AP Photo/John Locher

UFC: Reyes, Blachowicz, a Super Fight — What’s next for Jon Jones?

Although perhaps not quite as stacked with marquee names as it once was, there are options aplenty again in the Light Heavyweight division for reigning champion Jon Jones.

The two names that stand out the most as of right now, and which arguably would make the most sense to put across the cage from “Bones,” are the No. 1 ranked Dominick Reyes (12-1) and the No. 6 ranked Jan Blachowicz (26-8) — and there are plenty of reasons as to why the odds may be tipped in either contender’s favor once the UFC matchmakers sit down to book Jones’ next Octagon rendezvous.

For Reyes, the recency bias plays heavily into the equation. “The Devastator” fought the fight of his life against Jones earlier this month in a five round thriller at the  Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. The California natives performance showed exactly how one should fight against the relentless 205-pound king. And though he lost unanimously, his stock wasn’t hurt in the slightest. In fact, it was quite the contrary.

Reyes impressed the masses. From your casual MMA PPV viewers to the weekly die hards — the 30-year-olds showing surpassed all expectations. It would have been hard to argue had the decision gone his way. Many people will tell you that they wholeheartedly thought that Reyes won. It was that close. But what’s for certain now is that Reyes will never again be labelled as one-dimensional.

His game plan was excellent. The takedown defense was on point. His striking was crisp, forcing Jones to shoot for his legs nine times and succeeding only twice. And even then, “Bones” was not able to hold Reyes down for long. If there was ever a tutorial on how to be effective against Jones, that fight was it. Reyes, although forced to fight on the back foot for large parts of the contest, landed a ton (116 sig. strikes at a 44% clip) and hurt the defending champion the most out of anyone in recent memory. But it just wasn’t enough. Hence the appeals for an immediate rematch.

 

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Respect is Earned on the battlefield.

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It wouldn’t be surprising if the UFC went with that option. The people want to see it, Reyes is game, it’s a win. But the only thing is Jones’ record in rematches.

In the UFC, Jones fought the same opponent on two occasions, and both times, the faith of the men standing across from him was virtually identical. Jones’ initial encounters with Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson both resulted in decision victories, after which he went on to stop both of them in the rematches (Cormier 2 win later overturned to NC).

One of Jones’ trademarks is his fight IQ. He studies his opponents prior, during, and after their fights, and you just can’t help but feel that an immediate rematch with Reyes would be too soon for “The Devastator” to come for Jones’ throne again. Game plan’s may be altered but most in-cage habits remain. Therefore, taking one or two other fights in the meantime may just be what Reyes needs in order to further hone his skills and come back to fight Jones with an improved arsenal of weapons.

On the other hand, there is the aging Pole in Blachowicz. Aging in the best possible meaning of that word — like fine wine.

Since October, 2017, coming off consecutive losses into a clash with Devin Clark, Blachowicz has been pretty much unstoppable. The former KSW Light Heavyweight champion is 7-1 in eight fights since that Clark fight, which evidently was a turning point for the now 36-year-old (turns 37 next week). It’s unclear what it was, but something just clicked for Blachowicz. It seems like mentally he realized that it’s now or never in terms of getting a shot at UFC gold, and his quest for that title shot has been nothing short of exceptional.

Blachowicz has been knocking off some high caliber opponents along the way too. Names such as Jared Cannonier, Jimi Manuwa, Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza, and now Corey Anderson are no slouches. It’s a path that would separate all contenders from pretenders, and that’s what Blachowicz has become. A serious contender. And it feels like he has been a little hard done by in recent months.

The UFC certainly does not seem all that keen to grant one of the divisions most consistent fighters a title shot, all while quite openly backing his opponent’s for them even before they face-off. It happened after Blachowicz suffered his sole loss in the last 18 months against Thiago Santos, a fight he was arguably ahead in before getting caught with a Santos’ special flush on the chin.

Rockhold was also touted as the next big contender for Jones’ belt before Blachowicz ended those dreams with a left uppercut of his own. The Pole was going to be the final hurdle for Anderson before getting a crack at Jones too before he fell victim to Blachowicz’s power.

You can’t help but get the feeling that perhaps now is Blachowicz’s time, especially after the theatrics between him and Jones following his enthralling victory on Saturday night. But with the UFC, you just never know.

In terms of pure skillset, Blachowicz matches up with Jones nicely. While not quite as explosive as Reyes, Blachowicz has shown time and time again that he packs heat in his gloves. And he’s very calculated. Win or lose, Blachowicz never seems to lose his head inside the Octagon and he’s certainly a totally different proposition for Jones, who’s determined to keep knocking off all the fresh blood that Dana White throws at him.

It’s not easy to predict what the UFC will do with Jones next. But for the company, that’s a great problem to have. The options are essentially limitless. From potential super-fights against Israel Adesanya or Stipe Miocic to divisional title defenses, everything is on the table right now. And now we wait. And with Jones claiming that he desires to remain active, expect a fight announcement sooner rather than later.

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OpinionUFC

Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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