The next move for one of MMA's all-time greats is very much up in the air.
Jon Jones has said he'd like to fight before the end of the year, but the 205-pound division has no clear contender after he dispatched Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos earlier in 2019. He seemed to have a challenger for his UFC light heavyweight title queued up in Jan Blachowicz, but Blachowicz now will face Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza at UFC Sao Paulo in November.
Jones is tied atop ESPN's MMA pound-for-pound list with Khabib Nurmagomedov, and he has never truly been beaten. His lone loss was 10 years ago, a disqualification against Matt Hamill due to an illegal elbow. The 32-year-old Jones has defended the light heavyweight title a division-record 10 times, and perhaps that number would have been greater if not for several outside-the-cage issues, including arrests and a pair of drug-test failures, that resulted in suspensions.
Jones tweeted that something was coming soon, but that was Sept. 9, and we're still waiting.
ESPN's MMA insiders discuss the possibilities.
Brett Okamoto: When I found out the UFC was booking Blachowicz -- the clear front-runner for a light heavyweight title shot -- against Souza, the very first thought that popped into my head was Jones vs. Cormier III.
For the record, I don't know if this fight is going to happen. Cormier has not indicated whether he will fight again at all following his loss to Stipe Miocic on Aug. 17. Jones has teased an announcement about his next fight, but he has offered no additional details -- nor has the UFC.
But allow me to take you into my head for a second: How could anyone think anything but Jones vs. DC III following Jones' tweet? What is the biggest fight for Jones? It's DC. Always has been. And what's the biggest fight for DC? Duh. Jones. If Cormier is contemplating retirement but decides he has one left in him, who does he want? Miocic? Or his longtime rival, and arguably the greatest fighter of all time? Not to mention, the guy against whom he'd make a lot more money. And if you're the UFC, what do you want? You want Jones-DC III!!! This isn't rocket science, guys. Follow the money.
Buckle your seatbelt my friends, Big fiight announcement coming soon https://t.co/6cDNQ6XChL— Jon Bones Jones (@JonnyBones) September 9, 2019
Now, could it be Cormier is not in the picture, and Jones is finally ready to move to heavyweight? Possibly. But why now? This move has been expected for years, and I do believe it will happen. But why is this the right time? The UFC has an obvious No. 1 heavyweight contender in Francis Ngannou, and Jones, although it's not what you'd call a blockbuster lineup, does have reputable challengers at 205.
Right now, I don't know who Jones' next opponent will be. But what I do know is Cormier has always been obsessed with the idea of beating him. And that fight makes everyone involved a lot of money. And that's why the word "trilogy," was the first thing I thought of when Blachowicz was booked.
Marc Raimondi: There are no obvious answers here, which makes the next step for perhaps the best fighter in the history of the sport extremely intriguing. Blachowicz is the only person in ESPN's light heavyweight top five whom Jones hasn't beaten, but he's booked.
That could mean the UFC has bigger plans for Jones. Could it be the trilogy against Cormier? That seems less likely now after Cormier was knocked out by Miocic. I still think a superfight between Jones and Lesnar could manifest itself, but probably not next. No one is sure what Lesnar's status is in the USADA drug-testing pool and he is very much needed these days in WWE with Smackdown moving over to big Fox.
Blachowicz could be the guy if he beats Souza, and two other light heavyweight fights coming up -- Chris Weidman vs. Dominick Reyes and Corey Anderson vs. Johnny Walker -- could have title implications. But how about Miocic? If Cormier hangs up the gloves, Jones could slide into that heavyweight title contender spot. Other than the slim possibilities of Cormier and Lesnar, there's no one out there who Jones can make as much money against than Miocic at heavyweight.
If Cormier is out of the picture (we don't know yet if he'll retire), the heavyweight division is wide open for a contender. Miocic has already beaten Ngannou, though he would seemingly be next in line. Jones could jump that line, though, for a champion vs. champion megabout, provided the UFC shells out enough cash to get him to move up.
Jeff Wagenheim: I'm going to address this question by posing one of my own to the UFC: Why bother to have rankings? Sure, an official Top 10 is a handy promotional tool allowing you to hype a fight as "Champion vs. No. 1 contender" or "a battle between No. 1 and No. 2." But what's the point, if you're going to book your top contenders against random opponents -- not even other highly ranked guys -- while the champ sits and waits for a dance partner?
A promotion does that, I believe, when it wants to free a champion for something bigger (big money) and better (even more money) that has nothing to do with the hierarchy of his weight division. In the case of Jones, with Blachowicz, Anderson and Reyes otherwise occupied, that leaves only one available top-10 light heavyweight whom Jones has not already defeated. And Volkan Oezdemir, loser of three out of his past four, isn't getting a title fight.
So perhaps we can boil down "bigger and better" to just bigger -- as in, a Jones heavyweight fight. I'd be all-in on seeing "Bones" move up for a meeting with 240-pound Cormier (but count me as not interested in seeing him complete the trilogy with a 205-pound DC). I'd also be OK with Jones stepping ahead of Ngannou for a superfight with big-boy champ Miocic. I wouldn't even roll my eyes too much if Jon ended up under the Big Top with Lesnar, because at least his championship belt wouldn't be part of the circus act.