It's still the big one
When we talk about "superfights" it feels a little embarrassing. The idea is to match one champion versus another, preferably both long-standing, for the rare privilege of watching one of them lose.
For the past couple of years the UFC has toyed with the idea of welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre fighting middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Of late, we've begun to think that Silva against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is the better fight. Why? Because it's Silva challenging Jones, and Jones right now is the one with unfathomable depths.
But since this past Saturday, there's been a sneaking feeling that the most "competitive" interdivisional super-pairing might not be Silva-Jones, but Jones against heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
Why? The Chael Sonnen gauge. Sonnen gave us reason to doubt Silva in the first place by making him seem vulnerable. When Jones purposefully (and pridefully) outwrestled -- or more accurately, bulldozed -- Sonnen at UFC 159, it wasn't hard to imagine Jones taking Silva down and turning a long-anticipated piece of theater into a wash. You know who wouldn't get worked like that? Cain Velasquez. The big Arizona State wrestler. The dictator of space.
Notice the default in play here. "Super" keeps trending bigger. Welterweight (GSP) challenging the middleweight (Silva), to middleweight challenging the light heavyweight (Jones), to inevitably light heavyweight challenging the heavyweight (Velasquez). Heavyweights, who can smash anyone on the roster, still captivate the fight game's imagination.
I get that a "superfight" works best when the most unbeatable of the unbeatable takes on a guy who eats unbeatable for breakfast -- but unbeatable is always such a shifting plain. It wasn't long ago that Velasquez lost to Junior dos Santos in the most anticlimactic free fight ever to hit broadcast television (also the first to hit broadcast television in a long time, incidentally). As for Silva and Jones? They have been particularly unconquerable for a long, long time. Technically, Jones did lose against Matt Hamill because of some wicked (plus illegal) 12-to-6 elbows. But Hamill nearly lost consciousness long before that. Three years later, the disqualification sits on Jones' record like a Wikipedia typo.
For Silva, UFC 117 was as close as he's ever come to looking human. And even then, after absorbing Sonnen's elbows and hammerfists for 23 head-bouncing minutes, he won epically. Epic is one of the looser words in MMA vernacular. But Silva's victory over Sonnen that night was epic. The rematch wasn't competitive. Silva finally reduced Sonnen to the status of "just another opponent."
For my money, Silva-Jones is still the fight to make in this realm of "what's the most ridiculous fight that can be made right now?" Jones has the beastly wrestling and spinning elbows. Silva has grace and a Wachowskian ability to levitate. If "superfights" function on curiosity as to who's the more conquerable, this is the fight.
That is, unless Chris Weidman, who fights Silva in July, conquers the champion first.
This will be fight of the century
After watching Jones destroy Chael Sonnen in one round Saturday night at UFC 159, Silva sent promotion president Dana White a text stating that he wants the "superfight" booked.
White refused to confirm whether Silva requested Jones or welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in his text. But really: Does anyone reasonably believe Silva would request a fight with GSP immediately after watching Jones win impressively in a pay-per-view bout? Silva is a pro; he asked to fight Jones and we don't need confirmation from White to figure this one out.
At this day and time, Jones-Silva is the highest-profile fight in combat sports, and that includes boxing -- Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao has lost its luster -- but there is an even bigger fight looming.
This one doesn't involve Silva; it won't even take place at 205 pounds. Jones, on the other hand, will participate in what is sure to be billed as the "Fight of the Century." And it will be contested at heavyweight in about two years.
This "Fight of the Century" will involve Jones seeking to lift the UFC heavyweight title from Cain Velasquez. It will be the most anticipated heavyweight title fight since Mike Tyson first squared off against Evander Holyfield in September 1996 for the WBA title.
Velasquez and Jones are already on a collision course. Jones, just 25 years old, makes no secret that his body is still growing. He has begun talking about possibly defending his title once more; Alexander Gustafsson appears to be the opponent of choice, and then it's likely off to meet the big boys.
Jones will be as electric at heavyweight as he's been at 205. He won't be some overblown light heavyweight seeking to heighten his profile against larger competitors; Jones will be a full-fledged heavyweight.
His handlers have brought him along properly. When he makes his heavyweight debut, there will be no issue with loss of speed, cardio or strength.
Indeed, Jones' strength will increase, his cardio improved and his speed more prominent against naturally slower heavyweights. He won't be able, however, to push Velasquez around the way he did light heavyweights -- and might be forced to compete off his back for the first time.
Jones-Silva is a huge fight. But it's not a reach to assume Jones will be the favorite. Once Jones has a heavyweight fight or two under his belt, a bout with Velasquez will more of a toss-up.
Velasquez-Jones: It's more than a superfight, it's "The Fight of the Century."