When Jon Jones makes his return to the UFC in 2021, he is expected to compete as a heavyweight for the first time in his career.
Considering he wiped out nearly every contender in the 205-pound division for the better part of the past decade, the longest-reigning light heavyweight champion in company history has said the timing is right to change divisions as he seeks out new challenges.
Despite Jones’ previous accolades, he’ll face a daunting task going up against larger and stronger competition in his new division. Heavyweights not only range in weight from 206 to 265 pounds, but they also pack a serious punch, and one wrong move can easily spell disaster.
That’s why despite a long list of Hall of Famers competing at heavyweight, no UFC champion has ever defended the belt more than three times consecutively. That honor belongs to current titleholder Stipe Miocic.
Jones’ coaches are well aware of the history in the division, not to mention the kind of test that heavyweights will present. But they believe Jones possesses a weapon in his arsenal that will keep him out of trouble and show the talent that made him the fighter UFC President Dana White routinely called the GOAT.
“Heavyweight’s a different animal, but Jon’s spent a lot of his career training with some of the best heavyweights in the world,” Jones’ coach Brandon Gibson told MMA Fighting. “I’ve seen Jon do hundreds of rounds with guys like [Alistair] Overeem and [Andrei] Arlovski and Travis Browne. We’ve had a plethora of great heavyweights come through Jackson’s, and Jon has been Jon Jones with all of them.
“Jon’s skill level is so high, his fight IQ is so high, that I don’t think somebody having a 20-pound advantage over Jon is going to make that much of a difference. He’s just such a skilled martial artist. I think the weight class intrigues Jon.”
Since announcing his plans to move to heavyweight, Jones has taken time off from fighting in order to get his body ready to compete in a new division. He’s lifting weights and packing on muscle so he won’t be outsized by some of the larger fighters.
Jones still possess a freakish reach advantage over most heavyweights, and with additional size and power now added to his frame, he might even pull off those kinds of jaw-dropping one-punch knockouts common to the division, said his longtime coach Mike Winkeljohn.
“You’re not just going up a division, you might be going up by like 50 pounds sometimes,” Winkeljohn said. “These guys are big. It’s not like going up 15 pounds like everybody else. It can be a big jump. So that makes a big difference.”
Assuming Jones is able to add the necessary size to match the rest of the fighters at heavyweight, Winkeljohn said the ex-champ will present the same kinds of problems that he did to the entire 205-pound division for years.
“Jon has always done very well [against heavyweights],” Winkeljohn said. “He’s always had the ability to change up things and as far as fight IQ, Jon’s that guy. If he’s fighting a guy like Andrei Arlovski with a big overhand, he knows how to nullify it. If he’s fighting a guy like Alistair Overeem, who throws a big hook into a knee to the body, he knows how to avoid that.
“He’s very good at reading a fighter and knowing what the fighter’s going to do, sometimes before the fighter even knows himself.”
While he would certainly never rank his own fighters, Winkeljohn knows that Jones is a once in a lifetime kind of athlete, who understands the nuances of MMA perhaps better than anybody else in the sport.
Once he applies that knowledges and skill set in the heavyweight division, Jones’ coach doesn’t see any reason why he won’t be holding UFC gold again … sooner rather than later.
“He’s wiped out a division, so it makes sense [to go to heavyweight],” Winkeljohn said. “I put money on Jon going to heavyweight and dominating there, too.