ATLANTA – Alexander the Great wept when he had no more worlds to conquer. Jon Jones might just have to put on a few pounds.
At UFC 145 on Saturday night, Jones scored the biggest win of his career by taking down Rashad Evans in a unanimous decision. Jones now stands astride the light heavyweight division like a colossus, with nobody at his weight class able to match his speed or UFC-record reach. So what's next?
A move to heavyweight is the easy answer, but is it the right one? That's the question Jones and his team will soon need to answer, and it's a question that's not as easy to answer as it might initially appear.
Certainly, the move to the heavyweight division would carry cachet and unlimited potential. Back in the days when boxing owned the fight game, "Heavyweight Champion of the World" was the most prized honor in sports. And if Jones is serious about ascending to Ali/Tyson heights in the public eye, conquering the most prolific division in the UFC is one surefire way to do exactly that.
Jones already has the heavyweight division in his sights. Earlier this year, he told the "MMA Hour" podcast that he hoped to be competing at the heavyweight level as soon as this year.
"I actually asked Dana [White, UFC president] and Lorenzo [Fertitta, UFC co-owner], could I take a fight for the fans at the end of 2012," Jones said. "I figured beating [Dan] Henderson and Rashad [Evans], 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."
No dice, said the UFC brass. "I wouldn't be too itchy to move up to heavyweight," White said in the small hours of Sunday morning after UFC 145. "It's not like, 'Oh, he's a big guy, he should move up to heavyweight. It's not going to be that fun at heavyweight."
Moving up to the heavyweight division isn't just a matter of bulking up. There are questions both logistical and competitive to consider. For starters, the size of Jones' legs is an issue. While he's able to clinch and stand up against someone of his own weight, he'd have a lot more trouble holding back a locomotive heavyweight. He'll need to put on more muscle to avoid getting bulldozed; there's only so much speed can do against brute force. And even if you can stand your ground, the punches hit a lot harder when they're coming from a 265-pound fighter than a 205-pounder."Jon Jones is a physical specimen at 205 pounds, and not only is he a big guy, he's super athletic," White said. "He was throwing elbows like hands tonight. You move up to heavyweight? You've got [champion] Junior Dos Santos up there. That guy's got bombs in his hands. You've got some big, serious dudes up there."
[ Related: Jon Jones uses length, elbows to pummel Rashad Evans ]
And if an attraction as big as Jones moves to the heavyweight division, he won't be facing scrubs. Jones will headline every fight in which he appears for the foreseeable future, and setting him up against a chump won't bring the kind of pay-per-view and gate numbers he now commands. No, if Jones is to jump into the heavyweight pool, he'll have to jump in the deep end … with weights on his ankles … and some of the best in the sport trying to take his head off every time he surfaces.
Plus, as assured as he appears now, Jones is still relatively young, and at times during Saturday night's fight evinced the kind of nervous energy that would get him knocked out in the heavyweight division.
"I felt gangly and uncoordinated at some points," Jones said. "That came from slight insecurity in my attacks."
Evans also noted that Jones looked "loose" in the early going, but acknowledged he couldn't take advantage of Jones' trepidation.
For now, Jones is so far ahead of his weight class that he's got a reasonable margin for error. Against the level of heavyweights he'd face, he couldn't afford a single moment's lapse.
In the long run, though, this is a moot issue. Jones is so large that he'll naturally gravitate toward heavyweight status. In the meantime, though, why rush it?
"He's 24 years old, and as he gets older, it's going to be harder to cut that weight" from his walking-around weight of about 225 pounds, White said. "If I was him, and I'm not his coach or adviser or anything else, I'd wait 'til that naturally happens. He needs to get a lot of experience at that 205 division before he moves up."
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