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Jon Jones' Next Fight: What (And Who) Is In Line For The Light Heavyweight Champion?

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UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones is seemingly so good that fight fans are already clamoring for him to be matched up against the best fighters not even in his division, namely Anderson Silva. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's first look at the numerous notable 205-pound contenders already lying in wait.

UFC 135 at the Pepsi Center on September 24, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
UFC 135 at the Pepsi Center on September 24, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

It's been more than 48 hours since our most recent Jon Jones exposure. We've basked in his glorious glow and let the "Bones" burn slowly settle in the wake of his sensational submission win over Quinton Jackson at UFC 135.

Now what?

Well, we didn't have to wait very long to find out who he would fight next. Rashad Evans was anointed the 205-pound contender the moment he stopped Tito Ortiz via technical knockout at UFC 133 back in early August. And we were reminded about the match up between the former friends, as well as their now heated rivalry, literally minutes after Jones squeezed Rampage into submission in Denver.

Even still, UFC President Dana White had to field several questions about Jones, his future and what fight fans can expect in terms of credible opposition moving forward. That's hardly a normal tack and/or line of questioning most media take after a champion's very first title defense, especially considering the revolving door atop the competitive light heavyweight division since 2007.

But Jones, 24, is far from normal. He's exceptionally abnormal, really, a fighter so very young and so remarkably gifted that fantasy matchmakers are already demanding a superfight with his 185-pound clone, UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva.

White squashed that possibility, at least in the near term, rather swiftly at the UFC 135 press conference. That's because there are several viable contenders already in the 205-pound pipeline queued up to get their crack at the talented phenom.

Here they are, in likely order of availability:

  • Rashad Evans: "Suga" claims that he has Jones' number. The pair used to train together at Team Jackson-Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, N.M., prior to Jones winning the division title. He actually replaced an injured Evans and defeated Mauricio Rua to win the strap earlier this year, which ultimately killed their "friendship" and sent Evans to Florida in search of a more practical training environment under the awkward circumstances. Evans has a very strong wrestling base and the speed necessary to keep up with Jones. He also has the benefit of familiarity, training with Jones extensively prior to their dust up. By the same token, Jones, too, shares that advantage. However, if the key to beating Jones is indeed taking him down, putting him on his back and beating him up, which is what Evans claims he was able to do in training, then he certainly has a better chance than most to score an upset.
  • Dan Henderson-Mauricio Rua winner: If this is the next 205-pound eliminator match, then no one assured Henderson. Nonetheless, it makes perfect sense: If Henderson, the incumbent Strikeforce light heavyweight champion who was recently lured back to the UFC, is able to register a big win upon his return over the former champion, it would set up a fight between two fighters with a nearly 20-year difference in age. On the other hand, a win for Shogun sets the table for a rematch, providing the Brazilian with the opportunity to reclaim his title, avenge a terrible loss and prove that he was not himself in their initial encounter. Either way, the promotion has a lot of material with which to work and market a big-ticket pay-per-view (PPV) main event. We'll find out a direction soon enough: Henderson and Shogun are set to headline UFC 139, which is scheduled for the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., on Nov. 19, 2011, in a five-round, non-title fight.
  • Lyoto Machida-Phil Davis winner: Let's be clear: This fight isn't set. In fact, there is a possibility that it may never happen. But, it should. These two are on the outside looking in, dark horses of the division, if you will. Machida, a former champion, was in Jones' position not too long ago: A dominant fighter with seemingly no holes in his game. Shogun Rua, however, found one, as well as Jackson. After the back-to-back losses, "The Dragon" got back in the win column with a crushing finish of Randy Couture in his most recent appearance. Handing "Mr. Wonderful" his first career loss would go a long way toward getting back in title hunt. Davis, meanwhile, had his opportunity to breakthrough with a win over Evans until an injury forced him off the card (Ortiz stepped up on short notice and lost). He has incredible wrestling, better than Evans, but is still incredibly raw. With a stepping stone like Machida on his hit list, along with another year to hone his skills, Davis could make a match up with Jones very intriguing in about a year or more from now. Both of these guys, even if they are booked to battle, will likely have to take another fight to keep busy before earning a championship berth.

Clearly, there are several warm options for Jones already served on the light heavyweight table.

Silva, the sexy pick, could certainly work his way into the mix a few months from now if he continues to ravage the 185-pound class. "The Spider" is also maybe three fights away from calling it quits on his illustrious career, meaning the promotion might consider making the match before it disappears forever.

Short of that, Jones will be busy, at the very least, for the next 12 months. He's got the fight with Evans already lined up, which will likely take place sometime in the first quarter of 2012, and then the showdown with the winner
of Henderson-Shogun.

If he's still champion, of course.