Jon Jones has worn the bull’s eye well. | Photo: Jay Kopinski/Icon SMI
Combat sports’ pound-for-pound moneymaker, Floyd Mayweather Jr., had his bag filled with gold bullion again, so he is done sucking up all the fight talk, at least for now. It is time to turn our attention to boxing’s younger brother, MMA, and its current pound-for-pound king, Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones.
UFC 165 on Saturday will cost you about $10 less than did watching Mayweather run circles around another opponent, and I know you have the money, since you did not buy UFC 161 (150,000 buys) or UFC 163 (170,000 buys). Count your blessings that you saved some coin, because the rest of this year’s Zuffa calendar is chock full of can’t-miss pay-per-views.
How We Got Here: For the third time in his career, Jones will defend his light heavyweight championship inside the Air Canada Centre in Toronto; he has already scored two submissions in the Great White North during his reign, victimizing Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida. With his mangled toe healed after his victorious encounter with Chael Sonnen, Jones will look to make Sweden’s best fighter his latest victim, as he meets Alexander Gustafsson in the main event. “The Mauler” punched his ticket to face Jones on the back of a six-fight winning streak ... The co-headliner pits interim 135-pound champion Renan Barao against Eddie Wineland. Bantamweight boss Dominick Cruz’s run of bad luck with knee injuries is nearing two years, but Barao has been more than happy to prop up the division in his stead, as he is unbeaten in his last 31 appearances.
A Real Reach: As the current pound-for-pound king, Jones should be accustomed to being the heavy favorite. Since he savagely beat the belt out of Mauricio Rua at UFC 128, Vegas oddsmakers have never had him as less than a 3-to-1 favorite. That is no small feat considering his list of fallen challengers includes Belfort, Machida, Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson. When compared to this murderer’s row, the still relatively unknown Swede seems bound to eventually become a footnote in Jones’ growing history book. He is a 5-to-1 underdog, so the UFC based its push on Gustafsson’s 6-foot-5 frame and how his long limbs could hold the secret to dethroning “Bones.” Gustafsson’s reach is listed at 76.5 inches, though he claims it is actually 81.2 inches. Jones’ reach is a promotional-best 84.5 inches. Reach is a simple term even novice fight fans can grasp. I understand the approach, but when the UFC’s best pitch for its challenger is the length of his arms -- in a fight in which he will be at a reach disadvantage -- the idea cupboards in the marketing team’s office have to be pretty bare.
The Weighting Game: Speaking of bare cupboards, Jones has not fought a true 205er since he took a unanimous decision from Evans in April 2012, as he has carved through natural middleweights Belfort and Sonnen with varying degrees of absurdity. He has simply beaten everybody, and he has beaten them so badly that rematches seem like little more than cruel and unusual punishment for the challengers. Should the 26-year-old get past Gustafsson, he has two options at 205 pounds: Glover Teixeira and Daniel Cormier. Teixeira was promised a shot at the title after he dispatched Ryan Bader at UFC Fight Night 28. Later, UFC President Dana White told a Google chat room that Jones-Cormier would “probably” happen if the American Kickboxing Academy export defeats Roy Nelson at UFC 166. He retracted his statement the next day. Perhaps he was gauging fan interest before bout agreements are signed and fights are fought. Still, Cormier is the more intriguing possibility. The Olympic wrestler is undefeated and wants out of the heavyweight division, where teammate and friend Cain Velasquez rules as champion. The takedown advantage Jones always enjoys would likely be eliminated, and with both men essentially unbeaten, it would be an enormous fight. “Bones” has mentioned his desire to one day test heavyweight waters, and Cormier would present an interesting middle ground for him -- a heavyweight dropping down to 205 pounds. Cormier said he is already cutting weight slowly in anticipation of the move. His weigh-in against Nelson next month will be more of an audition for the light heavyweight division than it will be for his bout against “Big Country.”
Useless Fact: UFC 165 will be the first time the Ultimate Fighting Championship has had two belts on the line at the same event since UFC 152. Jones headlined that one, too, also in Toronto. No one can say the fine people of Ontario, Canada, do not get meaningful scraps when the Octagon comes to town.
Say What: Put on Cruz’s shoes for a moment. The belt around your waist represents every round of sparring, every mile of running, every pound of sweat that dripped onto a sauna floor, every sacrifice made. Now, because one knee ligament does not appear to be as dependable as the rest of your body, that belt could soon disappear. White said if Cruz cannot return to defend his title by early 2014, the interim belt could become undisputed. “The Dominator” said he will be ready on time, and his perspective on Barao as interim champion shows a level of maturity and respect we have to applaud. “I view Barao as a champion,” Cruz told video journalist Rick Lee. “Anyone who says I don’t view him as a champion is not correct, so the media can’t twist that. I view him [as] a champion. I just deserve my shot.”
Awards Watch: Lightweights Pat Healy and Khabib Nurmagomedov have the inside track to “Fight of the Night.” Nurmagomedov is 20-0 and ragdolls fighters in a sport where not getting ragdolled is the whole point. Healy is two-dollar-steak tough and fighting better than he has ever fought during his long career ... “Knockout of the Night” is the easiest pick on the card. Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione are two heavyweights featuring kill-or-be-killed styles. Do not let Schaub’s performance against Lavar Johnson at UFC 157 lead you to believe he is a changed fighter ... Five rounds is a long time to be in the cage with Barao, even for someone as gritty as Wineland. “Submission of the Night” goes to the Nova Uniao-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.