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Jon Jones came through at UFC 235, and it appears the light heavyweight division is back in business

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Not counting his record on Tuesday nights, Johnny Walker is a perfect 3-0 in the UFC proper so far, and has needed just under three minutes of cage time to get it done. He has been very, very impressive. And at 26 years old, coming off his flying knee aerial show against Misha Cirkunov, he represents the new blood at light heavyweight coming up to eventually confront Jon Jones, the re-established overlord of the division. At Walker’s current trajectory — fighting every month or so, give or take — he should be ready to face Jones by no later than April.

In the meantime it’s Thiago Santos. The rib crusher himself. Sir Oomph-A-Lot. The Brazilian Villain. That’s the fight that Dana White wants next for Jones — Old Marreta, that thick slab of humanity who literally pounds sand whenever anybody tells him to go pound sand. Why not? He, too, has been on a tear of late, winning four in a row, with three straight knockouts. That kind of production should lead somewhere.

The good news is that after UFC 235 on Saturday night, there at least seems to be some order to the UFC’s most dysfunctional division. Jones welcomed an organic challenger in Anthony Smith, hit him with a gang of legal kicks and knees (and even a couple that weren’t), and got the hell out with his title. So long as he doesn’t get suspended, hurt, banished or abducted — or doesn’t head for boxing, wrestling, heavyweight, or rehab — another organic contender will likely get the next crack at Jones. It’s been a long time since we’ve had that kind of chi at 205 pounds.

It feels good to have things flowing again.

And it’s good to have Jones slinging adjectives at people after beating them in the cage. This time it was Smith, whom Jones lavished with warriorific praise from up on the high pedestal we’re used to seeing him on. Smith admitted he didn’t do anything he meant to on Saturday. He didn’t turn it into a dogfight, or even a fistfight — he got lost in the measures. He drowned in the spool of Jones’ long arms. When he thought Jones was going to activate his elbows inside, Jones pulled the rug out on him. He clinched, he kicked and he morphed into “Randy Couture” by the fifth round, which he justified later as a kind of homage.

How vintage was Jones? He even showed off that backhanded humility we’ve grown to love in the post-fight presser. Get a load of this (and bear in mind that he was wearing a turtleneck): “Hats off to Anthony Smith for having a lionheart,” Jones said. “I think the average person would have used that [illegal knee in the fourth round] as a way out and became a world champion. He was tired. He had been hit with the kitchen sink, and I did an illegal blow. And I’m so proud of him for just being a real warrior out there, and continuing to fight.”

Proud? As in pride? As in a lion’s pride? Later on he said that the first four rounds were for the fans, and the fifth round was for him and his family. No shame in pinching 20 percent for loved ones where greatness is concerned. You know what, screw all that — the main thing is, this was the Jones we’ve been missing! The one that makes you squirm a bit in your seat. The awkward maestro, the dude who can wreck guys after admitting to doubts that he was concerned he wasn’t as ready as he thought he was. You know, the internal dwells of a GOAT.

So yeah, Santos. The division. Getting it rolling again. That’s the idea. If the UFC really does give Santos a shot at the title, it won’t make a thud, I can tell you that. Jones as a target of another man’s aggression — especially when that man has B-roll like Santos — is a booming business. Jones doesn’t have to fight Brock Lesnar or Daniel Cormier next. He just needs to fight small traces of doubt, whether we’re talking picograms or about outcomes.

There’s a line forming, and he seems ready to hack through it. He can fight Santos, then Walker, then who knows, Dominick Reyes? Israel Adesanya when he outgrows middleweight? Yoel Romero? There are names by the bunches. He cleaned out the cupboards, but if there’s a silver lining to being out for so long it’s that those cupboards are finally replenishing.

Light heavyweight is back in business. And it’s Jones’s task to hold it down.

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