Ten months, four wins.
Three former champions beaten.
Hardly a dicey moment.
It’s been said before on this site, but Jon Jones put the icing on what may be the single best year for any fighter in MMA history on Saturday when he dumped Lyoto Machida on the canvas like a guy dropping off his dirty clothes at the cleaners. During the last 310 days, Jones has sprinted through a sterling list of light heavyweight competition, upping his overall record to 15-1 and doing it all while just barely breaking a sweat.
At 24 years old, he’s already scored and underscored his position as the best 205-pound fighter in the world. Now, the only thing with the potential to be more impressive than Jones’ 2011 might just be his 2012, when he’ll inherit even tougher challenges and a UFC landscape ripe for him to seize the mantle as the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighter.
The No. 1 P4P spot has been the exclusive domain of Anderson Silva since Fedor Emelianenko fell off so precipitously in 2010-11 -- and don’t worry, Silva fans, your guy has GOAT status still well in hand -- but the debate could get interesting again if the current trends hold up into next year.
In the wake of his win over Machida, Jones says he has his heart set on a lengthy vacation, but I wouldn’t count on it. Not with Silva on the shelf until June, Georges St. Pierre out perhaps the entire year and Junior dos Santos fresh off his own knee surgery.
With more shows than ever planned for 2012, the UFC will need its healthy champions to stay active. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, it’d be a surprise if we don’t see Jones fight either Henderson or the Evans/Davis winner by spring. If he were to win -- say, over Hendo -- then defeat Evans at the end of summer or early fall, well, you do the math. Even if Silva returns from his shoulder injury and defeats Chael Sonnen or Mark Munoz in the meantime, I’m not sure he’d be able to hold off that kind of charge from Jones.
UFC President Dana White says he thinks “Bones” is already No. 2 pound-for-pound and if by this time next year he’s managed to put together a run that includes consecutive wins over Ryan Bader, Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Machida, Henderson and Evans, I don’t see how you could deny him the top spot. That would be a six-fight stretch not even Silva could match. Being the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world isn't a lifetime achievement award, after all, but a snapshot of who is the best fighter in the sport at that moment, regardless of weight.
Unfortunately, since the UFC’s official position is that we shouldn't hold our breath for Jones and Silva to ever actually get together in the cage, the pound-for-pound debate will continue to be wholly hypothetical into the near future.
If things play out according to chalk during 2012 however, Silva may still be the greatest MMA fighter of all time, but Jones will get my vote as the best on the planet right now.