Ever since Jon Jones won the title belt from Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128 in early 2011, the UFC light heavyweight division has been under the control of “Bones’” iron grip.
The talented young champion has dominated in every sense of the word, cutting a path through five former champions on his way to obtaining the record for most title defenses at 205 pounds.
But, then came UFC 165 last September.
Largely thought to destroy heavy underdog Alexander Gustafsson, “Bones” was given the fight of his life and narrowly escaped, taking home a very controversial decision victory. While Jones was previously thought to be invincible, that fight proved he was indeed human like everyone else.
The general consensus was that Gustafsson undoubtedly deserved and would receive an immediate rematch, but after “Bones” re-watched the fight, he believed he clearly won and would instead move on to the next rightful contender, surging Brazilian Glover Teixeira.
And he did, finally settling into a date against Teixeira at April 26's UFC 172 in Baltimore. The move prompted Gustafsson to take a fight with lesser-known but dangerous undefeated prospect Jimi Manuwa at this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 37.
Now, on paper, Jones and Gustafsson are both supposed to run through their opponents and meet up in what would arguably be the biggest rematch in UFC light heavyweight history sometime later this year.
However, what happens if they both lose?
Well, then it gets a bit complicated. First off, the whole title picture may hinge on how Jones loses, if he does. Anything other than an emphatic knockout from Teixeira will probably see Jones embroiled in a rematch. I just don’t see any other route being taken by the UFC after Jones’ run as dominant champion.
Jones has been in a long-standing beef with Daniel Cormier, who recently made 205 pounds and dispatched Patrick Cummins at UFC 170. But Jones thinks Cormier should beat someone who isn’t a ‘can’ before he gets a title shot.
If Gustafsson somehow gets upset by “Poster Boy” in London, “DC” could be booked in a title shot a lot sooner than we thought. Manuwa would be an under-the-radar contender as well, shooting up several ranking spots to sit one more quality win away from a shot at gold.
As a nearly six-to-one favorite, Jones is favored to win his next bout even more than Gustafsson. Teixeira has a 20-fight win streak intact, and after Jones was taken to the limit at UFC 165, his aura of invincibility is no longer. His fight at UFC 172 could be a lot closer than the odds makers would suggest.
That translates into a very exciting period for the UFC 205-pound landscape. Even if Gustafsson loses and Jones does not, a “Bones” vs. Cormier match-up will be one the fans want to see. If they both win, well, one of the sport’s most awaited rematches will come to fruition.
Either way, the fans win. With the UFC’s top stars and pay-per-view draws Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva on the sidelines and champions Cain Velasquez and Anthony Pettis out with injuries, the promotion needs all the excitement it can muster.
Luckily for them, a light heavyweight shakeup might provide just that. Are you picking “Bones” or “The Mauler” to lose, or will it be business as usual for the world’s top two light heavyweights?
Photo: Tom Szczerbowski for USA TODAY Sports