Did anyone really think Jon Jones wouldn’t at least flirt with the idea of challenging the winner of Saturday’s light heavyweight championship bout? It didn’t take long after Jan Blachowicz defeated Dominick Reyes in the UFC 253 co-main event on Fight Island for Jones to tweet about the possibility of challenging Blachowicz.
Jones reigned over the division for the better part of a decade before vacating the title earlier this year to pursue heavyweight challenges, so it had to feel weird for him to see someone else wear the belt. “Would you guys be annoyed if I went back and grabbed my belt real quick?” Jones asked on Twitter.
UFC president Dana White would not be annoyed.
“If Jon Jones wanted that fight, we wouldn’t deny Jon Jones the opportunity,” White told reporters after Saturday’s card.
As far as whom Blachowicz would like his first defense to be against, he made that clear right away. “Jon, Jones, where are you?” Blachowicz said. “Don’t be a quitter. … I’m waiting for you.”
MMA fans have been waiting for Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal — former roommates turned enemies — to settle their feud, and White embraced that idea, as well.
“It’s very possible,” White said. “How do you not make that fight? That’s the fight that makes sense.”
There was speculation Masvidal might face Nate Diaz, but Covington’s win over Tyron Woodley on Sept. 19 might have changed White’s mind.
ESPN MMA experts Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim take a look at those topics as well as the futures of Israel Adesanya and Khamzat Chimaev to sort through what’s real and what’s not.
Real or not: We have not seen the last of Jon Jones at light heavyweight
Raimondi: That’s real. Very real. I mean, Jones implied he’d drop back down to light heavyweight and attempt to get his old title back in a tweet Saturday night — just about an hour after Blachowicz won the belt. I’m not sure if that’s a case of departure remorse. Jones has accomplished all there is at light heavyweight and has some potentially enormous fights lined up for him at heavyweight. But frankly, Jones and light heavyweight are synonymous. Only he and Daniel Cormier held that prestigious belt for the past nine years. And Jones never actually lost it by losing in competition; it was always an outside-the-cage issue — a drug test or legal issue — that cost him the title.
Would you guys be annoyed if I went back and grabbed my belt real quick?
— BONY (@JonnyBones) September 27, 2020
This time, though, Jones willingly relinquished the light heavyweight title. Now, Blachowicz is the champion. It does feel a little weird, doesn’t it? Probably to Jones, too, which likely spurred the Twitter outburst.
Jones will be back at some point. It probably won’t be his next fight. It might not even be next year. But Jones is still only 33 years old. He’ll eventually come back in an attempt to reclaim the title he held for the better part of a decade.
Real or not: Colby Covington’s next opponent will be Jorge Masvidal
Wagenheim: It’s real and it’s going to be real fun. Why am I so confident this one is happening? Because it makes total sense and everyone wants it. Colby wants it. Jorge wants it. Dana wants it. In fact, everyone in the world who’s easily identified by just a first name wants to see this fight, from Adele to Zion. Why would someone not want this fight? It has everything.
If what draws you to combat sports is a bickering backstory, this matchup is a doozy, from the roommate years forward. If you don’t care about drama but just love watching MMA being fought at a high level? This fight pits two men who are elite at what they do — and what one guy is so good at is precisely the opposite of what the other guy is best at. It’s a stylistic clash. It’s a personal clash.
I know Covington has been talking about what he’ll do in his second crack at Kamaru Usman, and he has been sounding like the rematch is inevitably next for him. But that’s wishful thinking. He lost to the welterweight champion by knockout only nine months ago, and I don’t think he quite earned his way back to the head of the line with last week’s victory over Woodley. Colby needs one more win over a contender. I also know Masvidal has been linked to a Diaz rematch. But let’s face it — that one makes little sense but was floated simply because it would make lots of dollars and cents. We already saw Jorge beat up Nate. Next?
Covington vs. Masvidal. Who’s the president going to root for?
Real or not: Israel Adesanya will try to become a champ-champ in 2021
Okamoto: That chapter of Israel Adesanya’s career is coming at some point (assuming he continues to win, of course), but I tend to think it won’t be in 2021.
As far as obvious fights left for him at 185 pounds, I’d count Jared Cannonier and Darren Till. Less obvious fights include a Robert Whittaker rematch, a Kelvin Gastelum rematch and Jack Hermansson. These are his most likely opponents in 2021, and I’d say there’s enough here to get him through one more year of title defenses.
Plus, now that Jon Jones is gone, the appeal of a move up to light heavyweight isn’t the same. It’s still intriguing and, as I said, I believe it will happen eventually, but what’s the rush?
Adesanya seems to like the idea of “cleaning out the division.” It’s why he wanted to fight Yoel Romero, a fight he didn’t really need to take. I think it’s why he’s already calling for a fresh opponent in Cannonier. And we know he has talked plenty about Till. A lot of this depends on what happens in the division around him, obviously, but whether it’s Whittaker earning a rematch, Gastelum putting together multiple wins to set up a rematch of their Fight of the Year candidate, Till’s emergence, Hermansson making a statement … there’s enough to keep Izzy at middleweight in 2021.
Real or not: Khamzat Chimaev’s next opponent should be Demian Maia
Helwani: Doesn’t matter anymore because that train has left the station. Meaning, for whatever reason, they aren’t considering that fight anymore. Hardly any talks surrounding it this past week. Kinda weird after all that talk going into the Gerald Meerschaert fight, right? Regardless, you know what? I’m OK with it. Demian Maia is 42 years old. He has one fight left on his current deal. Does he really need to be fighting Khamzat Chimaev at this point of his illustrious career? No, he doesn’t. Not saying he can’t beat him, but let’s be honest: They were serving the legend up to Chimaev like a sacrificial lamb. Maia deserves to go out on his terms.
Here’s the deal: The UFC wants to book Chimaev vs. Stephen Thompson, I’m told. However, Thompson wants to fight Leon Edwards next. Edwards, though, is more interested in Colby Covington or even Chimaev. But, the UFC wants to do Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal next. Are you following all of this? And does that mean we are getting Chimaev vs. … Nathan Diaz next? Of course not. But, needless to say, it’s a bit of a mess at the top of the welterweight division at the moment. I think once they figure out what they are doing with Covington a lot of dominoes will fall into place. And one thing is for certain: Chimaev is getting a top-10 fighter next. Most likely in a main event spot, too. Anything less would feel like a letdown at this point.