Jon Jones had a stranglehold on the light-heavyweight division for almost a decade… now Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz can breathe new life into it at UFC 253 on Fight Island
- Jon Jones has vacated his light-heavyweight title and moved up to heavyweight
- He had a stranglehold at 205-pounds for so long but his grip is now released
- Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz fight to take the vacant belt at UFC 253
- Fight Island showdown will be new dawn for the division and start next chapter
Ever since a fresh-faced Jon Jones burst onto the scene as a 23-year-old sensation, he has ruled the UFC’s light-heavyweight division with an iron fist.
He was stripped of his title on multiple occasions for outside-the-cage issues and failed drugs tests but always returned, and always won back his belt.
On Saturday night at UFC 253, the power vacuum he has left behind having moved up to heavyweight will be filled and heir to his throne crowned.
Jon Jones dominated the UFC’s light-heavyweight division for so long but is moving up
On Saturday, Dominick Reyes (left) and Jan Blachowicz (right) fight for the vacant title
Dominick Reyes faces Jan Blachowicz for the vacant title in the co-main event before Israel Adesnaya’s showpiece against Paulo Costa.
Jones is regarded by many as the greatest MMA fighter of all time and shoes his successor will have to fill are gigantic.
‘Bones’ battered legend of the sport Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua nine years ago to become the UFC’s youngest champion and has since gone unbeaten in a staggering 14 bouts with 11 title defences.
UFC president Dana White conceded that it is always a stronger footing to start off from when the new champion can beat the old.
He said: ‘These guys will fight, one of them will win the title and their careers will speak for themselves.
‘It always sucks when you can’t beat the guy who won it, you know, to be the man you have to beat the man.
‘But one of these guys will win the title and if they go on a run like Jon Jones has had, their careers will speak for themselves.’
The former champion could have simply remained the dominant force at 205-pounds but Jones wants to elevate his legacy onto an even higher tier.
Vacating his title and moving up to heavyweight to challenge his skills against the likes of Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou is to be admired
The manner of those victories has almost always been spectacular and rarely has he been pushed, aside from his first fight against Alexander Gustafsson and most recent narrow decision win over Reyes.
Reyes came close to beating Jones but lost a decision on the judges’ scorecards
Perhaps that hard-fought battle with Reyes confirmed to Jones it was time to move on.
He has been open about seeking a fresh challenge to motivate him again and many feel Reyes should have had his hand raised back in February anyway.
The former NFL hopeful is certainly among them, arguing this week in the Sun: ‘I see this in many parts as my first title defence. I’m going to keep what’s mine and actually bring it home.
‘Even though I don’t feel like I lose, I didn’t get out-matched, I still lost in the judges eyes.
‘It sucks, it’s s***y. I could only do what I could do and I can only control what I can control and I’m going to go out there and do my thing and god willing I get my hand raised.’
Reyes has the personality and age profile at 30 to establish himself as a star in the sport
Poland’s Jan Blachowicz recovered from a terrible start to his UFC career to go on a great run
He added: ‘It’s literally up to you and you decide your fate. It’s so freaking cool. It’s life changing – it’s the key to the city in every city you’re in.’
The shadow of Jones looms large over this co-main event and Blachowicz admitted he is disappointed has not been given the opportunity to take the belt from its rightful owner.
‘I was Maybe a little bit [upset], but I don’t care’, he told MMA Fighting. ‘Right now, I’m only thinking about Dominick Reyes. I don’t care about Jon Jones anymore. I will think about him in the future. Now in my head is only Dominick, and I’ll focus on him.
‘I was happy because he unblocked our [division]. ‘I knew that I was going to be fighting against Dominick Reyes then, and I knew it was going to be a title shot. A regular title, so it was great news.’
Blachowicz has beaten the likes of Luke Rockhold (left) to win seven of his last eight
From the UFC’s perspective, it matters little which fighter wins, so long as they market themselves and preferably deliver a spectacular finish to kick-start momentum.
Whoever Jones was facing hardly mattered before, he was the draw for fans but now the division is without star power.
Reyes and Blachowicz only have one pay-per-view event between them and that was Reyes’ defeat by… Jones. The company would love one of them to emerge as a legitimate fan favourite in their own right.
It seems Reyes (12-1) is better placed to do so. ‘Devastator’ speaks well, dresses to impress and strung together a solid unbeaten record before coming up against Jones.
It would be an upset if the 37-year-old wins as he is the betting underdog with the bookies
He is the strong betting favourite with the bookies and it would be a turn up for the books if his Polish opponent could produce a shock.
At 37, this might be his best opportunity for the title, at one point he had lost four of his last five fights after making his UFC debut.
But since then, he’s won seven of eight and is fully deserving of his place in the spotlight.
There seems a certain inevitability that Jones will at some point return to put a cat among the pigeons and try to win back what used to be his.
But in the mean time, one of Reyes or Blachowicz have a huge opportunity to breathe new life into the light-heavyweight division and cement their place in history.
Jones has won all 14 fights since he claimed the title at the age of 23 back in 2011
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