Last weekend saw Jon “Bones” Jones make his return to the octagon for the first time in over 3 years with a dominant performance over highly ranked heavyweight contender Ciryl Gane. Making his debut at heavyweight and becoming the champion of the division the question remains as to who will Jones fight next and is there anyone at heavyweight who is capable of stopping the man considered by many to be the GOAT of MMA?
Who’s next for Jon Jones?
Among the brightest prospects of the heavyweight division in recent years, Tom Aspinall’s massive momentum was derailed by a freak injury against Curtis Blaydes, 15 seconds into their bout last summer. A fighter who was known to be among the fastest in the heavyweight division with hand speed of a middleweight and an extremely high level of jiu jitsu, Aspinall’s skill set remains to be evaluated post injury. Undergoing surgery for the torn MCL and damaged ACL he will hope to be back to his best and has mentioned that he is looking to fight sometime this year. While an immediate shot at Jones on his return seems extremely unlikely, given the hype surrounding him and the trajectory that he was on pre-injury, all he needs is one impressive performance before catapulting himself into the title picture.
Blaydes has established himself at the top of the heavyweight pile of contenders for several years now. Only losing to Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou, Blaydes has continuously proven that he is the cream of the crop of heavyweight contenders and his sheer size and immense wrestling is difficult to deal with. While perhaps historically overlooked with many fans not enjoying his wrestling heavy style Blaydes has learned to let his hands go in recent fights and a match up between him and Jones would certainly be intriguing. The size difference alone makes the fight interesting. While Jones is strong and is now big for a heavyweight it is not his normal weight class and despite taking his 3 years or so to bulk up he is still undersized compared to the likes of Blaydes and Aspinall. It remains to be seen whether this size difference will come into play. Gane never offered a real threat of a takedown to Jones and the two weighed in at roughly the same, yet Blaydes regularly comes in around the heavyweight limit and we have never seen Jones attempt to stop the takedown attempts of a man the size of Blaydes. Blaydes has been biding his time while the division has been seemingly put on hold by the trifecta that was Ngannou, Stipe Miocic and Jones yet with that trio of fights coming to a likely end this year his upcoming fight with Sergei Pavlovich will surely grant the winner a title shot.
Speaking of Pavlovich, the Russian is undefeated in his last 5 in the organisation with the only defeat on an otherwise unblemished record coming against Alistair Overeem in his promotional debut. His last every single finish in the organisation coming by way of knockout in the first round. Pavlovich is a fighter who possesses an unholy amount of power. His performance against Blaydes will show if he is able to deal with a high level wrestler and if Pavlovich dispatches Blaydes as he has done to Tai Tuivasa and Derrick Lewis then it would be impossible to overlook him when it came to handing out a title shot. Pavlovich possesses an uncanny ability to turn nearly every fight into an all out brawl, and it is in this chaos that he thrives. If he manages to do the same to Jones it is difficult to see the current champion being able to take many of Pavlovich’s powerful strikes.
This matchup is perhaps the most likely to occur. Miocic is arguably the GOAT of the division and is a two-time champion. He holds wins over the likes of Fabrico Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Junior Dos Santos and Francis Ngannou as well as his famous trilogy against Jones’ old enemy, Daniel Cormier. An excellent boxer with an impressive wrestling pedigree Miocic was at one stage the most dominant heavyweight on the planet, however, is turning 41 this year and one would expect that his best years are unfortunately behind him. He has not fought in almost 2 years and while he may not be the most deserving based on recent form it appears that past merit and accomplishments will be enough to guarantee him this fight should he want it. Talked about for years now Miocic vs Jones will likely be put together though possibly several years too late. Once this fight is over hopefully the division can move on with regular life after being held up for so long.