If the 28 years of my life could be encapsulated into a single, folksy saying, that saying would be “Better safe than sorry.” I’m a man who prefers to cover his bases, just in case.
If I leave my apartment, even if it’s only for a few minutes to take out the garbage or flip the laundry into the dryer, I lock the door. I do this even though I live in one of the safest neighborhoods in one of the safest medium-sized cities in the country. If I didn’t take this precaution, there’s a 99.9 percent chance that all of my stuff will be exactly as I left it when I return, but still I complete the ritual because it’s easier to take two seconds to lock my door than to take however many weeks to recover any stolen goods for which my renter’s insurance would compensate me. (Yes, I have renter’s insurance.)
It is in this mindset that I’m contemplating the possible outcomes of the UFC 152 main event this Saturday. According to oddsmakers, as well as most MMA fans and members of the media, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones should have no problem retaining his title against number-one-contender-by-default Vitor Belfort. Jones is bigger, he’s got a 10.5-inch reach advantage, he’s a better grappler and definitely has the larger gas tank. Belfort’s only realistic chance of winning is catching Jones with a perfect punch early in the fight.
But what if that happens? What if Belfort, in some miraculous chain of unlikely events, manages to knock Jon Jones off the top of the 205-pound ladder?
Such an outcome would send shockwaves throughout the world of MMA. A Belfort victory would certainly be the most significant upset in UFC history, more so than Matt Serra’s surprise win over Georges St-Pierre due to Jones’ demonstrated dominance of his division’s former champions. Twitter would absolutely explode with capitalized curse words and every MMA website in the world would feature a story about the unlikelihood of Belfort’s success.
From a practical standpoint, what would a Jones loss mean for his fighting future? One would think he would be granted an immediate rematch, given how utterly unexpected a loss to Belfort would be. There’s also a chance, however, that Jones’s recent dust-up with UFC President Dana White would relegate him to mere contender status as a tacit means of punishing Jones for his recent perceived misdeeds.
This situation wouldn’t change much in the way of match-ups for Jones, who would still fight the same group of elite light heavyweights even if he wasn’t wearing the belt. For Belfort, however, a win over Jones would mean a significant step up in competition. Belfort would no longer take on similarly sized men like Anthony Johnson or Yoshihiro Akiyama—men who no one would consider close to title contention—but would instead face championship-caliber fighters like Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Regardless of Belfort’s subsequent opponents, if he does somehow manage to defeat Jon Jones on Sept. 22, his reign atop the light heavyweight division will likely be a short one.
Long-term, a loss to Belfort would certainly not be the death knell in Jon Jones’ MMA career. If he’s able to recover from the loss and either reclaim his title in the hypothetical rematch or blaze a path of destruction through the rest of the light heavyweight division similar to the one that earned him the belt in the first place, the loss to Belfort will be seen as but an unfortunate blip in a long and storied career. Yes, people still talk about GSP’s loss to Serra, but the fact that GSP won his next nine fights (including recapturing the title with unquestionable dominance in his rematch with Serra) has come to define his career.
The only major thing that would change for Jones in a loss to Belfort would be that the aura of invincibility Jones has generated for himself since entering the UFC would be lost. Jones has yet to truly face adversity in the Octagon, even after winning the belt. His only title defense to go the distance was his most recent bout against Rashad Evans, during which Jones lost just one of the five rounds on judges’ scorecards (and even then only on two of the three scorecards) and was generally seen as having dictated every aspect of that fight.
A Vitor Belfort knockout punch would be akin to Jim Varney and his band of courageous kids discovering that milk would destroy the evil trolls in Ernest Scared Stupid. Would Jon Jones still be extremely dangerous? Absolutely. But seeing Jones, a previously unbeaten fighter, fall unconscious to the mat for the first time would eliminate the psychological disadvantage currently being experienced by his potential opponents, and that could be the difference-maker moving forward.
All of these points are probably moot, since Jones will likely defeat Belfort on Saturday and the MMA world will not be turned completely on its head. The fight will almost certainly be an entertaining one, with Jones out to show MMA fans why he is, indeed, one of the best fighters in the sport and Belfort doing anything he can to validate the title shot he was handed, but all signs point to the status quo being maintained when the final bell rings.
The UFC should, however, already be considering its next move in the case that Belfort wins, though. After all, better safe than sorry.
Photo: Vitor Belfort (James Law/Heavy MMA)