There is an argument, and a very solid one at that, which says that Jon Jones never has to set foot inside a cage ever again to be regarded not only as the greatest UFC fighter ever but the greatest MMA fighter ever, period.
This is the guy who became the youngest UFC champion in 2011 when he knocked out a then-still-prime Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in Newark, New Jersey, in what would have been considered a career-defining performance for virtually every other MMA fighter before or since, but was just another win for Jones.
This is the guy who in his first four light heavyweight title defenses beat four former UFC champions, finishing three of them.
This is the guy whose only loss was a mistake by a referee who disqualified him for an illegal elbow that was clearly legal according to the rules in a fight he was about to finish in the first round.
This is the guy who among his 26 wins has beaten six former UFC champions, two UFC Hall of Famers and a Bellator two-weight champion.
Jones will fight on Saturday for the vacant UFC heavyweight title, stripped from Francis Ngannou when he was unable to come to terms with the UFC on a new contract. Jones will challenge Ciryl Gane, a one-time interim champion, in the main event of UFC 285 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Jones will make his first appearance in the cage since those heady pre-pandemic days in February 2020, when he defeated Dominick Reyes. He got bored, he said, with the competition and was no longer afraid. Now, he's back as a heavyweight in the best era in MMA heavyweight history.
"A few years ago, if you would have asked me, I would have said the light heavyweights had the athletes and the guys who could move and the heavyweights were the big guys with the power," said Fernand Lopez, Gane's coach and Ngannou's former coach. "That's changed, though. The athletes at heavyweight are much better. They're big, quick guys with good feet and they can move, but they still have that power."
Jones is a heavyweight now because he wants to feel the fear, to push him to overcome the doubts we all harbor, even a guy who stands nearly alone at the top of the mountain in his chosen professional.
After dominating the light heavyweight division, becoming the heavyweight champion would be an extraordinary accomplishment, particularly in this day and age. Jones recently listed the five greatest MMA fighters of all time and had himself atop the list, followed by Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Khabib Nurmagomedov and José Aldo.
Nurmagomedov retired after submitting Justin Gaethje in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Oct. 24, 2020. He finished his MMA career at 29-0 and capped it by submitting Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Gaethje in a two-year span.
As great as Nurmagomedov was, and as dominantly as he won his fights, his competition wasn't as good for as long as Jones' was. Nurmagomedov had 19 finishes in his 29 fights, a finish percentage of 65.6 percent. Jones has 16 finishes in a 26-1 record, giving him a finish rate of 59.3 percent.
St-Pierre retired at 26-2 with 14 finishes and championships at welterweight and middleweight. He came out of a four-year retirement to submit Hall of Famer Michael Bisping to win the middleweight belt, one of the greatest accomplishments in UFC history. St-Pierre's competition was stiff, as well, and includes wins over three current UFC Hall of Famers.
Silva kept the middleweight title for nearly seven years, won 17 in a row and defeated one Hall of Famer. Aldo won 18 in a row at one point and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July.
Jones' greatest competition for the honor is either St-Pierre or Nurmagomedov. If Jones defeats Gane, the kind of large, mobile, athletic fighter who didn't exist in the heavyweight division until the last two or three years, it would surely put him over the top.
Moving to heavyweight and winning the belt after three years on the sideline is a massive accomplishment. If Jones can do that, there will be no debate any more.
This one might be his second time lapping the field.