As the final moments ticked down on Cain Velasquez's reascendance to the heavyweight throne, I found myself thinking about not him or his opponent Junior dos Santos, but instead, about Jon Jones. UFC 155, after all, was the last major event of the year and served to propel the calendar to 2013, a time when Jones said he would consider a move to heavyweight. It's a shift that some observers have been anticipating and others demanding for some time.
The thinking goes that Jones has been so dominant at light-heavyweight that the only real tests for him lie in the division above the one where he currently resides. Physically, he's not too far off from the land of the giants. He's 6-foot-4 and between fights, usually tips the scales between 225 and 230 pounds. That means he's naturally taller than current champion Velasquez, though about 10 pounds lighter.
There was a time recently when we wondered whether the sport was about to usher in the age of super-heavyweights. At that moment, Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin and Frank Mir were the weight class' power trio, and all cutting down to make the 265-pound limit. But in short order, the division's dynamic has rapidly shifted to speed ahead of power and conditioning over bulk. And that means that the situation is better suited for Jones and his two-division dreams.
The fact that things changed so quickly should be of no surprise. Historically, the UFC's heavyweight division has been its most unstable. Champions have fallen at a rate that rivals the change of leaders during the recent Arab Spring. Just look at its list of titleholders. In the 15+ years that the championship has existed, there have been 20 title reigns, including interim belt. Eleven times, the champion wasn't able to successfully defend the belt even once. Only four men have defended the belt more than once, and the record for successful consecutive title defenses stands at a paltry two. The baddest man on the planet doesn't stay the baddest for very long.
Whether it's parity or the absence of a single standout stud at the top, the heavyweight division has never seen any kind of iron-fisted reign.
After Velasquez decimated dos Santos for five rounds, many observers are wondering if he's the one to do it, ready to offer him a pass on his Nov. 2011 loss. At the time, he was hiding the fact that he had torn an ACL. After years of dominant wins, the 64-second loss looked something like a fluke, a characterization that gains some after-the-fact bolstering based upon what he did on Saturday night.
In Las Vegas, one year later and at optimal health, Velasquez looked like he'd looked every other time we'd seen him. He wasn't just good; he was a world-beater, in a performance so lopsided that it made us wonder if we could ever really believe dos Santos had a chance against him in a fair fight. In that way, some view it as a continuation of where he was when he first took the title from Brock Lesnar.
And then, the next logical step is wondering who exactly would be the best candidate to unseat Velasquez? Alistair Overeem will almost certainly get the opportunity to fight him next as long as he beats Antonio Silva in February. But beyond that, it's a slim field. dos Santos will no doubt need a win or two to find his way back to a title match, and Daniel Cormier seems on his way down to 205, refusing to fight his friend and training partner.
That leaves Jones as an eventual focus of speculation. It's a spot he eased himself into after his comments in October, when he said he figured the right timing for a move to heavyweight could come "maybe at the end of 2013."
Just two weeks ago, he got even more specific, saying he would "love" to fight Velasquez in the future, seeing the fight as a competitive challenge. Who knows if this will happen, of course. Jones may decide the light-heavyweight class has enough serious challengers to stay, he could lose before he ever gets to move up, or he could simply determine that heavyweight does not best suit his body type.
But if he does come? He'd be facing the same long odds of history currently staring down Velasquez. Jones has been mostly untouchable at 205, but at heavyweight, no one stays on top for long. These are the biggest men with the biggest punches, and as Velasquez learned a year ago, a single one can change everything.
There is little doubt that if Jones moves to the division, he would be moved right into a championship match, where he'd be attempting to join Randy Couture and B.J. Penn as the only two-division champions in UFC history. That alone would buck some long odds. But the more long-range mission would be something that has so far proved impossible: bringing stability to a land where gold is a commodity so precious, no one can hold on to it very long before it's stolen away.