If you were shocked to see what Jon Jones looked like at the start of 2021, you better get used to it as the UFC star prepares for his first year in his new weight class.
After years of success in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, albeit with numerous incidents outside of the Octagon, Jones decided in 2020 that it was time for a change.
He had taken out multiple contenders as the company’s light heavyweight champion and had compiled a 26-1-1 record along the way. As a result, there weren’t many more fresh faces to work with that provided any sort of challenge for one of the UFC’s all-time greats.
Jones had, for a lack of better phrasing, become bored with the process, so he decided to take the necessary steps to change that.
He vacated his light heavyweight title and decided it was time to move up to chase the UFC’s heavyweight championship, held by Stipe Miocic at the time.
From there, the light heavyweight division became anyone’s ballgame, and Jan Blachowicz took advantage of the opportunity by beating Dominick Reyes to become champion.
Because Blachowicz was the likely next challenger for Jones had he hung onto his title, many speculated that Jones may abandon his plan to pursue heavyweight gold to instead battle Blachowicz. From there, Jones would be free to fight the man Blachowicz will defend his title against in March of 2021: middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
Instead, Jones stayed on his path, and the move looks like it will pay dividends in 2021 if images posted on social media hold true.
Less than two weeks into the new year, Jones took to Twitter to showcase his new heavyweight physique, complete with a caption that read “250lbs moving like a Jones.”
The former light heavyweight champion looked like a new man in the pictures. He looked like Chandler Jones, his 6-foot-5, 265-pound, professional football-playing brother, but also came across as a much happier, determined version of his former self.
As he answered questions from fans on Twitter, Jones seemingly confirmed that very notion.
“I feel ready to take on any challenge, this is the first time in my career that I can say that,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “I finally have the size to be ready for anyone.”
Jones’ reach, speed and technique each served as massive advantages during his fights as a light heavyweight. When he decided to move up to a new division, however, fans wondered if those traits would all fall by the wayside when encountering bigger, more powerful opponents.
Instead, Jones shut down that thought after posting the pictures on Twitter, explaining that he would be able to translate all of his strengths to his new, heavyweight style in 2021.
“I’m not worried about cardio, I hold myself to a very high standard,” Jones wrote. “A light heavyweight standard. Some of these guys may be stronger, but they can’t possibly push as hard as I can.”
It appears as if Jones did everything right in his pursuit of his new challenge, taking the time to put on the weight in the right way while keeping intact what turned him into one of the UFC’s greatest of all time.
He appears to have spent months, if not a full year, building this new version of himself for this venture, and looks like he will be just as big of a threat as a heavyweight.
If that’s true, then the options and opportunities are endless for the 33-year-old. At the moment, however, his next step depends on what happens when UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and challenger Francis Ngannou square off for the second time in March of 2021.
Even during his time as light heavyweight champion, Jones was pushing for a superfight against the heavyweight Ngannou, and fans drooled at the idea of him fighting Miocic for a shot at becoming a double champion.
Now, according to UFC president Dana White, Jones will get his wish in some fashion later on in 2021.
“We’re going to have Stipe vs. Francis, and the winner of that will probably fight Jon Jones,” White told Sportsnet ahead of UFC 257.
“The guy’s been the king of the light heavyweight division forever,” he continued. “I think he thinks it’s time to move up to heavyweight. He knows his body, he knows his abilities, he knows better than anybody else does. But it’s impressive. Let me tell you, who wants to fight Francis Ngannou? The answer is nobody, okay? Nobody wants to fight that guy. But Jon Jones does. Pretty impressive.”
Regardless of the outcome, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jones take on both Miocic and Ngannou in some fashion in 2021. He’ll likely get his title fight against whoever the champion is in the summer, and could follow that up with a title defense against the other towards the tail end of the year, if he manages to become heavyweight champion.
That timeline would allow for a buffer period for the UFC to build up any new heavyweight prospects it feels strongly in, or would give current heavyweights that are on the fringe of the title picture the opportunity to prove themselves as the division heads into a new era.
Then, come 2022, the UFC could finally schedule a dream matchup between Jones and a challenger that the company has been grooming for years: Adesanya.
If Adesanya manages to beat Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title in March, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the “Stylebender” make a similar transition as Jones and bulk up for his new division.
Then, after Jones has his year of facing heavyweight contenders and Adesanya does his necessary work at light heavyweight, the two could meet for a superfight in 2022.
All of these bouts depend on Jones being able to transfer his success from light heavyweight to heavyweight, and knocking off either one of the division’s greatest champions of all time in Miocic, or taking out one of its most dangerous fighters of all time in Ngannou.
No matter what, Jones will get what he wants in 2021. He wanted a new challenge after his long tenure at light heavyweight, and he’s both already gotten and will get that. He wanted massive, big-money fights after taking out lower-tier challengers as light heavyweight champion, and he’s guaranteed to get that in 2021.
And, potentially the most important piece of all, Jones wanted to establish himself as the UFC’s true pound-for-pound, all-time great. If he’s able to pull all of this off in his new division, he’ll most certainly earn exactly that.