Jon Jones may be one win away from accomplishing the unthinkable: cleaning out an entire division in less than a year and a half.
Jones turned away former friend and training partner Rashad Evans with a dazzling display of offensive skill in the UFC 145 main event on Saturday at Philips Arena in Atlanta, retaining his light heavyweight championship with a one-sided unanimous decision. Scores were 49-46, 49-46 and 50-45 for the man they call “Bones.”
In the last 14 months, Jones has defeated five opponents currently ranked in the Top 10 in the world at 205 pounds: Evans, Lyoto Machida, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Ryan Bader. The unprecedented run of success already has some calling for the 24-year-old champion to test his wares in the much shallower heavyweight division. However, at least one opponent of interest remains at his current weight, an opponent to which UFC President Dana White pointed during the post-fight press conference in Atlanta.
Few names carry the weight of a Dan Henderson. Still the only man to hold major mixed martial arts titles in two divisions simultaneously, the two-time Olympian made a triumphant return to the Octagon in November, when he outlasted Rua in a grueling five-round battle at UFC 139. The 41-year-old Henderson has enjoyed a career resurgence of late, scoring wins over “Shogun,” Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante at light heavyweight and Fedor Emelianenko at heavyweight. Now, he has a potential showdown with Jones in front of him, perhaps sometime this summer.
In wake of UFC 145 “Jones vs. Evans,” here are five other matches we want to see made:
Rashad Evans vs. Lyoto Machida: Their first encounter resulted in a vicious knockout, as Machida left Evans beaten, bent and unconscious at the base of the cage at UFC 98. Nearly three years later, Evans undoubtedly yearns to erase the memory, no matter how little of it remains. Even though both men have tried and failed to unseat Jones, they still have plenty to offer the 205-pound division, starting with a rematch. Evans made the mistake of engaging Machida entirely on the feet in May 2009, falling prey to the karateka in the second round. Might he seek to employ his considerable wrestling skills if the two were to meet a second time?
Rory MacDonald vs. Josh Koscheck-Johny Hendricks winner: MacDonald, wielder of arguably the fiercest ground-and-pound in the sport, has become a person of significant interest at 170 pounds. Still only 22, the Canadian wrecked Che Mills with his ruthless top game, earning a second-round stoppage on a coveted co-main event platform. No one can question MacDonald’s promise -- he has the look of a future champion -- but his standup remains a work in progress and no one knows whether or not he can handle an elite wrestler. Koscheck and Hendricks will lock horns at UFC on Fox 3 on May 5. Let MacDonald have a go at the victor.
Michael McDonald vs. Scott Jorgensen-Eddie Wineland winner: McDonald belted former WEC champion Miguel Torres with a jarring right uppercut, and suddenly, the UFC’s bantamweight division had another potential title contender on its hands. Some will desire to rush McDonald into deeper waters based on the strength of his performance against Torres, but he does not turn 22 until January.
With Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber set to settle their score, and with Renan “Barao” Pegado possibly awaiting the winner, the UFC can afford to bring along McDonald slowly. He can only benefit from further seasoning. Jorgensen and Wineland will collide at UFC on FX 3 in June and have proven more than capable of withstanding heavy firepower; they have no knockout losses between them in 45 combined fights. Does McDonald have what it takes to alter that statistic?
Ben Rothwell vs. Mike Russow: Rothwell bounced back beautifully from his wretched performance against Mark Hunt in September, as he smashed through “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 finalist Brendan Schaub in 70 seconds. For those who did not see Rothwell during his International Fight League heyday, it was an eye-opening experience. He carries with him a deep reservoir of experience, one of the heavyweight division’s most durable chins and a renewed commitment to training. In a division lacking depth, Rothwell remains a valuable commodity. Russow has won 11 fights in a row, four of them in the UFC. A showdown with Rothwell could provide some intrigue.
Travis Browne vs. Roy Nelson-Antonio Silva winner: Browne stayed unbeaten in his lopsided shellacking of Chad Griggs, as he submitted the Strikeforce import with a first-round triangle choke. The 6-foot-7 Hawaiian has shown uncanny athleticism for a man his size and appears primed for a breakthrough. Nelson will welcome “Bigfoot” to the Octagon at UFC 146 next month. Match Browne with the winner in the kind of sink-or-swim scenario he almost certainly desires.