The Jon Jones Era, as you've surely heard, has begun: Jones is the new UFC light heavyweight champion, and everyone who follows MMA agrees that he's going to be the champion for a long, long time.
However, the light heavyweight division is so talented that it's been nearly impossible for anyone to hold the belt for long: Chuck Liddell lost it to Rampage Jackson, who lost it to Forrest Griffin, who lost it to Rashad Evans, who lost it to Lyoto Machida, who lost it to Shogun Rua, who lost it to Jones. We've had seven different champions in the last four years, so why is everyone so sure that Jones is going to hold onto the belt for so long?
The biggest reason, I think, is Jones' age. With the exception of Evans losing to Machida, every champion I mentioned above lost the belt to someone younger than him. But there aren't any contenders on the horizon younger than the 23-year-old Jones. Not only is Jones already the best, but he's going to keep getting better as the rest of the Top 10 light heavyweights in mixed martial arts get older.
So as I list the Top 10 light heavyweights below, I'll talk about how I'd like their chances against Jones -- even though I expect Jones to reign over all of them for a long time. (Editor's note: The individual fighter's ranking the last time we did light heavyweights are in parentheses).
1. Jon Jones
(2): That was nothing short of a masterful performance that Jones put on against Shogun. Jones deserves all the accolades coming his way, and he deserves to be considered the best light heavyweight in the sport by a huge margin. The toughest challenges to Jones would probably come from outside his weight class, either if Anderson Silva moved up to challenge Jones or if Jones moved up to compete at heavyweight. As he currently stands among the light heavyweights, there's no one close to Jones.
2. Shogun Rua
(1): After that savage beating at UFC 128, would anyone give Shogun much of a prayer in a rematch against Jones? Rua has had a great career already, and at age 29 he still has more good fights left in him, but it's hard to see how he ever beats Jones.
3. Lyoto Machida
(3): Machida's style of striking would make for an interesting contrast with Jones, but it would be an uphill battle for Machida's in-and-out movement to work against someone with the huge reach advantage that Jones has. If Machida beats Randy Couture at UFC 129 he'll be in the light heavyweight title mix, but he probably needs two more wins before he'd get a shot at the champ.
4. Rashad Evans
(4): The man who gets the first crack at Jones will know his opponent well: Before Evans split with Greg Jackson, he trained with Jones regularly. That might help him to some extent, as he won't be shocked the way Shogun was by Jones' size and unconventional approach. But Evans will have a very hard time getting inside on Jones, and although Evans is one of the top wrestlers at 205 pounds, I have a hard time seeing him having much success taking Jones down. It's easy to see why Evans looked so disappointed following Jones' UFC 128 victory: He knows he has an incredibly difficult task ahead of him.
5. Rampage Jackson
(5): As a pure puncher, Rampage might hit as hard as Jones, and if he connected with one of those punches he could be the first person to put Jones in any trouble standing. Jones has a far more diverse striking game, however, and would likely put a serious hurting on Rampage.
6. Thiago Silva
(6): The thought of a fight between Silva and Jones is a lot of fun, as Silva is a vicious puncher who would take the fight right to Jones standing up. But Silva lost by knockout to the best striker he ever faced (Machida) and lost by decision to the best wrestler he ever faced (Evans). It's hard to see why he'd be any more successful against a great striker/wrestler combination like Jones.
7. Dan Henderson
(8): If Zuffa eventually decides to unify the UFC and Strikeforce belts, that would result in a Jones-Henderson bout, which would probably go about as well for Henderson as his Pride unification bouts with Anderson Silva and Rampage Jackson. Which is to say, Henderson is a tough old dude who fights everyone competitively, but he wouldn't walk out of the cage a champion after facing the best in the UFC.
8. Forrest Griffin
(7): Griffin has surprised us all on more than one occasion, pulling off wins over Shogun and Rampage as a heavy underdog in both fights. But he'd be a much, much bigger underdog against Jones than he was in either of those fights, and it's awfully tough to see what his path to victory would be against Jones.
9. Ryan Bader
(9): When Bader won The Ultimate Fighter in 2008, there was a lot of talk that he was the best young light heavyweight in the sport. He's now been completely surpassed by Jones, however, and it seems unlikely that he'll ever get a rematch with the man who beat him in February. Up next for Bader is a fight with Tito Ortiz in July, which Bader should win.
10. Phil Davis
(NR): Davis's name is the one I've heard most often in discussions about the best man to beat Jones some day. But while people talk about Davis like he's a young up-and-comer, he's actually three years older than Jones. I expect Davis to keep getting better and perhaps contend for the light heavyweight belt in the future. But I expect Jones to keep getting better, too.