LAS VEGAS — To use UFC president Dana White’s phrase, Jon Jones has probably cleaned out the light heavyweight division two or three times over.
There is no logical contender that would get the masses salivating and bring in the non-MMA media to chronicle the events. Thiago Santos is almost certainly next after Jones routed Anthony Smith on Saturday and took a one-sided unanimous decision to retain his belt in the main event of UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena.
But Brock Lesnar would be the guy who, pitted against Jones, would make the sports world stop and take notice.
Lesnar, though, will first compete in “WrestleMania” next month against Seth Rollins. And when he’s ready to fight, White said he’ll probably face heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, not Jones.
Jones hasn’t shown much interest in fighting any heavyweight except for Lesnar.
“Go big or go home,” Jones said following his domination of Smith. “And a Brock Lesnar fight — extremely high risk, and extremely high reward. I don’t really see myself versus anyone that could bring in the numbers me and Brock could bring in.”
Jones vs. Lesnar would probably sell two million pay-per-views, and there aren’t many fights in any combat sport that could be made now that would remotely approach that kind of number.
White, though, isn’t interested at this point.
“Cormier wants that fight and if he wants it, he’s going to get it,” White said.
So that creates a kind of Jones problem for him: Who does he match his legendary champion against who could provide a competitive fight and generate interest among the fan base?
Santos is an entertaining fighter and has been amazing since moving to light heavyweight, but it seems unlikely he’d be able to do much against Jones.
Smith hung with Jones as well as anyone has in a long time. He never really threatened Jones much and was perplexed at the post-fight news conference about why he couldn’t get going.
“I don’t feel like he ran through me and it’s not like he beat the s--t out of me,” Smith said. “I just couldn’t get going.”
Jones has that kind of impact on opponents. Cormier surrendered the light heavyweight belt in December, but is still ranked No. 1 in the division. Alexander Gustafsson, whom Jones blew out at UFC 232, is second and Smith is ranked third. Santos is fourth, followed by Volkan Oezdemir, Jan Blachowicz and Corey Anderson.
Other than a third fight with Cormier, none of those men generates a lot of heat, particularly outside the MMA circle.
As he usually is, White was enthused about a potential Jones-Santos fight, but does that motivate Jones? That remains to be seen. For all of his outside-the-cage issues, Jones has never failed to come into a fight in anything less than tip-top shape, prepared and ready to go.
He hasn’t looked past anyone yet, though the opportunity was there on Saturday against Smith. Jones was more than a 10-1 favorite when the fight opened, though bettors went heavily on the underdog Saturday.
Jones won just about every second of the fight, and yet there were some who weren’t thrilled with the way he looked.
“This MMA thing is really hard,” Jones said. “Some days, you look amazing and some days you don’t perform to the level you hold yourself up to.”
Jones nearly lost the title in the fourth when he hit Smith with an illegal knee. The palm of Smith’s hand was on the mat and Jones caught him with a knee to the face. He said he thought Smith was getting up and threw the knee hoping to time it as soon as Smith arose.
“Totally unintentional,” said Jones, who apologized profusely.
Smith would have won by disqualification if referee Herb Dean decided he couldn’t continue. Smith, though, said he was fine and fought on, avoiding what White called “the weasel way” of winning the fight.
Smith heard for months that he wouldn’t be able to deal with Jones, and in the end, he wasn’t able to. But he left the arena believing Jones isn’t invincible.
“That’s a beatable man,” Smith said.
Perhaps, but it seems that most of the men who might be able to beat Jones aren’t in the running to fight him anytime soon.
Barring an upset of epic proportions, here’s who could have a chance of knocking Jones off:
Now, that’s not to say any or all of those could beat him. Cormier has lost to him twice in light heavyweight title fights, but like Jones, Cormier is one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport and an amazing competitor.
He could potentially do it, but neither of their first two fights inspires much confidence.
Lesnar’s biggest attribute against Jones would be his overwhelming size and his wrestling, but Jones’ quickness and variety of strikes would cause Lesnar mega-issues.
Miocic is a complete fighter and would be more competitive with Jones than Smith and Gustafsson were in the last two fights, but would you bet your house on him getting it done?
Ngannou is only one fight removed from terrible back-to-back performances and Velasquez isn’t able to stay healthy.
Who knows how long it will take Johnny Walker to be ready for Jones? Walker knocked out Misha Cirkunov with a flying knee at 36 seconds of the first round Saturday, a month after winning a fight in 15 seconds in Brazil. White said Walker “isn’t going to fight anyone serious” for a while.
So there isn’t anyone who will get the blood boiling and grab the attention of the wider sports world.
Once again, we’re left with this sobering reality:
The only man who can beat Jon Jones is, yep, Jon Jones.
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