Jon Jones is back.
To trolling on the internet, picking a fight.
The UFC light heavyweight champion last fought on July 6, when he edged Thiago Santos. It was the closest Jones (25-1, 1 NC) has come to losing his belt, at least in terms of judging, as his narrow win was by split decision. Was it just a bad night for “Bones”? Have the turbulent past few years caught up with him? Is Jones slipping?
It’s time for the champ to return to the cage to remind fans of what made him perhaps the greatest mixed martial artist ever. Yet after getting hopes up with a September tweet alerting the MMA world to “buckle your seatbelt” for a “big fight announcement coming soon,” there was nothing but silence from Jones, other than some future-focused sniping at middleweight champ Israel Adesanya.
The UFC’s light heavyweight division could have another title contender emerge on Saturday.
In the UFC Fight Night main event, Jan Blachowicz, who has won five of his past six fights, will take on Jacare Souza, the veteran star who is making his debut in the division.
UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz vs. Jacare
• Saturday, Sao Paulo, Brazil
• Prelims: ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
• Main card: ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
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Jones finally weighed in on a more present-day matter last week, when he addressed the rampant speculation over whether the next 205-pound challenger should be Dominick Reyes, fresh off last month’s knockout win over former middleweight champion Chris Weidman, or Corey Anderson, who a week ago violently derailed the hype train that had been carrying Johnny Walker toward Contenderville.
“Just finished a coaches meeting studying Dominick and Cory’s careers,” Jones tweeted on Wednesday. “Established Dominicks definitely the more dangerous fighter. Beating his ass next.”
Normally, some old-school types would object to a champion choosing his own challenger. But in this case, there’s not a bad option. Both Reyes, who is No. 4 in the ESPN light heavyweight rankings, and fifth-ranked Anderson have proven themselves to be fully qualified. If booking Reyes — a 29-year-old from Southern California who is 12-0 — is what it takes for the UFC to get Jones, 32, to sign a bout agreement, so be it.
Reyes certainly is on board, based on his laudatory Saturday tweet about Jones: “A champion so great, he is now going to be fighting the first of the next generation! It’s such an honor and I can’t wait for my crack at the king in the octagon.”
So it’s settled, then? If the UFC is willing to go in that direction, everyone will be happy, right? Perhaps, but don’t expect these light heavyweights to play nice.
Jones responded to Reyes on Sunday — with attitude. Maybe the champ was irked by the hashtags Reyes had added to his Saturday tweet — among them: #new and #champion. Or maybe Jones had seen the less respectful Reyes quotes in a story published on Friday.
“He’s really turned into quite the troll,” Reyes told MMA Fighting, speaking about being the challenger Jones was calling out. “That’s all I’ve got to say about that. He goes online just to get a raise out of people, and then he does completely different from what he says. I think he’s doing it just to mess with people, to be honest.”
On Sunday, Jones was back on Twitter, quoting the Reyes tweet and adding a fiery response: “You started this whole thing talking about party favors and now you’re going to show this fake ass respect? Serious question Dominic, what exactly is so next generation about you or your fighting style? Youre a new name, that’s the only thing different about you.”
Reyes actually had some interesting things to say in the MMA Fighting interview about what he believes makes him different from fighters Jones has faced in the past.
“Daniel] Cormier’s a specialist wrestler. [Alexander] Gustafsson’s a specialist striker. I’m like everybody in one,” Reyes said. “I’m the new-generation fighter. He fought a bunch of old-generation fighters. This is his first foray into the new generation.”
Jones isn’t buying it. When a fan on social media told him he should take the Reyes fight and “submit” him, Jones responded: “That’s the easy way out, I don’t do easy. There’s absolutely no where in his game I’m intimidated. He’s dangerous in the first round, after that I’ll figure him out and pick them apart.”
No bout has been agreed upon, but Reyes has a date in mind.
“I’d fight him Jan. 18 in Vegas,” Reyes told MMA Fighting. “Put [Conor McGregor] on the co-main and that sells the fight.”
Hmm. McGregor as just a co-main event, not a headliner? Now, that seems like a fight Reyes will have a hard time winning.