On Monday, Jon Jones relinquished his stranglehold on the light heavyweight division that he has kept for the most part locked down over the last 10 years. The vacant title sets up a likely showdown between Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz as Jones turns his attention to the heavyweight division, where a showdown with Stipe Miocic is expected, eventually.
While Jones-Miocic is an unquestioned money fight — one Dana White is undoubtedly considering as the UFC negotiates the former light heavyweight champion’s return to the Octagon — the UFC president was clear after UFC 252 that the next title shot should go to Francis Ngannou.
Jones could test the waters with proven veterans like Junior Dos Santos, heavy-handed knockout artists like Derrick Lewis or hungry challengers like Jairzinho Rozenstruik. But the fight that would be the most intriguing at heavyweight would be against the recently-retired Daniel Cormier.
Cormier’s history with Jones is well established: the two feuded over the light heavyweight title, with both bouts going in Jones’ favor. Cormier has fought Jones twice, losing via unanimous decision in 2015 at UFC 182, then getting knocked out in 2017 at UFC 214. That second loss was overturned to a “no contest” after Jones tested positive for a banned substance. He’s continued to have ‘adverse findings‘ in his drug testing in the years following his UFC return, but USADA ruled the small amount has no performance-enhancing benefit. Before settling for a retirement bout in a trilogy fight against Miocic, Cormier even pleaded for a showdown against Jones.
“It’s all I want,” Cormier said in 2019, per ESPN. “When I fight Jones, I feel most complete when I’m preparing for competition against that guy. It makes me train harder. It makes me train smarter. I do everything right in preparation, and I believe that if I do stick around that would be the fight that I do it for. It would be at 205 pounds because I need to go and get that back from him.”
Instead, Jones will make the leap the heavyweight, aiming to be the sixth UFC fighter in history to hold championships in two different weight classes.
As for Miocic, his bout against Ngannou will be one of his toughest to date. Miocic smothered the Cameroonian fighter in their first showdown, forcing Ngannou to completely abandon his camp’s gameplan and fall victim to a five-round wrestling clinic. It appeared the top contender’s career was completely off the tracks, as he followed up his championship opportunity with an ugly decision loss to Derrick Lewis.
“I have carried my fear from the last fight to this one. I completely understand the frustration and anger that it has caused to my fans, coaches, teammates, family and friends and I am truly sorry for that,” Ngannou said, per ESPN. “I won’t let everyone down again. All I can do now is prove myself and make you proud again.”
He has stayed true to his word in his last four fights, finishing Rozenstruik, Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez and Curtis Blaydes in less than three minutes total.
“Francis is definitely next,” White told reporters after UFC 252, per MMA Fighting.
“Francis has been out there destroying everybody, and if you look at how long ago it was that he got that title shot, he’s worked his way back,” White continued. “It belongs to Francis Ngannou. But yeah, Jon Jones going to heavyweight is very interesting.”
Ngannou-Miocic seems like a lock for what’s next in the title picture. But Jones could shake things up, and be in for a major payday if he can convince Cormier to return from retirement. Depending on how Cormier’s torn cornea heals, it could be an opportunity too good to pass up.