Following Jon Jones’ decisive, TKO-victory over Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232, many are calling for the recently re-crowned light heavyweight king to face current heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier for a third time. However, despite testing positive for Turinabol following his UFC 214 rematch with the former Olympian Cormier, an ingestion of a banned substance that he claims was unintentional, Jones clearly won both fights with Cormier. And many MMA fans simply aren’t interested in seeing a third bout between the two champions.
But after his self-inflicted absence, Jones has made the right move by choosing to focus on re-establishing himself as the undisputed light heavyweight champion and defend his title against Anthony Smith at UFC 235 in March, rather than pursuing a pointless third fight with Cormier, or a big-money bout against a variety of opponents.
Fortunately, Jones didn’t have to look far to find a legitimate light heavyweight contender. With a pair of 2018 wins over former 205-pound champions Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Rashad Evans, plus an impressive October victory over recent title challenger Volkan Oezdemir, Smith has definitely earned the opportunity to face Jones. It’s also worth mentioning that Smith finished all three of those opponents.
On Thursday, Smith spoke to TMZ Sports about a showdown with Jones, and it was obvious that he won’t be approaching the bout in the same way that many have before him.
“I’m not afraid of him and I think that Jon has a lot of people beat before they even get in there,” said Smith. “I think people look at Jon like he’s an uphill battle and this unreachable task and I don’t see him like that. I’m not wowed by him. I see a man that I can beat and a person with holes, like any other human, that he can be exploited.”
Of course, this entire fight hinges on the outcome of Jones’ upcoming hearing before the Nevada State Athletic Commission for the trace amount of Turinabol that was detected in his system prior to his UFC 232 rematch with Gustafsson. The United States Anti Doping Agency has already cleared Jones of any wrongdoing, stating that the trace amount of Turinabol found in his system came from the initial ingestion that landed the light heavyweight king a suspension in 2017. In other words, the UFC isn’t too worried about whether or not Jones will be licensed to fight in the state of Nevada.
Aside from giving Smith the opportunity he deserves, Jones’ decision to defend his light heavyweight title first sends a significant message–even if it wasn’t intentional. For 205-pound title hopefuls such as Oezdemir, Corey Anderson, Jan Blachowicz, Dominick Reyes and potentially former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, Jones’ decision to face Smith means that they may actually have a chance to fight for the belt. Cormier defended his light heavyweight title against Oezdemir, but the minute he dethroned Stipe Miocic it felt as though the division had lost its champion.
Big picture, Jones’ decision to face Smith before pursuing an undoubtedly lucrative third meeting with Cormier, or big-money bouts with Stipe Miocic or even Brock Lesnar, adds integrity to the division’s most prized possession. At a time when so-called super fights and the chance to become two-division champions rule the sport, it looks like there’s a champion who’s actually willing to fulfill the duties of his title, which is something Jones has done before, and can also go a long way with all members of the MMA community.
For years, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz–and so many others, made the UFC’s light heavyweight division something undeniably special, and we’ve somehow lost that recently despite the presence of unbelievably talented fighters. But while Jones has occupied the throne before, a new era may be upon us, and like it or not, the most hated figure in MMA now has the opportunity to save a division that was once the UFC’s greatest.