Partly through his own doing, Jon Jones has lost out on some intriguing and lucrative title bouts in his career. At different times, matchups were discussed pitting him against Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, Anthony Johnson and Luke Rockhold. For various reasons, none of them ever transpired, leaving the potential for millions of dollars on the table.
Continuing the letdown theme, neither of Jones’ last two matchups has been particularly awe-inspiring. Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos were both longtime middleweights who bounced around that division, winning some and losing some until moving up. They both found quick bits of success, just enough to vault themselves into title shots in a division that Jones has mostly cleared out. Neither of them electrified the UFC light heavyweight champion, or the fan base for that matter, but they at least got him on the schedule.
Friday night’s UFC on ESPN 6 offered the potential to mint a new challenger for Jones. Through his posts on social media prior to fight week, Jones seemed to indicate that he was looking forward to the possibility of a rivalry with Chris Weidman. A former UFC middleweight champion, Weidman came into the fight carrying the weight of a rough stretch but the fresh slate of a divisional change. He will, after all, always carry some juice as the man who ended Anderson Silva’s legendary reign, so Jones’ reasoning for wanting him was obvious: after fighting back-to-back opponents without major profiles, at least Weidman could offer him a name-brand opponent.
It was not to be, but the result may prove to be a blessing in disguise as Jones looks elsewhere, potentially at the man who stopped Weidman in the main event: Dominick Reyes.
Reyes is still building a profile for himself, but he has one thing going for him that is a strong bullet point in his favor: he’s undefeated. Reyes is not just young and talented. He is a puzzle that has yet to be solved. He’s powerful and compelling. He’s a threat. Would he be favored to beat Jones? No, but the matchup would send the mind wandering about the possibilities.
“Look, man, there’s something to being undefeated in the UFC like Dominick Reyes is,” Daniel Cormier said following Reyes’ win on the UFC on ESPN broadcast. “It means something.”
Cormier would know. There’s a reason that he is Jones’ greatest rival. It is no coincidence that the two first met when Jones was the champ and Cormier’s record was pristine. True, Cormier also boasted a decorated amateur resume that made him a singular threat, but the crux of his challenge was that he was bringing his perfect record to challenge Jones’ historic greatness.
Reyes can make the same claim and throw down the gauntlet in the same way. And factor in Reyes’ size (6-foot-4 with a 77-inch reach), and he’s got the kind of profile that is worth serious consideration.
Right now, Jones’ next move is up in the ether. There is a possibility he may move up to heavyweight to challenge Stipe Miocic, but given his past reluctance to bulk up to MMA’s weightiest division, there’s little evidence that he’ll actually make that move. Instead, he has also mentioned on social media that he would wait to see who emerges victorious in the upcoming Corey Anderson vs. Johnny Walker match, but neither of those two is ranked in the top five right now, so neither is likely to leapfrog Reyes. While the winner could be poised to challenge Reyes for the top contender slot, timing could come into play as it would force Jones to the shelf for the foreseeable future while it plays out. That is not a desirable situation for him. After all, from 2014 to 2018, Jones was only able to fight a single time per year. While he finally snapped that streak by fighting twice in 2019, he likely wants to stay active and make up for lost time.
If that is the case, Reyes is his best bet. After a sub-two minute fight, he is fresh and ready to go.
Now, the onus is on Reyes to make some noise and let the world know he’s the top option. Cormier had Jones’ name coming out of his mouth every time he had a microphone or recorder shoved into his face. If Reyes wants Jones, he needs to follow the same script. He got off to a good start during fight week, when he ripped Jones for his out-of-the-cage issues.
“I’m ready to be the champion that the world needs and deserves,” Reyes recently told MMA Fighting’s Damon Martin. “A guy that isn’t doing shady s—t behind the scenes. A legit role model for kids. The guy that Jones was trying to be — but I’m actually that guy.”
He may not be the rival Jones wanted, but sometimes, the organic solution is better than the forced one anyway. Reyes is a real threat, not an imagined one, and that makes him the rival Jones needs.