ATLANTA -- No light heavyweight will defeat Jon Jones. At least not anytime soon.
“Never” is a word seldom used in mixed martial arts -- a sport where truly one moment can change everything. A fighter can be on his last leg, staggering to the fence, and still win a fight with one desperate, groggy swing.
In the case of the 24-year-old Jones (16-1), however, it seems destined not to happen at this weight class. The third defense of his UFC title against Rashad Evans this weekend at Philips Arena was supposed to be his toughest fight yet.
If it was, no one could tell.
Jones failed to finish Evans -- the first time that he hasn't stopped an opponent since January 2009 -- but he dominated every aspect of the fight.
He started to find his range late in the first round and carried that through into a spectacular second frame where he staggered Evans with multiple elbows. The round seemed to have an effect on Evans’ confidence the rest of the fight.
“I thought it was great,” said UFC president Dana White. “I thought [Jones] fought a great fight. He threw elbows like they were hands. I thought he fought a great fight and I thought Rashad did, too.”
Jones, inexplicably, slowed down a bit in the later rounds. Afterward, he attributed his hesitancy to a respect for Evans, a former champion and teammate of his.
“Rashad is an awesome opponent,” Jones said. “He’s definitely game. He’s fast. I think I was a little intimidated at some points to believe in my ability and, as a result, I didn’t fight as clean as I would have liked.”
During the postfight news conference, White stated fans expressed optimism on Twitter for Dan Henderson as the next challenge to Jones’ belt. White agreed, calling Henderson “a big test.”
While Henderson is one of the most successful fighters in the sport’s history, he’ll likely be 42 when he meets Jones. He’ll struggle, as all of Jones’ opponents do, with a significant size disadvantage.
A former Olympic wrestler, Henderson will want the fight on the ground, but he’ll have to become the first fighter to take Jones down to do it. Jones’ takedown defense in the UFC stands at 100 percent. It was difficult to say exactly how many takedowns Evans, a great wrestler himself, attempted -- as Jones thwarted each of them easily.
It’s not time for Jones to move to the heavyweight division yet. He’s still, presumably, years away from his prime and at a time in his career where his body is still changing.
He has nothing but high-profile fights ahead of him, much like Saturday’s. While many fans will no doubt say Sunday morning the contest fell short of expectations, it might just be that expectations need to be changed.
Until he moves on to the challenge of fighting heavyweights -- where he’ll more than likely remain successful -- expecting a test for Jones is downright unrealistic.