October 20, 2019

Bones of Contention: Breaking Down the Pros and Cons of Possible Challengers To the Jon Jones UFC Throne

By Adam Martin

UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones needs an opponent. "Bones" has not fought since he defeated Thiago Santos at UFC 239 in July, and he has been patiently awaiting a new challenger since. At this point, it looks like his next opponent will come down to three men: Dominick Reyes, Johnny Walker, and Jan Blachowicz. Below, I take a look at the pros and cons of each man fighting for the belt.

Dominick Reyes12-0 MMA record, 6-0 in the UFC

Pros

Reyes is arguably the frontrunner to fight Jones at this point. After all, there's a lot to like about him. He's only 29 years old, so he's very much in the prime of his career. At 6'4" and blessed with an 80" reach, Reyes is one of the biggest light heavyweights on the roster, and one of the few who can match up physically with Jones. He is undefeated in his pro career, with nine finishes in 12 wins, and he has finished four of his six fights in the UFC. In his last fight, the UFC Boston main event, Reyes knocked out former UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman in under two minutes. "The Devastator" says he's ready for a title shot, and the quick knockout win over Weidman proves that he is.

Cons

Reyes' split decision nod over Volkan Oezdemir stands out as a reason he might yet not be ready for a title shot. Many felt Reyes should have lost that decision, and Oezdemir is more of a gatekeeper than a top contender. And while Reyes did knock Weidman out, many will point to Weidman's recent chin issues as the reason he was finished so quickly. Out of all the top contenders, Reyes is also the least experienced, having had just 12 professional bouts.

Odds of getting the Jones fight: 70%

At this point, Reyes is the odds-on favorite to fight Jones next. Since Jones is currently free and waiting for an opponent, the timing gives Reyes a leg-up on the other contenders. Reyes called out Jones in his post-fight interview, and you know the UFC loves that. His undefeated record and the way he knocked out Weidman are an easy sell for the UFC in promoting this matchup as well. If I had to bet money on it, I'd put my money on Reyes to fight Jones next.


Johnny Walker17-3 MMA record, 3-0 in the UFC

Pros

Walker has quickly emerged as a serious title contender just one year into his UFC career. That's what knocking out Misha Cirkunov, Justin Ledet, and Khalil Rountree in the first round will do. The 27-year-old Brazilian is one of the flashiest strikers in the light heavyweight division, and he also has a terrific personality. The UFC tends to favor fighters who finish fights when it comes to giving out title shots, and Walker is incredibly popular in Brazil. At 6'5" and blessed with an 82" reach, Walker also matches up well physically against Jones. He's very close to getting a title shot at this point.

Cons

While Walker has looked incredibly impressive in his fights, winning each by first-round knockout, it's still only three UFC fights. He also hasn't fought anyone in the Top 10 yet. In addition, Walker has three losses by stoppage in his career. Another knock against Walker is that he hasn't fought since earlier this year, but he will take on Corey Anderson at UFC 244 next month. Anderson is a tough opponent for anyone in the division, so you can't just assume Walker wins that fight. But if Walker does beat Anderson, he'll make a strong statement in his favor.

Odds of getting the Jones fight: 20%

Although Reyes likely gets the next title shot, I wouldn't completely write off Walker as a contender just yet. If he can finish Anderson at UFC 244 in devastating fashion and get fans invested in him fighting Jones, he could go ahead and steal a title shot. Odds are that Walker needs another win before he's seriously considered for the title shot, but you can't completely count him out.


Jan Blachowicz24-8 MMA record, 7-5 in the UFC

Pros

Blachowicz is the most experienced contender, with a pro career that goes back to 2007 and 32 professional fights. He's coming off of a huge knockout win over former UFC Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold at UFC 239, which was the biggest win of his career. He is very well-rounded, and has 15 wins by stoppage, including six by knockout and nine by submission. Although Blachowicz is 36 years old, he is actually improving and seems to be a bit of a late bloomer. He's a big man at 6'2" with a 78" reach. Blachowicz is set to fight Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza next month at UFC Sao Paulo, and if he wins that fight he'll be right there in regards to a title shot.

Cons

Although Blachowicz is the most experienced of the contenders vying for Jones, that experience also comes with a cost. He has more losses than the other two contenders, and his five losses in the UFC don't reflect well on him. Blachowicz's best win is Rockhold, who has chin issues and is essentially retired at this point. He's also not exactly the most popular fighter, and doesn't move the needle when it comes to selling fights.

Odds of getting the Jones fight: 10%

Of the three contenders listed in this piece, I give Blachowicz the worst odds to land the Jones fight. He's a great fight, but he doesn't generate much fan interest. His win over Rockhold was solid, and beating Souza would be big too. But ultimately those are two middleweights. If he wants to truly work his way into the mix, he'll have to defeat a top-five opponent at 205 lbs.

With Jon Jones pushing the UFC to get a fight booked, and with the light heavyweights listed above all fighting within one month of each other, expect one of them to get the next crack at Jones. If I had to guess, it will be Dominick Reyes who gets the title shot. But you can't completely count the others out.


UFC on ESPN 6
Dominick Reyes vs. Chris Weidman: Dominick Reyes defeats Chris Weidman by KO (Punches) at 1:43 of Round 1.

UFC on ESPN 6: Reyes vs. Weidman took place October 18, 2019 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

Click HERE for more UFC on ESPN 6 Post-Fight Analysis


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