For a long as Jon Jones has reigned as one of the best fighters of his era, questions have always persisted about how well he would do against the true Baddest Men on the Planet.
With his 6-foot-4 frame and monstrous 84.5-inch reach, size has rarely been an issue for Jones in the light heavyweight division. Aided by his enviable physical gifts, “Bones” became the most decorated 205-pound fighter to ever compete when he racked up eight consecutive UFC title defenses from 2011 to 2015, a mark which still stands supreme in the record books for the light heavyweight class. But with Jones now readying for his return from a second drug-testing suspension at UFC 232, and his rival Daniel Cormier having achieved historic success of his own after moving back up to heavyweight, curiosity over how Jones would look against the sport’s big boys has never been more prevalent.
Asked about the prospect of Jones competing at heavyweight on a recent episode of The MMA Hour, striking coach Brandon Gibson said the move isn’t on the team’s immediate radar with a rematch against Alexander Gustafsson awaiting on Dec. 29, but it also isn’t something that Team Jones is ruling out entirely either.
“I think the day will come,” Gibson told host Luke Thomas. “I think Jon’s focus right now is just to continue his light heavyweight reign and solidify his legacy as a light heavyweight. Maybe the day will come where it’s at heavyweight, but I don’t think it’s right around the corner. It’s not something we’re talking about, but if the right opportunity came, I think it would be easy for Jon.
“I don’t think he’d put on a massive amount of weight or anything like that. I think he could go in there at kind of a more cruiserweight, like a 225, 235, and have a tremendous amount of success against these guys. I mean, I saw it all of the [rounds we’ve done] sparring against well known heavyweights out of the JacksonWink gym, so I know Jon’s capable of it. I think his focus right now is a light heavyweight reign though.”
The pursuit of a second title at heavyweight is one that Jones has long ruminated about, and never has the UFC been more open to champion vs. champion bouts than it is today. In the time since Jones last officially won a fight, three individuals have claimed belts in their second division: Georges St-Pierre, Conor McGregor, and Cormier — the latter two of which became the only concurrent two-division champions in UFC history. Such a bold chase of greatness could dramatically boost Jones’ legacy, especially in light of the roller-coaster run “Bones” has dealt with in recent years between his pair of PED suspensions and the 2015 hit-and-run accident that cost him his long-held UFC light heavyweight title.
In truth, Jones was already being discussed as the greatest fighter of all-time after his UFC 214 victory over Cormier — which was subsequently overturned into a no contest — and before his second run-in with USADA sidelined him for another year of his prime. And Gibson acknowledged that the pursuit of G.O.A.T. status is very much something weighing on Jones’ mind as he readies for the next chapter of his career to begin anew with a shot against Gustafsson for the vacant light heavyweight title at UFC 232.
“It is [on his mind] and I think it’s something he really wants to solidify,” Gibson said, “so I think part of it’s just going to come with time and trust and making statements. The second DC fight, I feel like we were right on the path, and then we got derailed a little bit. So Jon’s going to come out and make another statement, and I think we’re just going to have to take it one fight at a time. But I think if Jon is Jon, and he dominates the way he can dominate, at the end of the day there won’t be room for a debate. We still have a lot of time left in this thing.”
Gibson said Jones has been reinvigorated by his latest hiatus away from the cage. The former UFC champion was granted his license to compete at UFC 232 last week by the California State Athletic Commission, clearing the final hurdle in Jones’ way ahead of his return to the cage for the UFC’s year-end show. Now his road back to reclaiming his legacy as an all-time great begins on Dec. 29, and Gibson is extremely encouraged by what he’s seen from his longtime pupil down at JacksonWink.
“Jon’s only getting stronger, faster, smarter,” Gibson said. “And a lot of guys, this much time off I think would be detrimental, but for Jon it’s been invigorating for him — it’s helped him focus, it’s helped him mature, and it’s given him that much more fire to go out and reclaim what he feels is his.
“When it comes to training, he continues to humble himself, he continues to just be that ever-evolving student,” Gibson continued. “I know it’s always cliché to say how good the camp was. I just couldn’t be more excited about, not just the camp, but the time we’ve had building up to the camp. Jon was working in the shadows, he was working in secret and improving and improving, and we’ve put together an amazing team for this one, amazing training partners. I just got done watching his workouts this morning, and we’re heading into this last week and I just feel excitement, I feel focus. I can’t wait to get out there and watch him make a statement.”