Jon Jones: The Path to Breaking Anderson Silva's Title Defense Record
Even if you don’t consider Jon Jones the greatest light heavyweight of all time, you must admit he’s getting close.
Since winning the championship from Mauricio Rua in 2011, Jones has defended the championship seven times. He smashed the previous record of five, held by Tito Ortiz, and has become the UFC’s all-time light heavyweight wins leader.
The next record Jones is pursuing belongs to Anderson Silva, the man many consider to be the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time. Silva won the UFC middleweight championship from Rich Franklin on October 14, 2006. Over the next seven years, Silva would defend the title 10 times before losing it to Chris Weidman in July 2013.
Jones needs three more title defenses to tie Silva’s record. He needs four to claim the record as his own. Today, we’ll take a look at his potential path to tying and then breaking Silva’s record. If he does so, he will likely be unanimously considered the greatest fighter of all time.
High stakes, indeed. Let’s take a look at his potential opponents and assign a percentage to a Jones win over each of them.
Jones has faced and defeated Gustafsson before, of course. But their thrilling UFC 165 bout was a close one, close enough that many onlookers believed Gustafsson won the fight.
Gustafsson’s performance in the first fight may lead you to believe he has a good chance of dethroning the champion in the rematch. And perhaps he does. Many champions have at least one opponent that has their number, and Gustafsson may be that opponent for Jones.
But I don’t think so. Jones told me last month that he didn’t take Gustafsson as seriously as he should have. Jones wasn’t lazy during training camp by any means, but he didn’t prepare for the Swede with the same care he usually does.
That won’t happen the second time around. Jones is one of the most cerebral fighters in mixed martial arts, and he will learn from the mistakes he made in the first fight. It is likely he’ll be more prepared for Gustafsson than he’s been for any other opponent, and that’s bad news for the challenger.
Gustafsson presents physical challenges that Jones usually doesn’t face with other opponents. His length and striking ability have the potential to give the champion fits. But I believe Jones will have a solution for Gustafsson the second time around, and that preparation—combined with Jones' otherworldly ability—will allow him to cruise to victory in much easier fashion than the last time the pair faced off.
Chance of beating Gustafsson: 70 Percent
This is the Jones fight I’m most looking forward to.
Cormier has all the tools to beat Jones. He is a true world-class wrestler who won’t be taken down. His use of space and distance is nearly on par with Jones. He is an excellent striker with a ton of power, and that power also gives him an advantage in the clinch. And after years of training with Cain Velasquez, he’ll have the kind of cardio that allows him to go five full rounds without much trouble.
In short, Cormier has a very real chance of ending Jones’ title reign. Jones’ massive reach advantage is a difficult tool to overcome, however, and that could be the difference in this fight. If Jones can keep Cormier at bay with his long arms, it will be difficult for Cormier to execute any kind of offense. And Jones' liberal use of elbows and other creative strikes is another tool in his arsenal that other light heavyweights do not have.
This will be a close one, and that’s the main reason I’m looking forward to it.
Chance of beating Cormier: 52 Percent
Johnson’s return to the UFC and dominant win over Phil Davis made him an instant dark-horse contender for the championship. He’ll need one or two more wins before securing a title shot, but if he performs in all his fights the same way he did against Davis, there is no reason he believe he won’t be preparing for a title shot at some point in 2015.
Johnson has massive power in his strikes and displayed effortless takedown defense against Davis. He’ll need both of those tools against Jones. But as with most Jones opponents, he is still facing a man with superb reach. But most importantly, Jones knows how to use that reach to keep power strikers at bay.
Johnson’s return to prominence in a division 35 pounds higher than his original run in the UFC is a remarkable one. I fear he’s not complete enough to compete with the champion at the moment, but perhaps he will be by the time his moment in the spotlight arrives.
Chance of beating Johnson: 80 Percent
Jones dismantled Evans during their original bout at UFC 145.
But Evans is still one of the best light heavyweights in the world. There is no way to know if Evans’ latest injury will prevent him from being the same fighter he once was. But if he’s able to return in a healthy state, there is no reason to believe he won’t work his way back into title contention.
If Evans does return to the title picture, there’s a good chance he will be the fighter Jones must defeat in order to break Silva’s record. It’s a great story: Jones attempting to become the best UFC champion of all time by defeating his former friend and training partner.
If Jones and Evans do face off a second time, I don’t see it being much different than the first time. Jones already faced Evans at his absolute best and beat him handily. Evans will be three or four years older by the time the rematch happens, and it’s not likely he will have improved enough to win.
Chances of beating Evans: 80 Percent