As Jon Jones walked to the cage to make his record sixth UFC light heavyweight title defense against Alexander Gustafsson, he donned a Nike walkout shirt with the words ”Not Quite Human” gleaming on his chest. Up to that point in his career, this wardrobe choice was spot-on, as the promotion’s youngest champion had dominated every opponent placed in front of him with startling ease.
Jones came into that fight a heavy favorite, and most onlookers were simply looking at the Swede as another notch in the champ’s belt, but Gustafsson proved to be no one’s door mat as he gave the champion all he could handle for the entire 25 minutes. Jones walked away with the belt, but Gustafsson finally made the heralded champion look like flesh and bone, cutting Jones and even taking the former JUCO national champion down.
At UFC 172, “Bones” again defended his title against No. 2 Glover Teixeira, but again the champion was given a stiff test. In the early going, Glover connected with some hard shots on the feet and stuffed the majority of the champion’s vaunted takedowns. Jones pulled away near the end of the fight, but it is clear that the plot is thickening at 205 pounds.
Despite it being the banner division of UFC for many years, the level of competition at light heavyweight seemed to be dwindling as former champions like Shogun Rua, Rashad Evans, Rampage Jackson and Lyoto Machida were all dispatched by the younger and more athletic Jones. It seemed that a move to heavyweight was inevitable for Jones, who had been essentially untested throughout his UFC career.
This is no longer the case for the UFC light heavyweight king. With the recent influx of killers at 205 pounds, the urge for Jones to move up has decreased dramatically. With exciting challengers like Gustafsson, Teixeira, Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson entering the mix, what seemed like a cleaned out division is now boiling over with dangerous threats to the light heavyweight title.
Like many great champions, simply the aura of Jones has put a dent in his opponents confidence before the fight even begins, but the new wave of contenders are not offering the champion the same level of respect. Teixeira and Gustafsson have already engaged Jones in wars, with the later awaiting a rematch after destroying Jimi Manuwa, but others are still eagerly awaiting a crack at the champ.
At the top of this mountain is former Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Cormier, who has been very vocal in the past about his feelings toward a potential matchup with the champion.
Cormier battles MMA legend Dan Henderson at UFC 173 next month to potentially earn a shot at the title after Gustafsson gets his second crack at the belt. Unlike the rangy Swede, the 5-foot-11 Cormier will bring Olympic-caliber wrestling and powerful hands into the cage against the champion.
Past opponents of Jones who have been shorter than the 6-foot-4 champion have struggled with his enormous 84.5 reach, but Cormier has an uncanny ability to close the distance quickly on large opponents, which could spell trouble for Jones. For a division that appeared to be on lockdown, the title picture has been blown wide open at 205 pounds, and “Bones” is finally starting to look human.