For nearly a decade, Jon Jones reigned over the UFC light heavyweight division as arguably one of the most dominant champions in the history of the sport but his time there came to an end more than a year ago.
When Jones relinquished his title in order to pursue a new goal at heavyweight, the UFC wasted no time crowning a new 205-pound champion in Jan Blachowicz. Since then, Blachowicz has defended his title in a highly touted champion vs. champion showdown with middleweight king Israel Adesanya and now he’s scheduled to meet Glover Teixeira in the UFC 267 main event.
While Jones’ legacy will be hard to match, former light heavyweight title contender Anthony Smith believes the division has already moved out from under his shadow thanks to the talented fighters who have continued to make noise in his absence.
If anything, Smith doesn’t understand why Jones was looming so large in the first place.
“I think it should have [moved on] quicker,” Smith told MMA Fighting. “Look, this has happened before. Is Charles Oliveira not the champion because he didn’t beat Khabib [Nurmagomedov]? Is Kamaru Usman the real champion because he didn’t beat GSP (Georges St-Pierre)? Is Israel Adesanya the real champion because he didn’t beat GSP? I don’t know why we were always stuck under that umbrella, in that shadow.
“It’s not the first time that’s ever happened where the champion relinquishes the title and moved on and done his own thing and then the next guy comes up and he’s the real champion. I don’t understand why it was like that as long as it was.”
In the wake of Jones’ exit from light heavyweight and beyond Blachowicz being crowned champion, a bevy of contenders have emerged over the past two years including the addition of Jiri Prochazka as well as Aleksandar Rakic, who has gone 6-1 since joining the UFC roster. There’s also fast rising stars like Magomed Ankalaev who are also really starting to make noise in the division.
The veterans at 205 pounds aren’t going away either with past title challengers such as Smith and Teixeira still causing problems for anybody seeking a spot in the top five rankings.
Smith is happy to see light heavyweights getting the attention they deserve and none of that diminishes Jones’ greatness but he’s confident the division will thrive now that he’s gone.
“I think the world has kind of seen, at least the MMA world has seen the guys at 205 are godd*amn good,” Smith said. “Obviously, Jon Jones is potentially the greatest of all time depending on who you talk to. Is it Jon Jones, GSP, either way, he’s top two. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of us sucked. It doesn’t mean there weren’t world champion caliber athletes and competitors in that division.
“I think people for a while there were getting dominated or consistently getting beat by Jon and not looking great. It doesn’t mean we weren’t very, very good. It just means, unfortunately maybe we’re some of those boxers that existed and lived during the same era as Muhammad Ali. Maybe that’s just the position we were stuck in. It doesn’t mean we’re not good. It just means he was really, really good.”
In his last fight before giving up the belt, Jones was pushed to the limit in a five-round battle against Dominick Reyes in a decision that could have arguably gone either way in the end. Jones also survived a scare in his fight against Thiago Santos after the judges scored that bout as a split decision.
Those fights along with his own experience spending 25 minutes in the cage with Jones convinced Smith that the light heavyweight division was already starting to catch up to him.
“On the worst night of my life, obviously he won every round, he beat me, he won a decision. I take full responsibility for that but that was the worst performance and the worst day of my life and the greatest of all time didn’t blow me out of the water and embarrass me or injure me?” Smith said. “It never even felt like I was in danger. It’s not a knock on Jon. As much as me and Jon don’t get along, I give him all the praise in the world. He deserves everything that he’s got. That man is potentially the greatest of all time and he’s earned that. But we’re not that far off. We’re really not that far off and especially now.
“I feel like I still believed then, I said it right after, I can beat that guy. I know I can beat that guy. I just didn’t show up and that’s my fault and he did a great job of shutting me down.”
At this point it doesn’t seem like Jones will ever return to try and take back his throne at light heavyweight but Smith argues it wouldn’t be an easy task even if that’s what he wanted, especially not against the guy holding the belt right now.
“You’re going to tell me Jan Blachowicz doesn’t have a chance against Jon Jones?” Smith said. “Get the f*ck out of here. That’s crazy.”