In beating Rashad Evans at UFC 145, Jon Jones vanquished his fifth top 10 opponent since Feb. 2011. A summertime matchup with Dan Henderson could make it six within 18 months, a blistering pace of historic proportions. The bout with Henderson is confirmed, though a date likely won't be cemented for at least a few weeks.
A good sign? Jones has experienced many of the best qualities exhibited by Henderson. Quinton Jackson represents danger in both hands, Mauricio Rua shows the same fearless aggression, Rashad Evans boasts quality MMA wrestling. None of it has been especially problematic for Jones, who has had barely a moment of trouble along the way.
Henderson will face many of the same problems as the rest of Jones' opponents. He's sized similarly as Evans, just 5-foot-11 with a 74-inch reach (Evans has a 75-inch reach). He's also nearing 42 years old (on August 24).
No one discounts Henderson's chances of winning, but given Jones' ability to get opponents to play his game, it will be an uphill task. Jones has also shown a durable chin; against Evans, he ate a head kick with barely a stumble. That's a trait that will serve him well against the iron-fisted Hendo.
At least we know what direction the top of the light-heavyweight division is headed. Now let's take a look at what might be next for some of the rest of UFC 145's participants.
Evans would be wise to consider a move to middleweight. Not because he can't hack it at 205; he's been criminally underrated there. But if his goal is to be No. 1, it's an easier road to a title shot at middleweight, where the top-line talent pool is a bit more shallow. That said, he seemed to indicate a preference to stay at light-heavyweight. That's his prerogative. His hand speed will continue to serve him well if he stays within the division, as I suspect he will.
Prediction: He faces Shogun Rua
The UFC's matchmaking philosophy with MacDonald has been a bit unusual. After beating vet Mike Guymon his first fight, he got Carlos Condit. He nearly won that, but lost late in the third. Since then, his matchups went from the always tough Nate Diaz, who was then miscast as a lightweight, to durable journeyman Mike Pyle to little-known Che Mills. At 13-1, MacDonald is ready for the jump. He deserves a top 10 opponent, now.
Prediction: He faces the winner of May 5's Johny Hendricks vs. Josh Koscheck fight
McDonald just turned 21 three months ago, and he's already closing in on the bantamweight top five after his crushing knockout of Miguel Torres. With the rapid ascension, Jones' record as youngest-ever UFC champion (23 years, 243 days) is also in danger. Now 4-0 in the octagon, McDonald is knocking on the door of a title shot. He'll still need at least 1-2 more wins though.
Prediction: He faces Brian Bowles
Over the weekend, I wrote that featherweight Eddie Yagin was the feel-good story of UFC 145 for his huge upset of Mark Hominick, but Rothwell deserves honorable mention for picking up his first win in nearly two years with a KO of Brendan Schaub. I would have liked to see Rothwell get offered a chance to fill in at UFC 146 against Roy Nelson, but that slot went to Gabriel Gonzaga. Let's not let time get in the way of it.
Prediction: He faces the Nelson-Gonzaga winner
An athletic 6-foot-7 heavyweight with power, a chin, and he trains regularly with Jon Jones? This dude is getting downright scary. Given his skill set and durability, he is going to be a tough out going forward. He's definitely got the finisher's mentality, too. Nine career first-round stoppages, including seven that took less than 2:30 following his submission win over Chad Griggs.
Prediction: If Mark Hunt beats Stefan Struve in May, Browne faces Hunt. If not, he welcomes Shane Carwin back to action in the late summer.
After a four-fight win streak, Schaub has now lost two in a row, with both losses coming via knockout. Afterward, Schaub was introspective, saying in a FUEL post-fight interview that he might consider a move down to light-heavyweight. Considering he weighed in at 237 for UFC 145, it won't be an easy cut for him. But it is a doable cut. In an attempt to jumpstart his career, it might be worth the effort. His speed and quickness will follow him there, and he won't be facing the monsters he often saw at heavyweight (in KO losses to Rothwell and Nelson, he was out-weighed by more than 20 pounds).
Prediction: Schaub tries out 205. The UFC should give him some time to make it there, so we'll project him for a fall return, say against the winner of July's Brandon Vera vs. James Te Huna matchup.
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