COMMENTARY | At UFC 165, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones defeated challenger Alexander Gustafsson to retain his title. With the win, Jones moved to 19-1 for his career, with the lone loss coming via disqualification in a fight against Matt Hamill that he was dominating prior to the DQ. In his run to the top of the division, Jones has amassed one of the most impressive resumes in MMA history. It is to the point now where, with the exception of Glover Teixeira, Jones has beaten virtually every contender in the division.
As a result, one essentially needs to dream up a perfect challenger to not only take Jones to the limit (as Gustafsson) but take him past it. Here are my five best dream fights for Jones.
5. Junior dos Santos
The former UFC Heavyweight Champion, dos Santos is one of the most feared strikers in MMA. His boxing attack has led him to a 10-1 record in the UFC. Most of those who had the guts to strike with dos Santos have been finished by strikes due to his world-class boxing and evolving kickboxing.
It would be interesting to see whether Jones tried to strike with dos Santos. Trying to get inside against the heavyweight would be a risky proposition out of the chance that one of dos Santos' haymakers would connect before Jones had the chance to impose his will either in the clinch or with takedowns. If Jones was able to get inside and put pressure on dos Santos, there is a chance he would be able to implement a similar gameplan to what Cain Velasquez used to defeat dos Santos in their second fight. Assuming he could successfully do that before getting flattened, there is a good chance Jones would come out victorious.
4. UFC 101 Anderson Silva
Had Anderson Silva defeated Chris Weidman at UFC 162 this past July, it was widely speculated that he would move up to light heavyweight to take on Jones in a superfight. That did not materialize, however, as Silva's game playing finally came back to haunt him. As a result, the matchup against Jones remains only a dream. Even though the fight would still be huge if it happened in 2014, it would not have the same allure as a fight pitting Jones against the Silva that fought Forrest Griffin at UFC 101 in August 2009.
That Silva returned to light heavyweight after being panned for lackluster performances against Patrick Cote and Thales Leites. Silva silenced all of his critics that night by humiliating Griffin with one of the best striking performances in the history of MMA, completely avoiding Griffin's advances en route to a first round knockout. That Silva may have been too much for any other light heavyweight in history and would provide a great matchup for Jones, who would have to decide between staying safely on the outside or rushing in on Silva and being left to look up at the lights like Griffin.
3. Cain Velasquez
The current UFC Heavyweight Champion, Velasquez brings to the table elite wrestling and an endless gas tank. These traits would negate Jones' normal advantage over his opponents in both departments. Velasquez' strengths might also be enough neutralize Jones' clinch attacks out of concern for a takedown or being overpowered when in close.
Jones would likely find the most success against Velasquez by keeping a safe distance between them and using his wide array of kicks and creative strikes. The key would be whether Cain could get past these strikes to impose his will on Jones, especially in close. Much as with Velasquez' fights against Junior dos Santos, it would likely come down to whether Jones could connect with a knockout blow before Velasquez implemented his non-stop pressure attack.2. Pride FC Fedor Emelianenko
After making his Pride FC debut in 2002, Emelianenko went undefeated for over eight years, defeating a who's who of heavyweight royalty. Fedor was known for taking an unbelievable amount of punishment while mixing in elite striking, sambo and submissions. It is easy to see where his skill set would be a challenge for Jones.
For starters, Fedor's sambo could counter Jones' clinch work and prevent Jones from roughing him up on the inside. At the same time, if Fedor landed one of his cement-block like fists on Jones jaw, it could end the fight in a hurry. Jones would have the advantage in athleticism and would have to use his elite speed to avoid Fedor's attack and likely earn a decision win. If Jones stuck to such a gameplan, he could probably earn the win on the scorecards, but there would be extreme risk that his lights would be turned out before he had the chance to do so.
1. 2005 Chuck Liddell
Jones' biggest struggles against Gustafsson were created by the challenger's effective counter-striking. Considering that, who better to face Jones than the greatest light heavyweight counter-striker in UFC history? Add to that Liddell's legendary knockout power, and Jones' chin would be given the ultimate test in Liddell's counter overhand right.
In the mid 2000s, Liddell made "sprawl and brawl" famous, in that he used his defensive wrestling to force opponents to strike with him. The style, with Liddell's hall of fame quality takedown defense and chin made of iron, led to Chuck scoring seven-consecutive knockout or TKO wins between 2004 and 2006. This would serve as the ultimate foil for Jones' wrestling and striking ability and it wouldn't be shocking tif Liddell was able to connect and finish the fight. At the same time, Jones would likely try to utilize a high-speed clinch game like Liddell was never forced to deal with. It would be a great "toss up" fight that could easily go either way.
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Del Pearson is a big MMA fan who has been to many live UFC events. His all-time favorite fighter is Randy Couture. Follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson44.
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