. There wasn’t a single judge that scored the fight for Reyes last Saturday night, but never has the silence of a Jon Jones decision been more deafening.

For a large portion of the bout, Reyes simply looked like the better fighter. His ability to seamlessly blend combinations together in multiple stances had him looking more like a 205-pound Dominick Cruz. For the first time in his career, Jones looked like the plodding old-timer coming face-to-face with a young lion. Then the championship rounds arrived and Jones’ mane revealed him to be the true Mufasa.

Even with the evolution of the sport nipping at his heels, the old lion trudged forward and out-worked Reyes in the most important rounds of the fight.  

Jones’ grit and determination have continued to supersede every last one of his physical attributes. Those are the x-factors opponents can never prepare for in a gym. They are traits he has never had to show until this point of his career.

Light heavyweight isn’t the proverbial wasteland division for Jones to stomp his feet and flex his muscles. There are legitimate threats to keep him occupied from making a dangerous leap to compete at heavyweight.

For starters, most would agree Reyes is deserving of an immediate rematch. Pulling the trigger on that fight right now seems like the perfect move with it still fresh in everyone’s head. It would also be interesting to see what sort of game plan Jones comes back with in an effort to combat the fluidity of Reyes’ striking and footwork.

Another dance with Santos is also waiting in the wings. He is expected to return at some point from the devastating knee injury he suffered in the previous fight with Jones. His mere speed and ridiculous knockout power give him the sort of puncher’s chance fans would take seriously.

Then there is Corey Anderson.

The 30-year-old contender with dynamite for hands has vowed to become the first man to defeat Jones. There is still a long-shot possibility for him to creep into title contention after his astounding knockout victory over Johnny Walker last November.

Jones’ fighting mortality is closer to the end now than the beginning. That much can’t be argued considering he’s been competing professionally for nearly 12 years. No one can go undefeated forever. It speaks to his greatness that he’s been able to do it for so long in his career.  

But movement can be heard in a light heavyweight jungle perpetually churning out new lions. These are the same individuals that watched Jones’ meteoric rise from afar when he scaled to the top of the division to become the youngest champion in UFC history. They watched in awe of the effortless spectacle of a man that would go on to be debated as the greatest of all time.

Those same gawking eyes are fixed like lasers—waiting, watching and hoping for the inevitable fall. Not even Jon Jones can escape the circle of life in combat sports. 

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