March 2010: The Beginning
There was a time, not that long ago, when the mixed martial arts world clamored for a fight between Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre.
The reigning UFC middleweight and welterweight champions weren't just the best in their respective weight classes; they were the absolute best in the world. Both men ruled as pound-for-pound greats, and with every passing fight and every consecutive win, the fans' desire to see St-Pierre move up—or to see them meet somewhere between 170 and 185 pounds for a catchweight bout—grew by leaps and bounds.
At the beginning of 2010, that started to change. Fans still wanted to see Silva vs. St-Pierre in the UFC's first true superfight, but it was around March 2010 that a new name began to emerge.
One year before he'd defeat Mauricio "Shogun" Rua to become the youngest UFC champion in history, the official website of Jackson-Winklejohn's MMA gym posted an interview with Jonny "Bones" Jones in which the future champion was asked who he looked up to from a fighting perspective:
Jon Jones: Yeah, Anderson Silva inspires me a lot. His style is just so amazing and he’s so creative.
The interview took place the same week that Jones went to Broomfield, Colo., and broke Brandon Vera's face in multiple places during the first round of their UFC Live on Versus main event. Prior to that fight, Jones was considered a top prospect; in hindsight, this was the moment that helped turn him from someone who might eventually be good into a fighter who could contend for a championship much sooner than anyone thought.
In fact, Jones would win the light heavyweight championship from Rua one year later. But even in April 2010, Jones tweeted that fans were bringing up the idea of a bout with Silva:
January 2011: The Birth of a Star
Two months before Jones would face Rua, however, he defeated Ryan Bader at UFC 126. After he handily submitted Bader, Jones was informed by Joe Rogan that his teammate Rashad Evans had been forced to pull out of his title fight the next month with Rua, and the UFC was offering him the fight if he wanted it.
It was one of the more memorable moments in the history of the promotion. In hindsight, this was also when the idea of Jones facing Anderson Silva became a tangible idea. It was nothing more than a pipe dream, to be sure, because a large percentage of fans still wanted to see Silva vs. St-Pierre.
But, as you can see from the Google Trends report on the "Jon Jones vs. Anderson Silva," the idea of Jones taking on Silva in a superfight morphed from obscurity into a real popular debate topic, and it all happened when Jones marched through Bader and Rua in consecutive months.
April 2011: Superfight Rumblings
Shortly after Jones' historic title win, former Sports Illustrated reporter Steven Marrocco asked Silva for his thoughts on facing the new light heavyweight champion:
That, of course, comes as bad news for those recently amped for a meeting between Silva and Jon Jones. The newly minted light heavyweight king sparked immediate interest in the matchup with his decimation of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua this past month at UFC 128.
Silva, who's moonlighted at 205 pounds during his current reign with wins over Forrest Griffin and James Irvin, called Jones "amazing" but said fans jumped the gun in pairing them.
"(In) the UFC, a lot of fights [are] possible to fight," Silva said. "I'm maintaining my focus for my category."
This was typical Silva, who consistently gave the vaguest possible answer when asked for his thoughts on facing St-Pierre or Jones.
But perhaps nuances were being lost in translation. When asked about the potential of a Jones fight by Brazilian outlet Esportes, Silva was far more direct:
No chance. He's in a different weight class, we are friends and we won't fight each other.
And that, as they say, appeared to be that.
December 2011: The Roar Grows Louder
Jones defended his title that September against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and then returned in December, finishing former champion Lyoto Machida with one of the nastiest guillotine chokes in UFC history.
By the time Jones was finished making his third consecutive champion appear as though they didn't belong in the same cage with him, Silva had finished Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami in destructive fashion, cementing himself as the unquestioned greatest fighter of all time.
A new tide was rolling in; fans were still interested in the idea of Silva fighting St-Pierre, but the Canadian's unwillingness to move up to 185 pounds put a damper on things. Silva wanted to fight St-Pierre, but he had no plans to drop to welterweight, and St-Pierre kept repeating that he'd need major time off to pack on muscle if the UFC wanted him to move up to face Silva.
Even though both men said they were interested in the idea of a catchweight bout, you could tell that the excitement wasn't really there.
Not the way it used to be, anyway.
After Jones finished Machida, the majority of fan interest swung away from Silva facing St-Pierre and toward Silva moving up to light heavyweight to face Jones. Silva had successfully competed at 205 twice in the UFC, easily defeating James Irvin and embarrassing Forrest Griffin. Those two appearances made the fans believe that Silva could easily compete with the best at light heavyweight, and Jones was the best.
I think Jon Jones is young, ... He’s 24 years old, he’s just getting out there and fighting all the best in the light heavyweight division. I don’t see that fight happening anytime soon. What people got to realize is that Anderson Silva’s 37 years old. Thirty-seven years old. They’re in two different weight classes.
White appeared to want no part of Silva vs. Jones. Why ruin two meal tickets when both of them had major fights left in their respective divisions? At the time, Jones still had an oft-delayed bout with former teammate Evans on the horizon, and Silva had a rematch with Chael Sonnen that would be a pay-per-view bonanza.
He put another damper on the fight while speaking to ESPN's outlet in the United Kingdom:
He's got to beat some of the guys at 205lbs that are next in line before Anderson Silva moves up there, ... The guys who have been fighting at 205lbs for all these years and have those slots deserve the respect to fight for the belt before we do some type of super-fight.
But White appeared to change his mind just a few days later, telling Brazilian website Alpha that he had the perfect idea for Silva's final career fight (via Cage Potato):
He’s probably the greatest fighter in history. He hasn’t lost and has been champion since 2006. I think he has two more title defenses and I do not know what he’ll do next or if he will retire, ... He could end his career with a super fight against Jon Jones or George St-Pierre. He could end his career like that — fight in a different weight class. I would be happy with that. Then he could take a boat and sail into the sunset.
The fans wanted the fight, and White finally seemed to be warming to the idea.
April 2012: Jones Cements His Place in History
In beating former friend-turned-nemesis Rashad Evans at UFC 145, Jones had done something entirely unique. With wins over Rua, Jackson, Machida and Evans, Jones had easily dispatched not just the best the UFC's light heavyweight division had to offer, but four of the divisional best of all time.
At the UFC 145 post-fight press conference, White maintained that Silva was still the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but admitted that Jones was inching closer to that top spot. In doing so, White also mentioned the possibility of pairing Jones and Silva:
It's incredible – (Jones) did it in one year, ... Anderson Silva's been doing it since like 2006. Until Anderson Silva loses and is knocked off that top notch, or until we (make a fight with) him and Jon Jones, I think (Silva is) the No. 1 pound-for-pound best fighter in the world.
More and more fans began to clamor for the superfight, lighting up messageboard communities around the world and giving their predictions on who would win. Jones, however, continued to brush aside the notion of facing Silva, while also noting that he believed he could get the job done:
Because I look up to Anderson so much, I don't look at myself as the guy to fight him right now, ... Anderson's one of the guys right now I look at his way of being to like Bruce Lee. I would need to do some serious soul-searching to know that I'd beat Anderson Silva's [butt]. I think I have the capabilities of doing it. But I truly admire Anderson Silva.
Three months after Jones defeated Evans, Silva would finish archrival Chael Sonnen in the second round of their UFC 148 main event. Once again, it seemed as though Silva had no challengers remaining who could conceivably toss him from the middleweight throne, and fans again began to demand that he face either St-Pierre or Jones.
At the UFC 148 post-fight press conference, White was asked about Silva taking on Jones despite Silva's proclamations that he would not take the fight due to their friendship:
"He said he wouldn't fight Chael again, either," White said with a smile.
But the light heavyweight champion had another respected opponent in front of him. Dan Henderson had returned to the UFC from Strikeforce in December 2011, earning a title shot by beating Rua in one of the UFC's all-time classic fights. He was scheduled to face Jones in September 2012 at UFC 151, but an injury suffered in training camp forced him to withdraw. It also brought about the first-ever UFC event cancellation when White and Joe Silva could not find a replacement opponent that Jones thought suitable.
Jones was moved to the UFC 152 main event, where he faced middleweight contender Vitor Belfort. Jones survived a first-round armbar attempt from Belfort before moving on to finish him by submission. Jones, it seemed, had once again cleared out his division of any substantial challengers.
2013: The Roar Becomes Thunder
Until February 2013, both Silva and Jones had adamantly claimed that they would never fight each other.
That all changed when Silva gave an interview to Brazilian outlet SportTV:
SportTV says that last Wednesday Anderson told a bunch of Brazilian cats that he expects to fight Jones this year in New York City but that the bout would need to be a non-title, catch-weight affair.
It was the first time either man had openly discussed the notion of fighting each other. Silva's remarks apparently irked Jones to such a degree that he quit talking about Silva as a friend and started discussing him as a potential opponent.
In the media lead-up to his April fight with Chael Sonnnen, Jones told 99.3 The Fox's Jeff O'Neil Show in Vancouver, Canada, that he would face Silva:
Yeah definitely, there will be a time, there will come a time. One day, I said it first here. Normally I beat around the bush, but it's going to happen for sure.
Jones easily beat Sonnen, but suffered a nasty toe injury in the process. That didn't stop the discussion of the Jones vs. Silva idea from becoming even more substantial, and White threw kerosene on the flames when he announced with a smile at the UFC 159 post-fight press conference that he'd just gotten off the phone with Silva:
That actually did happen tonight. Anderson called and he wants a fight tonight, so. It did happen. Anderson called tonight and Anderson called and I'm not going to tell you which one it is (between Jones and Georges St. Pierre) but I'm going to get to work on it as soon as possible.
Being that Silva's call came on the heels of Jones beating Sonnen, it was assumed that Silva called and requested a fight with the light heavyweight champion. And though Silva had a July fight with Chris Weidman on the docket, White continued to fan the flames:
Silva has a fight coming up on July 6, he's fighting Chris Weidman. Many people think this is a very serious threat to his record and his title and everything else. But if he gets past this test with Weidman, we could see this [Jones] super fight this year.
2014: The Year of Jones vs. Silva?
Now that you know the history, you probably have one question: Will this fight ever happen?
My answer? Yes, and it's going to happen in 2014.
Dave Meltzer of Wrestler Observer Newsletter (h/t Fox Sports Southwest) has suggested that the UFC is planning an event at Cowboys Stadium that would feature Jones vs. Silva as the main event, with the third meeting between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos assuming the co-headliner spot.
I don't believe that report is accurate. White has noted that the Velasquez vs. dos Santos bout is targeted for Houston later in 2013, and UFC officials have confirmed to me that, while nothing is finalized, Houston is being looked into for a late-year event.
Here's what I believe will happen: Jones will return later this summer and face Alexander Gustafsson. As long as he wins that fight, and so long as Silva beats Weidman, then Jones and Silva will face off in early 2014. My best bet would be the Super Bowl weekend card, an event that is traditionally held in Las Vegas. Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated reported the event will instead be held in New Jersey in conjunction with the Super Bowl the following day.
If that event remains a pay-per-view, then Jones vs. Silva is the perfect fight to make. It's a big-money fight in a big market. But if Fox is adamant on televising the event on their network, Silva vs. Jones will not take place on that night. Giving away what could potentially be the biggest-money fight in UFC history on free television isn't the smartest of business decisions, after all.
But you can rest assured that, barring any kind of crazy injury or an abrupt retirement from Silva, the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport will finally meet each other in the Octagon next year.
And what a moment it will be.