It has been a week of goal-setting for Jon Jones. Within a matter of days, the UFC light-heavyweight champion began his training camp for what he hopes to be a record-setting title defense against Alexander Gustafsson in September, and then he resolved to eventually win an ESPY best fighter award after losing out to Floyd Mayweather. It's also been a week of milestones, as on Friday, he turned 26 years old.
Jones' age hardly comes up anymore. It's been a while since we've considered him the wide-eyed whiz kid, so you may find it hard to believe that he's still the youngest light-heavyweight on the UFC roster. That is almost a footnote now; it should be, given the resume that he is crafting. But his age is still relevant, if only because noticing it forces us to stand back and really take in what he has done, and how dominant he has been at such a young age.
It's been less than two weeks since Anderson Silva saw his lengthy reign ended, and since then, consensus about his career remains the same; he's largely considered the greatest the sport has seen. And all the focus on what happened on July 6 remains on Silva and Chris Weidman. But there is a third, albeit indirect player who is impacted by the loss, and that's Jones.
Silva's loss gives Jones new, tangible targets to chase. He's always spoken about breaking Tito Ortiz's record of five light-heavyweight title defenses, a mark that is in his sights with a September win over Gustafsson. But that record was always static, reachable.
Silva's were not, only because he kept winning with no sign of letup. As long as that continued, as long as Silva defied age and time, Jones was only chasing a shadow he could never truly grasp. The new post-Weidman landscape changes everything for him. A victory over Gustafsson breaks Ortiz's record, but also puts Jones in shooting range of Silva's overall record of 10 defenses. A win on Sept. 21 would also mark his 10th straight UFC victory, which moves him to within range of Silva's record of 16.
If he keeps on winning while fighting twice a year, Jones could ostensibly break those records well before his 30th birthday. That's how close to within reach Silva's previously unreachable legacy is for Jones.
Not that it's that simple; reputations are not built on numbers alone. That said, anyone with a halfway objective eye must admit that what he's done by the time of his 26th birthday is remarkable. He's 18-1 with his only loss coming via disqualification in a bout he was clearly dominating. In his 13 UFC fights, he's fought 32 rounds. He's won 29, lost two and the third ended with the aforementioned DQ.
In his fights, he's out-struck his competition by the staggering number of 739-310, outwrestled his opponents in takedowns 26-0, and beaten four former UFC champions.
By comparison, by the time Silva turned 26 years old, he'd fought just six times as a pro, and was 5-1. As career starts go, it is no contest. Silva's edge is in his longevity, which is something within Jones' grasp. If he is lucky enough to remain healthy and hungry enough to ward off apathy, that title of G.O.A.T. is there for the taking.
There is an argument often made about Jones' size and reach, as though that is some unfair advantage for him. It is nonsense. Everyone is born with their own physical traits and must navigate their way around problems while capitalizing on strengths. George Roop is a monster whether fighting at 135 or 145, and he has never lit his divisions on fire. Stefan Struve has had his own issues despite significant height and reach advantages. Jones simply has melded his talents to his frame perfectly and precisely.
Anyway, a win over Gustafsson, who at 6-foot-5, is actually an inch taller than Jones, may serve to at least quiet that criticism.
Still, if his reign of terror marches on, there will be continued calls for him to move up a weight class to fight with the sport's big men. Don't count me among those who see such a change as a necessity. If Jones wants to do it, fine. But to be blunt, the light-heavyweight division has always drawn a deeper crop of talent than the heavyweights. So if Jones gets past Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, what exactly will we be pining for? I'd certainly watch with interest if he makes the move, but I just don't see it as a long-term need, more of a short-term statement. On the other hand, if he goes up there and wins the belt, well, that adds something to his legacy that not even Silva can claim as a two-division champion.
Silva is not done writing his history. Defeating Weidman in the rematch would add a fascinating chapter to his story, but while the belt can be recaptured, the streak cannot. That leaves Jones as the most likely challenger to match or exceed all that he has done. Up until now, the world has been easily conquerable for him. At just 26, it's difficult to imagine that will change, leaving the previously unreachable well within his lengthy grasp.