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Fortunes changed for five at UFC 182

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Jon Jones has been called the greatest fighter in the sport, but he's never been the UFC champion of the box office. But with a strong win in a match that garnered the most attention of any fight in more than a year, can he now be counted upon to bring in big numbers on a more regular basis?

Esther Lin
Jon Jones established Saturday night he was the best MMA fighter of this time, and perhaps any time. While Jones has been perfecting his technique inside the octagon, his game plan outside when it comes to his persona is not nearly as refined.

The Jones persona has gone through several metamorphosis in his six plus years on the UFC roster. Jones had his breakthrough fight as an unknown, beating Stephan Bonnar in 2009, and then became a destroyer of  wrestlers. He ran through Jake O'Brien, Matt Hamill, Brandon Vera, Vladimir Matyushenko and Ryan Bader, until he won the light heavyweight title from Mauricio "Shogun" Rua nearly four years ago.

The fans that night came to see the Jones coming out party, and got everything they expected. It felt like far more than simply a title change, as Jones, the youngest champion at that point in UFC history, looked already like his destiny was to be an all-time great. He came out personable, and at times hilarious, after his win. A few days later, he had the aura of a rising breakthrough star, appearing on the Tonight show going back-and-forth with Kirstie Alley.

And slowly, over the next few years, he became the Jon Jones people see him as now, supremely talented. He's a fighter almost with an aura of invincibility like nobody since prime Fedor. Yet, while he clearly has his fans, he, at least thus far, never became the American Georges St-Pierre or Anderson Silva, the beloved national sports hero. St-Pierre was voted by fans as Canada's athlete of the year three years running. In the U.S., the idea Jones, every bit as talented, if not more, could win a contest like that is inconceivable.

So in his latest act, he seems to have embraced going almost full-Floyd Mayweather, Jr., which is hardly the worst thing to emulate if your goal is the box office, since Mayweather has been the king of that world for seven years now. But with Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao aging, there is going to be an opening. Boxing doesn't have a new version of the Million Buy Man. In MMA, Jones is the only one who has a reasonable chance to get near that level.

A key thing to note is that there is usually a lag between someone's fighting prime and their drawing prime. Both Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao were great boxers, with Mayweather being considered the pound-for-pound king. Yet, until he had his much publicized showdown with Oscar De La Hoya, his pay-per-view numbers were lower than that of Jones today. It was the same with Pacquiao, as his win over De La Hoya took him to a new box office level.

Jones has no De La Hoya like figure to put in the kind of a fight that people outside the usual fan base take notice. But it does appear Saturday's fight may have been the closest thing he'll get. The endless packages showed Jones in a way that a lot of people found it easy to passionately root for Cormier, or perhaps, as Cormier suggested at weigh-ins, against Jones. But whether they were for him or against him, there was a buzz around MMA that there hasn't been in a year, and that there never has been leading up to a fight with Jones.

Dana White was talking numbers like 750,000 buys, which would be a level Jones has never reached in his career. And to do so head-to-head with the NFL playoffs is even more impressive.

Now that it's over, will that audience continue to care at that level about Jones, whether it's feeling he's a star because of his fighting talent, or simply passionately wanting him to lose and wanting to make sure they see it? Either way, the money they spend is just as green.

Having passed his last test with flying colors in the cage, did he establish himself to be the kind of athlete that people who are not regular fans of the sport don't want to miss the few times a year he fights? Or was it just an instance, like with Rashad Evans, that he was in a fight with a story behind it, but he's still not all the way there?

Let's look at how Fortunes Changed and the future of five of the stars from UFC 182 on Saturday.

JON JONES - The future direction of Jones (22-1) seems simple enough. He should be fighting the winner of the Jan. 24 bout in Stockholm, Sweden between Anthony "Rumble" Johnson (18-4) and Alexander Gustafsson (16-2). But if he wins that, the chest of contenders seems barren. Everyone else on the roster will either be people he's beaten, or people nobody would buy has a chance to beat him.

There's only one direction from there, and that is if Jones wins his next fight, and Cain Velasquez beats Fabricio Werdum and is in a similar situation as Jones as far as contenders, it's a natural match-up.

There's intrigue in Jones moving to heavyweight. Velasquez poses an entirely different set of skills than anyone Jones has faced. And there is also the story that Velasquez is Cormier's training partner and friend. While Velasquez won't, and can't talk up a fight like Cormier, the idea of champion vs. champion, something that UFC hasn't been able to put together in years, can create a lot of interest later this year

DANIEL CORMIER - Cormier, on the other hand, has no shortage of opponents. Rashad Evans (21-3-1), who he was scheduled to face last year, is on his way back from knee surgery and fighting next month. Phil Davis (13-2) has strong wrestling credentials and a good record. And there's also the loser of Johnson vs. Gustafsson.

The problem becomes direction. With a few wins, he could find himself back in a contenders' spot. But Saturday's fight, as big as it was, did not leave one with a feeling that they would like to see it again. The key to the first fight was how Jones would react to being in with a far better wrestler who could throw him around. Well, we saw that in an MMA fight, Cormier's wrestling wasn't anywhere near the factor it needed to be to create the competitive fight people were hoping for. We know the answer, Cormier isn't walking in and taking him down over and over.

DONALD CERRONE - The UFC's busiest fighter picked up his sixth straight win in the last 14 months, a streak that for someone who has been in the top ten for years, puts you in the championship picture. The problem for Cerrone is that champion Anthony Pettis took him apart when they fought two years ago, and Rafael dos Anjos beat him later in 2013

Khabib Nurmagomedov (22-0) is likely to get the Pettis vs. dos Anjos winner. Cerrone would be next line after that. If Benson Henderson (21-4), Cerrone's chief rival in the WEC days, beats Eddie Alvarez on Jan. 18, that's the fight that would seem to make the most sense. If such a fight happens toward the midpoint of the year, it would be five years since their last meeting. About the only top name first-time match-ups that would be available, would be Nurmagomedov and Gilbert Melendez (22-4).

KYOJI HORIGUCHI - Horiguchi (15-1) sports an impressive record, and flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson doesn't have a long list of opponents. But Horiguchi's win over Louis Gaudinot wasn't dominant to the level he made you think he should face Johnson next.

As far as a next opponent, Jussier Formiga (17-3) and Wilson Reis (19-5) are good enough names that if Horiguchi can get through one of them in impressive fashion, he'd be able to step up into top five.

HECTOR LOMBARD - Lombard (35-4-1, 1 no contest), moved to 3-0 since his move to welterweight. In the welterweight ranks, there is at least a few big fights already next, since champion Robbie Lawler has Johny Hendricks for a third fight next, Rory MacDonald comes after that.

If Tyron Woodley (14-3) beats Kelvin Gastelum (10-0) at UFC 183, Lombard vs. Woodley would be a natural direction. The two have had words, but the fight was in play in the past and allegedly Woodley didn't want it. But at that point it becomes the best opponent for each.