Despite a flurry of news Monday that seemed to lend clarity to the UFC light heavyweight division, the reality is that the situation remains a murky pool of unanswered questions.
Soon after that news broke, Jon Jones tweeted that he’s vacating his light heavyweight crown and negotiating a move up to heavyweight.
Does that mean Reyes and Blachowicz will fight for the vacated light heavyweight crown?
And for those refusing to believe Daniel Cormier actually is done fighting, the arrival of arch-rival Jones at heavyweight would seem to pour gasoline onto those flickers of doubt.
ESPN’s panel of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim breaks down what’s real from what’s not.
Real or not: Jones will be the next challenger to heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic.
Helwani: I don’t think so. I think they’ll go with Ngannou versus Miocic next. After all, Dana White said as much at the UFC 252 post-fight press conference on Saturday. I think there is a good chance Jones waits for the winner of that fight and doesn’t fight until then or fights a top contender to get his feet wet at heavyweight. Neither scenario would surprise me. Jones, as we know, is very calculated when it comes to his fighting career, so I think he’d like the idea of testing the waters against a contender before fighting for the belt. The question then becomes, is the UFC willing to pay him what he wants to move up? That’s the big one. Regardless, I think they’ll figure out eventually, but a 2020 return is looking like a long shot at the moment.
Real or not: Jones should have to win a heavyweight fight before landing a title shot.
Wagenheim: Not necessarily. If there were no clear No. 1 heavyweight contender waiting for a shot, I’d be totally OK with the best light heavyweight on the planet — belt or no belt — stepping right to the head of the line in the land of behemoths. But who’s brave enough to tell Ngannou to move aside?
Yeah, I know Ngannou already had a shot at Miocic, but that was more than 2½ years ago. Since then, “The Predator” has fought four times — knockout wins in 45, 26, 71 and 20 seconds, with two of the victims being former UFC heavyweight champions. There’s not a contender in any division in the UFC or any other fight promotion — MMA, boxing, whatever — who is more deserving of a championship opportunity than Ngannou.
Now, if Miocic opts to take a significant period of time off after last weekend’s grueling 25 minutes in the cage with Cormier, and Ngannou is willing to risk his place at the front of the queue — Joanne Calderwood-style — for what would surely be a big-money fight with Jones, then by all means book it.
If Miocic vs. Ngannou 2 does go forward, I think Jones has the resume to warrant being the next title challenger. I don’t think “Jonny Bones” needs to earn a shot with a heavyweight win. I do think it would be badass, though, if he were to solidify his position in a fight with the current No. 2 heavyweight contender, Curtis Blaydes.
Real or not: After missing out on becoming light heavyweight champ because of what many believe was bad scoring against Jones, Reyes will beat Blachowicz for the title.
Raimondi: It would be a huge mistake to count out Blachowicz. Many people were doing that in February before Blachowicz’s fight with Corey Anderson and we saw what happened there. Blachowicz stopped Anderson with a right hand in Round 1. The Polish powerhouse has won seven of his last eight fights. He’s the real deal. With all that being said, Reyes sure does seem like the future of the division, doesn’t he? He’s only 30 years old, has just 13 pro fights and appears to be getting better every single time. Many felt he beat Jones at UFC 247 in February. It was certainly the most vulnerable Jones has looked, perhaps ever. And that’s not just on Jones. Much of that had to do with Reyes and his southpaw striking skills.
Reyes is a tremendous athlete with upside. Perhaps it’ll be a situation like Georges St-Pierre, where he lost in his first chance at the title and then went on to be a long-term champion after winning it in his second opportunity. There’s another guy you might have heard of who was 12-1 and won the UFC title in his 14th career fight: Jon Jones.
Real or not: Daniel Cormier should come out of retirement for one more shot at Jones
Okamoto: The congratulatory social media posts towards DC are still on our timelines, and we’re already asking if we should pull him back. Absolutely not.
Cormier already took a big risk in fighting Miocic a third time. It would have been real easy for him to walk away after the rematch and say, ‘You know what? I’m good. I beat the man who had defended the heavyweight belt more than anyone else, and it wasn’t my night in the rematch. We’ll leave the series at 1-1, as each other’s equals.’
But that’s not what he did.
He rolled the dice and went all or nothing. Either he’d be remembered as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, or Miocic would. We’d never have to debate it. And in the end, he came up short.
Why in the world would he return again to fight an opponent who has brought out the worst of him in the past, and is eight years younger? This is the slippery slope fighters get caught in all the time. There’s always, always, always “one more fight” to come back for. And most of the time, that “one” leads to a depressing stretch of poor performances to end a career. Cormier didn’t go out on “top, top,” — he’s not a UFC champion — but he went out on top in the sense he fought the best on Saturday and made a lot of money doing it. And he’s walking away relatively healthy. Enjoy retirement, DC.