In the immediate aftermath of UFC Lightheavyweight Champion Jon Jones recent title defense against Vitor Belfort, there was speculation that he might have suffered damage to his arm after Belfort’s near finish by arm bar in Round 1. As a young champion who is not hurt, the UFC needs to book him to fight again soon, possibly in December or to headline one of the first UFC 2013 cards. But who does he fight?
Jones was under a lot of pressure heading into his last defense, as the organization and the general public, as well as many of his peers all were blaming him and his coach, Greg Jackson, for the cancellation of UFC 151. After a good performance where he fought a game opponent, this criticism is likely to fade. Combine that with the news Jackson revealed that his arm is not in bad shape, and it behooves the UFC to get Jones back in the ring as soon as possible.
In the heat of September, UFC President Dana White was under a lot of pressure. He did state that by virtue of turning down a title match offer, top contender Lyoto Machida would sit and wait to fight Dan Henderson next. Henderson was Jones original opponent who pulled out due to injury.
Now, White could change his mind and move Lyoto versus Jones back into queue, in which case you have a match to headline the opening show of 2013. If not, Lyoto will be waiting, as Henderson is going to need time to get his knee back in shape and he is going to need a training camp.
The best bet for a fight should White insist on Lyoto-Henderson is former 185 lb challenger Chael Sonnen. As White stated, Sonnen is a top draw and with proper preparation time, Jones is unlikely to balk at the match.
Sonnen is not optimal, as he really hasn’t earned a title shot. But his next match against Forrest Griffin is really useless, and the UFC has expressed displeasure with Griffin. White has in fact called on him to retire. Sonnen in January is a better option than having Jones wait until May for some of the other fights White has in mind to play out.
The bottom line is against any of the aforementioned guys, Jones will likely be installed as at least a 6 to 1 favorite for starters, but Keeping Jones in the public eye and active will continue with his image rebuild. And fighting a ‘bad guy, big mouth’ like Sonnen would likely make people forget altogether.
To set up future opponents, the UFC should also queue up Alexander Gustaffson versus Phil Davis and Rashad Evans versus ‘Shogun’ Rua, two fights I’d like to see.