By Adam Martin
On Tuesday evening, after years and years of false hopes and broken dreams, MMA was finally legalized in the state of New York. With this news, everyone wins: The fans, the UFC, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta, the fighters, the state, and even Bellator and the other smaller MMA promotions around the country. For the sake of this article, however, the focus will be on the UFC.
The UFC has already promised to hold at least one and maybe two events in New York before the end of the year, and rumors are that a megashow at Madison Square Garden is planned for November. Debate has already begun on the internet over the different options for the main event.
But the fighter who should headline this card isn’t one of the names above. And when you think about it, this really isn’t even that hard of a decision for the UFC to make.
Jon Jones should headline the UFC’s first show in New York, and I don’t even think there’s room for debate.
Let’s start with the facts. Jones is currently the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He is the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion who never actually lost his belt in the cage, but rather for his actions outside of it. All told, he’s 15-1 inside the Octagon with his only loss coming via controversial DQ, and he has defeated many of the sport’s all-time greats. He’s also from New York, and is the greatest New York-based MMA fighter in the sport’s history. I also believe he’s the best MMA fighter of all time. Add all of those things together and you have the fighter who deserves the opportunity to headline in Madison Square Garden this November.
UFC 197 next month when he takes on UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier in a bid to get back the title he never lost. Provided Jones wins the fight -- and he’s the betting odds-on favorite to do so, considering he beat Cormier just last year at UFC 182 -- he could make his next title defense against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in the headliner of a PPV card at the Garden. Johnson, for his part, is already tweeting about MMA in New York, no doubt hoping he’s part of the first show. And Jones, obviously, would love to get the honor of the first New York main event. So it makes a lot of sense.
Even if Jones loses to Cormier at 197, the trilogy fight between these two rivals would make sense to headline the UFC’s New York card as well. Unless Jones suffers an injury that keeps him out of action, he should absolutely be headlining UFC NYC, win, lose, or draw this April at UFC 197.
Some will say it should be a McGregor or Rousey card because they are both bigger PPV draws. And while that’s true, Jones is probably the #3 PPV draw on the list, and shockingly is often forgotten about as a star. A lot of that is his own doing because of his actions outside of the cage, but he has the chance at UFC 197 to reaffirm to the doubters that people want to see him fight. And while McGregor and Rousey are huge stars, neither has any real tie to New York. It makes way more sense for Jones to be “the guy” when the UFC finally makes its MSG debut.
Anderson Silva in the co-main event. But again, this is all guesswork by me, and the UFC matchmakers no doubt have some interesting plans of their own.
If it was up to me, though, Jones would headline the card, and I wouldn’t even think twice about it. As the best New York fighter in the sport’s 23-year history, he deserves this fight, and if he wants it, he’ll go out there against Cormier at UFC 197 and show the world once again why he’s the most dominant mixed martial artist the sport has ever seen.
UFC 197: Jones vs. St. Preux (formerly UFC 197: Cormier vs. Jones 2) takes place on April 23, 2016 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.