Heading into 2013 UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was hearing questions about moving up to heavyweight. It was just as inevitable as it was comical. At that time, you might remember, Jones had defeated every worthy 205-pounder on the planet; not only had he defeated the best in the division, he made them all look old. He beat them so convincingly, and went through them in such haste, that it didn’t even feel as though there were any radar prospects coming up the rungs to meet him.
It was so bad that he was locked into a novelty fight with Chael Sonnen after coaching opposite him during TUF 17. It was Jones and everybody else. Sonnen was booked to bide some time to unearth new challengers. It really was a matter of time until Jones bolted the division for bigger trials.
Then Alexander Gustafsson, a perfunctory challenger who had done just enough, came along and essentially pulled the two sides of the Grand Canyon together. Gustafsson gave Jones everything he could handle in Toronto at UFC 165. Not only did he keep the fight standing, he became the first to take Jones down. He cut Jones up, and Jones had to dig deep. Both went to the hospital afterwards. Jones ultimately got his arm raised, but many thought Gustafsson won. Suddenly Jones wasn't so far ahead of the curve. He had a rival.
In the meantime, Glover Teixeira was coming of age. And Daniel Cormier, the heavyweight contender, is whittling down his frame so that he, too, can challenge Jones at light heavyweight.
So as we roll along in 2014, what does Jones himself have to say about moving up to heavyweight? Is it still as certain as it felt a year ago that he will? The champion hosted a Q&A as part of the UFC 169 festivities in Newark, N.J., and among the topics he touched on, heavyweight was one of them.
"Yeah for sure [I’d like to fight Cain Velasquez], but right now I’m preparing to go into probably the toughest schedule I’ve had," he told an audience at the Prudential Center. "Any of the next three guys, they’re monsters. That’s what I’m preparing for is getting through Glover, Gus again -- and a I know a lot people wouldn’t agree that I got through him the first time -- and DC. So that’s my schedule for now."
What a year a different makes. Jones will begin his lofty three-part series against Teixeira at UFC 172 on April 26 in Baltimore. Gustafsson fights Jimi Manuwa on March 8 in London, and Cormier makes his light heavyweight debut on Feb. 22 at UFC 170 against Rashad Evans.
A lot has to happen for those challenges to come to fruition, but Jones’ plans are clear – he hasn’t yet cleaned out the 205-pound division. Gustafsson was a big reason for that, and the rematch looms at some point in 2014.
And Jones, when reflecting on 2013 as a whole, said he grew some after having experienced that fight with the Swede.
"It was a great year, it was just a great year," Jones said. "I learned a lot about myself that last fight I had with Gustafsson. It taught me a lot about myself as an athlete and as a man. It was just a great, great year. They say it’s the heart that makes you great. And that was a really tough year, and I’m still here."
When asked if he thought Fedor Emelianenko was the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, Jones said for his money that distinction goes to Anderson Silva. This drew an ovation from the crowd. For most of 2012 Jones was being hounded about doing a superfight with Silva at some point in the future.
Of course, with Silva having ceded his belt to Chris Weidman, the Tri-state area begins to see a new "superfight" materializing -- this time of Jones against Weidman, the Long Island champion against the Upstate champion.
So what does Jones think of the possibility of fighting Weidman? More specifically – what does he think of a hypothetical fight between him and Weidman at Madison Square Garden at UFC 200?
"Dude, I think it would be phenomenal, I think it would be awesome," Jones said. "You know I’ve got no reason to make comments about Weidman. Everything you say up here it gets brought back to the fighters, so I don’t want to offend him. I think he’s a great guy. But I’m very confident. I’m a very confident young man, and I’ll just leave it at that."
Not confident enough, though, to box one of the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali. When asked if he still have hopes of boxing one of them, as he mentioned in the past, Jones laughed.
"Honest to god, I actually never wanted to box one of the Klitschkos. I was just talking jokes, and it was fun. I respect those guys so much. What they do it’s amazing and very high level stuff. I’m not trying to get killed. I’ll stick to martial arts."