I remember watching my first ever Jon Jones fight and instantly becoming a fan. Facing soon to be UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar, a tough match for anyone, “Bones” showed flashes of a fighter we had never seen before. Beautiful throws, a new style of striking, and a motor that didn’t allow him to fatigue. I also remember watching his fights that followed, his dominance being displayed to the world. He stopped everything in his path, and I had no doubts that it would be a long time before the young Jones was defeated.

Needless to say, the MMA community is still waiting to see that day.

The fighters of the last decade (2000-2010) have taken their shots at Jones. Former champions like Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua have all tried and failed. The fights have been completely one-sided and controlled by Jones, with Jones finishing most of those contests inside the distance. The UFC has marketed Jones correctly and given him the support he deserves, and he has delivered, demolishing every person who gets in his way.

And then Jones was put on hold.

Over the past year, “Bones” has fought two middleweight contenders for his light heavyweight belt. The theory has been that there are no challengers at light heavyweight, but I beg to differ. The crop was just being harvested, and in the aftermath of UFC 160, we now have some potential opponents who could actually dethrone the champ. Yes, there are heavyweights that could go down in weight, but let’s focus on actual light heavyweights who pose a threat.

Glover Teixeira

I love watching aggressive fighters dominate their way through the UFC’s stiff competition. Glover Teixeira has done that and more. He laid to waste fighters like Kyle Kingsbury and Fabio Maldonado. He then got his marquee win against Rampage. Finally, through his victory over James Te Huna at UFC 160, he showed that he is ready to finish and brutalize anyone who wants to fight him.

Teixeira is the the scariest name in the 205-pound division right now. His threat for the title is built within his aggression. Jones has never faced somebody who isn’t afraid to meet him in the middle of the Octagon and push the action. This is what Teixeira does. He has a great ground game to match a striking style that will leave most challengers crumbled on the ground. Only three of his 21 wins have gone to a decision. He wants to leave no doubt.

The only issue with Teixeira is seeing him fight off his back. Jones could control the fight this way. Teixeira does train with fighters from The Pit, the legendary training camp of Chuck Liddell. If the Brazilian could take a page out of Liddell’s sprawl-and-brawl style, he could be the next UFC light heavyweight champion.

Alexander Gustafsson

Probably the most obvious choice at this time, Alexander Gustafsson has put together a great run since losing to Phil Davis. Unlike Davis, who shares the same great athletic ability, “The Mauler” has the mindset to beat Jones. He has fought tough competition and beat them because of his mindset and preparation.

Gustafsson has shown that he will exploit weaknesses of fighters. In his fights with James Te Huna and Cyrille Diabate, two accomplished stand-up fighters, he took the fights to the ground and submitted his opponents. In his fights against two tough wrestlers, Vladimir Matyushenko and Matt Hamill, Jones bested them on the feet and earned knockouts. Most importantly, in his last two fights, he showed a willingness to mix up his ground game and stand-up game to earn victories in his two toughest tests to date against former contender Thiago Silva and former champion Shogun Rua.

Gustafsson matches Jones’ athletic ability, although Jones would still have a five-inch reach advantage. Gustafsson can also game-plan and execute just as well as Jones. The Swede would even deserve the nod on the feet because of his precision striking. Yet again, the fear is him fighting off his back. Jones would be smart to put him there and test his bottom grappling. However, if Gustafsson can keep the fight standing, he could out point “Bones” and test his chin.

Phil Davis

“Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis is probably the biggest reservoir of untapped talent in the UFC. He has shown a great ground game that stems from his championship wrestling days at Penn State. This, mixed with always improving striking, means that Davis has a lot of potential at 205 pounds.

Davis does lack what looks like a mental edge. Moving over to Duane Ludwig’s reformed Team Alpha Male could solve these issues. He has the athletic ability to beat Jones. The game-planning and an emphasis on improved striking are the components that will get him there. Davis has the ability to put “Bones” on his back and test his submission defense. He will need tenacity that he has seemed to lack in his fights against Rashad Evans and Vinny Magalhaes. However, in the Magalhaes fight, it looked like Davis was intent on conducting a real-time sparring session to work on his stand-up. That could be a good sign of things to come.

At 28 years old, Davis still has a chance to improve upon his vast athletic gifts and ground game to earn a shot and defeat Jones. Finding a new home at Team Alpha Male could be just the ticket he needs.

Gegard Mousasi

In 2009, Gegard Mousasi was the one fighter everyone wanted to see in the UFC. The then 23-year-old had been dismantling everyone in his path. Then Mousasi had a tough few years, with a loss to Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal for the Strikeforce title and a draw with Keith Jardine.

Mousasi has seemingly righted the ship, but he needs a step up in competition before getting a shot at the title. His chance could have come against Gustafsson, but the fight never came to fruition and Mousasi settled for an easy decision win against relative MMA nobody Ilir Latifi.

Mousasi is the complete mixed martial artist and can cruise to a decision by beating opponents everywhere in the cage, and is just as much of a threat to finish the fight. Mousasi has over 35 fights at the age of 27 and has been beating people all around the world. Although he has a laid-back attitude, it seems Mousasi is determined to get the UFC gold. He has just taken a roundabout route to getting there.

The key for him beating Jones could lie in Jones’ recent fight against Vitor Belfort. Looking at tape of Mousasi, a lot of people remember him on his back in his loss to King Mo. However, Mousasi was also deducted a point in that fight for an illegal up-kick. He is very game off his back, and if Jones tries to put him there, Mousasi could go home with the belt and Jones’ arm.

Jimi Manuwa

Jimi Manuwa will continue to be a wild card until he actually gets a stoppage with his fists in the UFC. Manuwa has managed an undefeated record built off of pressure and the drive to finish.

His UFC career is comprised of two fights thus far. Both have been halted by outside entities—one by way of a doctor and one via his opponent’s corner—but Manuwa has looked good in those wins. His fight against Kingsbury left Kingsbury thinking about retirement. And in his next fight against Diabate, Manuwa showed the same aggression and acumen, but the fight was cut short due to a calf injury that Diabate suffered. This makes Manuwa a perfect 13-0 in his MMA career with 12 (T)KOs and one submission.

Manuwa has a mean streak for days and will continue his way up the ladder with the UFC. He will have to combine his aggression with a few more marquee wins, but the Brit has a bright future ahead of him in the division. Compared to the other four men on this list, Manuwa is the biggest long shot, but with how much the UFC would love to see a British champion and his exciting style, Manuwa could earn himself a title fight in quick fashion. Being a fighter who doles out tons of damage, he could make Jones bleed and then see how he reacts.

The skill set that Jones has mastered over time is always changing and always getting better. Mix that with his training staff, headed by Greg Jackson, and we could see that belt around his waist for a long, long time. However, it is the fight game, and any night somebody could be lying and waiting to shock the world. Defeating “Bones” is going to be a tough test for anyone from any division, but that’s the beauty of the sport.

Photo: Jon Jones (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Ross White hails from Columbus, Ohio. Like most others he has been a fight fan since Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar fought at the pinnacle of the UFC's history. Ross is a sports fan through and through and loves watching any sport. He is a die hard Seattle Seahawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Ohio State Buckeyes fan. He also enjoys playing video games, reading comics, and writing a rap song here and there. His favorite fight of all time is Takanori Gomi and Nick Diaz at Pride 33.