UFC light heavyweight king Jon Jones hasn’t officially committed to a move to heavyweight, but he has hinted strongly that he’d be willing to do so for the right price and the right opponent. Even a mere mention of that potential bombshell move is a roadblock for heavyweight phenom Francis Ngannou, who has rightfully staked his claim as the top contender after delivering consecutive first-round knockouts over Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.
The latter is undoubtedly the most jaw-dropping takeaway from the weekend’s UFC on ESPN 3 festivities, along with UFC President Dana White’s lukewarm response after witnessing Ngannou’s ham-sized fists dribble off dos Santos’ skull.
“Stipe [Miocic] and [UFC heavyweight champion Daniel] Cormier has to play out,” White said, per MMAjunkie. “…Who wins, how they come out of that fight, what does Cormier want to do next if he wins. There’s a lot of things that play into what’s next. It’s not as easy as, ‘Oh, I won tonight, and I’m next for the fight.’ And we know this. I go through this every single time there’s a fight.”
There is something to be said about promising title fights with a clear conscious and avoiding prisoner of the moment decisions that could lead to matchmaking problems down the line. However, Ngannou just unseated two of the greatest fighters of this generation in dominant fashion, which doesn’t leave much to the imagination when pinning down a more deserving heavyweight challenger for the throne.
Light heavyweight, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.
That’s where arguably the greatest fighter to ever step foot inside the octagon resides. The only man to ever defeat Cormier (twice) turned what was once perceived as the UFC’s deepest weight class into a pillar of ashes faster than Daenerys Targaryen could say “Dracarys.” Jon Jones is the only long-shot contender that would give White cause for pause in denying a terrifying heavyweight like Francis Ngannou a title shot, and if Cormier somehow gets past Miocic a second time, he could be the reason ‘DC’ sticks around for at least one more fight.
Even after the outcome of the first two fights, there is something particularly scintillating about a trilogy taking place at heavyweight. That observation goes beyond the blockbuster-worthy drama and naughty things Jones and Cormier say to one another when they think the camera isn’t rolling. No, there is a legitimate belief that somehow things would be different if Jones fights Cormier at walking-around weight.
“There’s still a lot of interest in me fighting Daniel Cormier for some reason,” Jon Jones told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. “I don’t really know what it is. The first time I won by unanimous decision and the second time I won by knockout so I don’t know why people want to see us fight again so bad, but at heavyweight, I guess that would add a few different factors. So yeah, if that’s the fight the world wants to see, I know one thing about the UFC, we give the fans what they want.”
So the UFC waits.
Jon Jones still has to get past Thiago Santos on Saturday night at UFC 239, and Cormier still has to decide whether fighting or pina coladas are in his immediate future. That potentially leaves Ngannou caught between a rock and a hard place with no means of escape outside of two very distinct options: He could take another fight and risk losing his No. 1 contender’s spot, or he could pull out a fold-out recliner, pop open a cold beverage and patiently wait for the third wave of Jones and Cormier drama to pass.
Whether it’s Jones, Cormier or even Miocic again, someone is going to have a major problem on their hands if they happen to stand in Ngannou’s way. Throughout the UFC’s inception, there have been countless comparisons to legendary knockout artist Mike Tyson. Most were falsified and quickly proven ridiculous in nature, while few stood on the bubble of consistently delivering the kind of highlight reel finishes that made victim and viewer’s toes curl alike. At UFC on ESPN 3, Ngannou stood dead center as the legitimate subject matter for those comparisons.
Perhaps the scariest element regarding his rapid development is the fact that we have yet to see a cap on his ceiling. The impatient contender that swung himself into lassitude against Miocic isn’t the same fighter that stopped dos Santos, Velasquez and Curtis Blaydes in a combined 2 minutes and 21 seconds. He isn’t the same guy as the one spending days and nights in the gym, shoring up holes in his ground game with UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.
A patient Francis Ngannou with good takedown defense is a frightening problem to solve, even for a generational talent like Jon Jones.
That problem only grows through the passage of time, away from the cage and bright lights—every incremental improvement serving as a small victory that ultimately pieces together an MMA Frankenstein there will soon be no denying.