Jon Jones is back — but for how long?
The former light heavyweight champion returned from a three-year layoff at UFC 285 and captured the vacant UFC heavyweight title with a dominant victory over Ciryl Gane. Altogether, it was one of the finest performances of Jones’ decorated career, and at age 35, Jones has plenty of time left to put together another lengthy title reign. But is Jones interested in sticking around at his new weight class for the long haul?
His longtime coach Brandon Gibson appeared Wednesday on The MMA Hour and hinted that MMA fans should probably enjoy the all-timer while they still can.
“I don’t know, I’ll leave that up to Jon,” Gibson said when asked about Jones’ future. “I think physically and mentally he can go a long ways. And we’ve seen so many great heavyweights have incredible performances throughout their 40s — I mean, even Stipe [Miocic] is [almost] 41. But I think Jon’s going to be one of those athletes that walks away early. He’s going to walk away early, I think so. I think Jon will ride off into the sunset, and us, as MMA fans, will still be clamoring for one more or talking about potential matchups.
“But I don’t think Jon’s going to have too much more to prove.”
Jones is one of the longest tenured athletes currently in the UFC. He made promotional debut in 2008 — the same year as his MMA debut — and has competed 23 times in the octagon over his 15-year run without suffering a legitimate loss. Over that time, Jones has beaten a slew of fighters from both the past and present generations, compiling an in-cage résumé that stands as of the greatest in the history of mixed martial arts, including an unbelievable 15-0 record in UFC title bouts, the most ever in promotional history.
Yet somehow with his two-minute submission of Gane, Jones looked better than ever in his long-awaited heavyweight debut.
“He’s still getting better, my friend,” Gibson said. “Age is just a mindset. It’s just a mindset when it comes to Jon Jones. Maybe not the rest of us, but for Jon, it is.”
“He took out generations, right?” Gibson later added. “He took out that prior generation of legends — the Shoguns, the Rampages — and then he took out all of his peers, and he’s still here performing at the highest level. It blows my mind. I was actually walking out of the arena the other night and ran into [former opponents] Rashad [Evans] and Anthony [Smith], and I’ve got a lot of love for Rashad, it was good to see him, and he was just blown away. Like, ‘Dude, I can’t believe how good Jon is. Still. Getting better.’”
For now, though, Jones is back in the swing of things.
He’s already calling for his first UFC heavyweight title defense to come against former two-time champion Stipe Miocic, the man widely considered to be the greatest UFC heavyweight of all-time. The UFC is tentatively targeting International Fight Week for the matchup, with all eyes on UFC 290 on July 8 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Gibson said Team Jones is “absolutely” down for that plan.
“I think it would’ve been a different conversation if [Jones] would’ve been in any way injured or scathed on Saturday night, but he said he was more sore from the warmup than the fight,” Gibson said. “I think he’s going to have a quick turnaround. And you know, a lot of these guys that have helped us over the course of this training camp have upcoming fights, and Jon wants to get in and help those guys. So he’s a true team leader, a true captain and true brother to these guys, so I know he wants to get right back in and start helping.
“I’m all in favor of July. I think Jon has all the tools, the momentum, and the motivation to go out there and have another dominating performance in July.”
Jones will have his work cut out for him against Miocic.
The Ohio native is the most decorated UFC heavyweight champion in history, possessing four combined title defenses over two title reigns. He also holds the record for most consecutive UFC heavyweight title defenses (3), and has defeated a hit-list of legends over the course of his 13-year career, owning wins over the likes of Daniel Cormier (x2), Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Francis Ngannou, Junior dos Santos, Mark Hunt, and more.
“I think that we still have the utmost respect for Stipe. He’s a dangerous man,” Gibson said. “He has amazing cardio for a heavyweight, he has power in both hands, he can eat a punch off his heels, he has great pressure fighting, great clinch control, great wrestling. This is a man that took down Daniel Cormier. We’ve got to train for one of the greatest heavyweights of all-time, which brings a lot of unique challenges.
“But no, on the other hand, Stipe and his team have to train for Jon Jones, and I don’t think there’s any clear path to victory [against] Jon. But we’re going to take this very seriously. I know that Jon’s going to be ultra-motivated. He thinks Stipe is the greatest heavyweight of all-time, and I think this is another stamp to solidify Jon’s status as the GOAT.”
If Jones defeats Miocic, it will add one heck of a name to his résumé.
But is there a chance Jones decides to finally walk away from MMA for good afterward?
“I don’t know. He has a lot of fire, I think he has a lot of motivation, and I’ll leave that up to Jon,” Gibson said. “I think this time away was really good for him, and us as a team. He hasn’t taken any injury or damage during this time, which I think is really key to future bouts. But I think we’ll take each one as its own camp and not look past it at all.”