March 7, 2019

UFC 235: Jon Jones Has Nearly Cleaned Out Light Heavyweight, But Thiago Santos Looms Next

By Adam Martin

At UFC 235, Jon Jones proved once again that he's the best fighter the light heavyweight division has ever seen with a five-round unanimous decision drubbing over Anthony Smith to defend his title once again. Jones controlled the entirety of the bout from bell to bell, and and after overcoming a brain fart with a fourth-round illegal knee to the head of a downed opponent that nearly ended the fight, improved to a 24-1, 1 NC record in MMA, with 18 of those wins alone coming inside the Octagon.

Since making his UFC debut a decade ago, no one save for Matt Hamill via DQ has come close to beating Jones. He still feels like an invincible fighter who will never be beaten, and just like many times in the past, it appears that Jones has nearly cleaned out the light heavyweight division. But just like every other time in the past that we've said that, another challenger has emerged. Indeed, UFC President Dana White confirmed in the UFC 235 post-fight press conference that the matchmakers have already decided who Jones will take on next. It will be none other than Thiago Santos.

Like Smith, Santos is a former midcard middleweight who has found incredible success since moving up to light heavyweight. A year ago, if you had said Smith and Santos would be the next two men to fight Jones, you'd be laughed at. But Smith moved up and got three finishes at light heavyweight to earn a title shot, and Santos has done the same.

With a 3-0 record since last September, consisting of knockout wins over Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa and Jan Blachowicz, Santos has emerged as the clear #1 contender in a division that needs fresh faces for Jones to fight. But unlike Smith, Santos possesses the pure one-punch KO power that makes a Jones fight truly intriguing.

Anytime Santos touches someone's chin there's the chance they can go to sleep. With the KO win over Blachowicz just a few weeks ago, Santos moved into second place in UFC history with 11 knockout wins, just one behind another Jones foe, Vitor Belfort. But unlike Belfort, who fought Jones when he was in the later stages of his career, Santos is right in the middle of his prime right now. We thought Jones was on the verge of clearing the light heavyweight division of worthwhile challengers, but Santos showed with his dominant win over Blachowicz that he presents a very unique challenge for anyone at 205 lbs due to his special knockout power and the fact that he doesn't mind getting into a slugfest with anyone in the division.

Let's face it: the odds of Jones losing anytime soon are remote. For all of his problems, he remains the single most talented mixed martial artist who the sport has ever seen. But the UFC has to keep finding challengers for him. Unless he moves up to heavyweight and take on a whole new set of challengers, the UFC's job is to find new light heavyweights who present challenges for the champ. We thought Smith might be that guy, but he decided to play it safe and he blew the biggest opportunity of his career, because being conservative against a guy like Jones isn't the way to beat him.

Santos, though, doesn't seem like the kind of fighter who will play it safe with Jones. He's a kill-or-be-killed fighter with ridiculous KO power who has earned the right to fight for the light heavyweight title Jones currently holds. After this fight we can reassess whether or not Jones has cleaned out 205 lbs, but as of right now there's another challenger in the midst, and it's worth seeing what Santos can do with this opportunity. Let's just hope that he takes full advantage of it and leaves everything he has inside the Octagon, because it's going to take everything he has if he's to get the upset over Jones.

UFC 235
Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith (UFC Light Heavyweight Championship): Jon Jones def. Anthony Smith via unanimous decision (48-44, 48-44, 48-44).

UFC 235: Jones vs. Smith took place March 2, 2019 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Click HERE for more UFC 235 Post-Fight Analysis

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