It was going to take more than just a win by Blachowicz or Anderson to get in the conversation for a title fight. There was already a path that seemed obvious this past week in a rematch between Jones and Dominick Reyes. A vocal majority felt that Reyes beat Jones and a rematch was in order.
But for Jones, they’re just two different options. There’s also a champion a weight class below him, Israel Adesanya, who’s brought up his name. There’s a champion a weight class above him, heavyweight king Stipe Miocic. Realistically, the story of Jones moving to heavyweight and going for the title would be as big a fight as any of the four options, and likely the biggest. But like everything in fighting, it’s all about timing.
There is still no date for the next heavyweight title fight, Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier 2. A decisive win by either Jairzinho Rozenstruik or Francis Ngannou puts them in line for the winner. If Cormier beats Miocic, it’s doubtful he’ll fight again, and that timing may work for Jones. A fight between Miocic and the winner of Rozenstruik vs. Ngannou sounds less appealing than Jones moving up and facing the Rozenstruik-Ngannou winner. But that may be one fight down the line.
Right now, if Jones is to defend his title, it’s Blachowicz (26-8) or Reyes (12-1).
Blachowicz has been on a strong run, with seven wins in his last eight fights. It’s not just the number, but the names – he’s handed major losses to some solid ones. His victims list includes Anderson, Ronaldo Souza, Luke Rockhold, Nikita Krylov, Jimi Manuwa and Jared Cannonier. His only loss during that run is to Thiago Santos, who fought Jones to a split decision loss while competing with two blown-out knees.
Reyes, meanwhile, is technically coming off a loss to Jones. But it was really his most impressive performance in the eyes of the public.
Still, the most recent impression left is Blachowicz’s knockout of Anderson. With Reyes, it’s him fighting to survive, exhausted, as Jones picks him apart in what turned out to be the deciding round five. Fans saw Jones dominate Reyes for two rounds, and if Reyes did have the edge in the first three, he should be champion today.
In different times, the determining factor would be who the UFC felt could draw the most public interest and money with Jones right now. Today, with ESPN guaranteeing the pay-per-view revenue, UFC has less financial pressure to go with the bigger money fight over what would be the “right fight,” whatever that means.
But here, it’s not clear in either category. Neither Blachowicz nor Reyes come in with a track record of being needle-movers. And the right fight comes down to an argument of how much we trust three judges and value their scoring.
If it’s about wins and losses and accepting judging decisions as final, Blachowicz is your guy. If it’s about addressing the actual Jones vs. Reyes fight, with public perception that Reyes won, that puts him in the lead, because as impressive as Blachowicz’s recent wins have been, none of them trumps the people’s belief that Reyes should be champion today.
The Google search test of marketability shows both men relatively even over the last year. But over this past month, Reyes is far ahead. That’s because the Jones fight had far more interest than Blachowicz vs. Anderson.
The gut feeling is that Reyes would be the bigger fight to the public. And the judges getting it wrong in the eyes of most also makes it even bigger. Blachowicz can beat every good light heavyweight on the roster, but none of them are Jones. To some, Reyes was the first guy ever to hand Jones a real defeat, and the judges got it wrong.
Let’s look at how fortunes changed for five stars of Saturday’s show in Rio Rancho, N.M.
JAN BLACHOWICZ - From Blachowicz’s standpoint, Jones is the opponent that makes sense. If that doesn’t work out, he should face Thiago Santos (21-7), the only fighter who’s beaten him in his past eight fights. It could also be a fight where the winner gets a title fight.
COREY ANDERSON - Anderson’s quest to get back in contention—and who is available—leads to a prospective fight withv the winner of the April 25 fight with Anthony Smith (32-14) vs. Glover Teixeira (30-7). Anderson has a win over Teixeira on July 22, 2018, in Hamburg, Germany.
MONTANA DE LA ROSA - De La Rosa (11-5) won all three rounds over Mara Romero Borella (13-7, 1 no contest) in a battle of women flyweights ranked at the lower part of the top-15. To move up, good next opponents would be Alexis Davis (19-10) or Maycee Barber (8-1).
RAY BORG - Borg (13-4) missed weight by two pounds and spent three rounds dominating Rogerio Bontorin (16-2,1 no contest) with his wrestling. It was a solid one-sided win over the No. 7 contender. The question becomes how much should someone be rewarded for winning, especially in this manner, after missing weight, which gave him the size advantage and added to his strength. Borg should face ether Alexandre Pantoja (22-4) or Askar Askarov (11-0-1). If he can win that fight and make weight, at that point he should be in the top level of contenders.
ROGERIO BONTORIN - Even more than the benefits Borg got from missing weight, a fighter close to the top tier hitting a career skid by losing a wrestling-based decision to an overweight opponent is a tough way to go. But that’s the nature of the beast today. Bontorin should next face either Dustin Ortiz (19-8) or Alex Perez (23-5).