Why Dana White is right to decline Jon Jones’s offer to fight a Top 10 Heavyweight

Jon Jones was on the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani and revealed that he offered to jump to Heavyweight for a Superfight against a top 10 fighter in late 2012, sort of like what they did a couple years back when Anderson Silva moved up to Light Heavyweight and destroyed James Irvin and Forrest Griffin in-between Middleweight title defenses.

As MMAFighting.com notes, Dana and Lorenzo weren’t thrilled with the idea:

“I actually asked Dana and Lorenzo, could I take a fight for the fans at the end of 2012,” Jones said. “I figured beating Henderson and Rashad, there would be a period where we’d figure out who I’m going to fight next, and during that period, at the end of 2012, I asked to fight a heavyweight — a Top 10 heavyweight.”

“Dana and Lorenzo didn’t think that was the best for me to do right now,” Jones said. “They wanted me to continue at the light heavyweight division.”

I drew the comparison between Silva and Jones only because thus far in his reign Jones has shown the same level of dominance against the best of his division in the same way Silva has for the past few years.

There are, however, some differences that need to be acknowledged. First, there’s the fact that there’s a big discrepancy between Middleweight and Light Heavyweight in terms of both drawing power and depth of talent. The Middleweight division has improved leaps and bounds from where it was four years ago, but despite having the best pound for pound fighter as its champion (or perhaps in part because of it) is still something of a journeyman’s division. There are a crop of what I would consider “natural” 185 fighters finally breaking through, but for years the division was occupied by guys moving up in weight because they’re too slow for 170 and others who couldn’t cut it at 205. Even today, the #2 and #3 fighters at that weight, Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping, are examples of the latter.

So while Jon Jones has been dominant, he still has some contenders in a much deeper division. That said, as ridiculous as it may sound, he’s almost there. He’s beaten Bader, Rua, Jackson, and Machida in less than one calendar year. After he gets through Evans and Henderson (which I have a strong suspicion he will given his utter dominance of the other fighters), he’ll have cleaned out the top 10 of the Light Heavyweight division. Who will be left to contend? Phil Davis is a prospect, but showed last Saturday that he’s not quite there yet. The only other fighters who could even be considered top 10 – Thiago Silva and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira – are not likely to get in a position of title contention anytime soon (if ever again), let alone stand a chance against him.

The frequency with which Jon Jones has fought has made him an MVP for the promotion, but the UFC sort of shot themselves in the foot by overbooking him, because he’s run through every potential contender they’ve put in front of him and now they’re in a scenario where he likely won’t have any contenders after the Spring. Dominant champions are good for a spell, but their drawing power is severely diminished once the fans can no longer buy opponents as viable contenders. That’s why Brock Lensar was the UFC’s top draw: it wasn’t just because of his mainstream notoriety from pro wrestling, but also (and more importantly) because he was seen as a beatable monster and every challenge he faced held some degree of intrigue. With Jones, each successive title defense seems more and more like an inevitability, as it has with Anderson Silva and to a lesser extent Georges St-Pierre.

For those same reasons, I understand Dana’s refusal to let Jones fight a top ten heavyweight. That division is a mess as it is and they’ve lost Lesnar to retirement. The influx of Strikeforce Heavyweights is promising but lends to it an air of uncertainty, particularly with fighters like Josh Barnett and Allistair Overeem, both of whom the UFC is going to be booking with baited breath and hoping they don’t piss hot for a Commission drug test. Having a Light Heavyweight, even its champion, move up in weight for one or two fights and potentially sabotage another contender wouldn’t be good business. Anderson Silva fighting James Irvin and Forrest Griffin was one thing, because Irvin was never going to contend and Griffin by that time was all but done as a contender and just around for name value and the occasional superfight (see also: Franklin, Rich). Having Jones do the same would probably draw a good buyrate, but at the risk of bringing depth and legitimacy of an entire division into question.

Still, one has to ask: if/when the time comes where Jon Jones has beaten literally every single potential contender, what the Hell are they going to do with the guy?

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