After steamrolling through outmatched challenger Vitor Belfort for the fourth defense of his belt at UFC 152 last night (Sept. 22, 2012), Jon Jones has established an obvious distance between him and the rest of the Light Heavyweight division.
And at this point, it looks like further title defenses against the existing likely foes will be little more than repetitions of previous defenses.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the much-dreaded "unbeatable" word is something that should be used with extreme caution, but on a technical level, there is nobody -- not at 205 pounds or even a hulked up 185'er -- who has shown the slightest inkling of how to solve the "Bones" puzzle.
Jones still hasn't come remotely close to being taken down in 12 Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bouts -- you can count on one hand the amount of legit takedown attempts opponents have even been able to try -- and his ability to dictate range and when to engage are unparalleled.
Fellow UFC champions Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre are imposing, dominant champions in their own right, but they have flashes of vulnerability from time to time. Jones' battle to extricate himself from Belfort's first-round armbar attempt in the main event at the Air Canada Center in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, represents the first glimpse we've had of him dealing with adversity.
And the fact that he didn't tap, instead letting the arm take the brunt of considerable torque with damage, to boot, suggests that he's every bit as tough as he is skilled.That adds up to a competitive mismatch in virtually any challenger he might have over the next year.
With Dan Henderson likely next, Jones probably faces his toughest match up in some ways. Hendo's big-time punching power, chin and great heart make him a viable opponent as long as the fight goes. But Henderson's age (41) and at-times spotty stamina make him a longshot. Jones' great kicks, size and ability to fatigue opponents by picking them apart and mentally wearing them down is something Henderson would have a lot of problems with.
Hendo also isn't a great kicker/mover type, and even the elusive Lyoto Machida had one good round before Jones stepped up the pressure and dispatched him with a disdainful choke.
If Machida slips in before Henderson, it's hard to see their rematch going any other way. Jones is so confident in his stand up that he tried several spinning back kicks in the first round of the Machida bout -- hardly the stuff of a man worried about what's coming back. Machida isn't likely to have anything new for Jones, especially when Bones can simply take the fight down and smash him at will.
The aging Mauricio Rua was his always-thrilling self in battling and banging his way to a fourth-round victory over Brandon Vera, but Shogun's a shopworn fighter, whose great chin and resilience are ever-more on display in bouts because he simply doesn't have the work rate he had in his prime. He gets hit (a lot) and the terrible beating he got from Jones was from a guy that wasn't as good as the Jones he'd face again. That fight would be little different than Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock II: a prime champion feasting on an aged rival that had little chance at his best, much less faded and worn down from a long career.
Rashad Evans did nothing in five rounds against Jones, despite miles of trash talk to the contrary, and a rematch between them is even less promotable than Jones' other potential title-bout rematches. Alexander Gustaffson is an inspiring story and brings some international flavor, but skill-wise, he's got nothing for Jones. Jumping around, shaking your ass and landing a one-two with a quick kick and scooting out of the way of Thiago Silva and the like is a good way to get decision wins ... it's not even a workout for Jones at this point.
Unless some serious promotional pressure is put on Anderson Silva to test Jones, in a year or so, after a string of one-sided title defenses, there will have to be a real conversation about Jones moving to Heavyweight, at least to test the waters. The scary thing is that he's still improving and unlocking new tactics and tools.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst.