After back-to-back fights against blown-up middleweights, Jon Jones would like to quiet the accusations of his size winning fights by competing against someone of similar stature in the near future. Or even possibly, someone bigger than he is. He would do that by moving up to heavyweight, where no one can accuse him of out-sizing his opponents. There, he will be about average, or even a bit below.
Such a move is likely at least one fight away -- Jones said he would first like to fight the 6-foot-5 Swede Alexander Gustafsson -- but that won't stop anyone from speculating about how he would fare among the giants.
In just five years time, he's gone from complete MMA newcomer to tying the UFC light-heavyweight division's record for consecutive title defenses. A successful move to heavyweight culminating in a championship would only serve to strengthen Jones' case as one of the sport's best all-time fighters.
For trainer Greg Jackson, who stewards Jones' fight skills, it would be a new kind of challenge, one that he would welcome.
"Yeah, I’m OK with whatever they want to do. If he wants to do that, then I’ll help him out," he said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I've always said that it’s up to fighters and the management. Then it’s my job to figure out how we’re going to do that. If that's the parameters they want to give, that's what I do. And I actually enjoy that. Anything different is good.
"I've said before, I like to watch scary movies like with monsters, not because I like to get scared at all, but because I like to figure out what are the parameters," he continued. "If you're fighting a ghost, can the ghost hurt you? Can you hurt the ghost? I really enjoy that, like figuring out what the rules are of the game and then how to win when we have these rules. If they give me parameters or opponents or whatever, that’s the fun part for me. The picking and the choosing of them? Not nearly as fun, and not really my job. I just like to break down the puzzles in front of me."
For Jackson, the opponent is the thing. Once a foe is set, he can dig in, explore their histories, and determine how his fighter's skills match up. To find the areas where there is an advantage, and shore up the places where problems can be exposed.
So far Jones hasn't shown much in the way of shortcomings. If the UFC pairs him off with Machida, it will mark the first rematch in his career. And even though it is believed that a losing fighter has more to learn in defeat than a winning fighter does in victory, Jackson isn't overly concerned with whether Jones draws him or a fresh opponent in Gustafsson next.
"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "It’s whatever the UFC says. As long as we have enough time to prepare, we're going to have to fight them all anyway. We're going to have to fight Machida again, we're going to have to fight Gustafsson, whoever else they put in front of us. It’s just a matter of who’s next. But I never want to be like, 'Avoid this guy' or 'fight this guy.' When you’re the champion, you really have to take on. That's part of what being champion is; whoever they say you have to fight, you have to fight. People might not think that makes sense because we said we don't want to take a new fight on short notice. That's a whole different animal. It's not that we were avoiding the opponent, we were avoiding the situation. We wanted to make sure we were well-prepared. This is a world title in a sport that I think is the best in the world by far, and I want to take that seriously."
The timeline of Jones' next bout will be complicated from his recovery from an open fracture of his left big toe. As of right now, there is no projected return date from him, and Jackson said he has yet to speak with Jones about it.
That's partially because of Jackson's busy schedule. On Saturday night, aside from Jones, he had two other fighters on the UFC 159 card. By Sunday morning, he was flying back to Albuquerque, New Mexico to assist some of his other athletes preparing for upcoming fights.
Jackson also has a role in the upcoming "Fight Master: Bellator MMA" reality series, in which he is a coach. Given his past issues with UFC president Dana White, who once publicly called him a "sport killer," his inclusion on that program, which airs on former UFC cable home Spike, could be fuel for more fire. But Jackson said the two are on good terms, and have a mutual understanding regarding their personal business lives.
"We’ve talked and things are cool, and we both understand each other," he said. "I actually have always said I like Dana. I think he’s an amazing guy. Even when he loses his temper and and has these severe reactions in these situations, I've always said that passion is the same passion that got us where we are. I don't take it personally. It’s just part of the game. I like the guy. I respect him."