Jon Jones (Esther Lin/MMA FightingShooting for Gold: Which UFC Light Heavyweight Has Best Chance of Becoming Champion? Justin Fuller April 4, 2014 Spotlight Since he first defeated Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128 over three years ago to become the UFC light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones has looked virtually unstoppable, almost to the point that many speculated if anyone in the division could give him a proper test of his skill and others clambered for him to move up to heavyweight. That all changed when No. 1-ranked challenger Alexander Gustafsson took him to task in a back-and-forth classic at UFC 165 that saw the champ walk away with a controversial unanimous decision win and a battered face. Now the champ was not only mortal, but he had found his equal. Unfortunately for fans, an immediate rematch was not on the schedule. However, this minor detail has had a rippling effect across the whole division. For the first time in a long time, we now have no shortage of eligible contenders for the crown Jones has defended six consecutive times to date. Jones will take on No. 2-ranked Glover Teixeira later this month at UFC 172. The booking of this fight gave Gustafsson enough time to score a rebound win over Jimi Manuwa to maintain his No. 1-contender status and become the next in line for the belt. This outcome itself was not surprising, as it was a fight he was expected to win given the caliber of opponents he has previously faced. But then another name was thrown into the hat as a potential threat to Jones’ reign.. Jones’ Twitter rival, Daniel Cormier, recently made his light heavyweight debut against promotional newcomer Patrick Cummins, who was a last-minute replacement for Rashad Evans. Cormier made it very clear he wants to get a crack at the belt Jones wears. Although Cormier put on a dominant performance, the unheralded Cummins was hardly the type of opponent to earn anyone a title shot in any division of the UFC, anywhere. That said, Cormier has since scored himself a fight against another top-10 fighter and legend of the sport, Dan Henderson. Regardless of how the match-up looks on paper, or what the general opinion of how this might play out is, the winner has been promised the next-next title shot and it does pit No. 5 vs. No. 6 in the rankings. So, between Teixeira, Gustafsson, Cormier and Henderson, it is clear Jones will have his work cut out for him. If the last string of contenders he defeated was a murderers’ row, then the next set could be the four horseman of the apocalypse. Each brings his own set of skills, advantages and disadvantages, but all have the same goal—to become the next UFC light heavyweight champion. Teixeira has made all five of his victories inside the Octagon look easy. Despite that, he is sometimes criticized for his apparent lack of speed or explosiveness. Of course, his timing and accuracy are extremely on point, so whatever he’s doing has worked in his favor so far. His quick work of division-staple Ryan Bader showed he’s not afraid to tee off on wrestlers, and Teixeira also brings with him some of the highest wrestling credentials we’ve seen in a Brazilian in recent memory. That said, Jones also made quick work of Bader, and it’s hard to say how the reach and takedowns of Jones will affect Teixeira’s game plan. Chances are, however, that unless Teixeira can find his range early and land some big shots, he’s going to find himself getting picked part from the outside by leg kicks before ending up on his back. Next in line for the belt will be none other than previous contender Gustafsson. It’s hard to say how a rematch with Jones would play out, as Jones was unable to take the Swede down where many thought he would control the fight. It’s also unlikely that will change in their second meeting. Gustafsson showed some classic killer instinct in his dismantling of Manuwa, and Jones seemed hesitant to pull the trigger in his last fight. So depending on how things play out with Teixeira and what we see from Jones, the possible rematch with Gustafsson may not go the same route as the last one did. Then again, we could end up seeing Gustafsson taking on a newly crowned Teixeira, which is all but guaranteed to be a stand-up war with fireworks. Either way, the slight edge goes to Gustafsson. Between Cormier and Henderson, most would agree Cormier is not only the favorite by a wide margin to win their match but also has the best chance of besting Jones between the two. That said, “Hendo” proved last week that it ain’t over until it’s over, and regardless of how well someone is controlling a fight, doing damage, or how old he looks or feels, he can still knock anyone out on any given night. Is it likely he will do that to Cormier and then follow up with an encore performance against Jones? No. Is it possible? Sure, why not? Would anyone complain if he did manage to pull it off? Of course not. However, Cormier may just have the best chance out of anyone not named Alexander Gustafsson of defeating Jones. His ability to use his striking to implement his unparalleled wrestling and clinch game gives him the tools necessary to neutralize Jones’ reach. And while he hasn’t fought top-level competition at 205 pounds yet—and even with a win over Henderson, he still won’t have been tested against someone also working their way up the ladder for the first time—he did spend quite a bit of time at heavyweight against some of the best in the world, so he knows probably better than anyone in the light heavyweight division how to take and avoid a punch with knockout power. I would look for Cormier to set up the clinch with his hands, work some knees to the thigh and dirty boxing on the cage, then look for the takedown, where he may not be able to finish the fight but is able to control it. If Jones can avoid or recover from those positions and keep the fight standing, then he may be able to wear Cormier down in the later rounds. Regardless of how things play out at UFC 172 or with the next contender for the belt after that, one thing is certain: we have enough match-ups to last well into next year for the light heavyweight belt, which not only puts a hold on any talk about Jones moving up to heavyweight but is also a win for everyone, fighters and fans alike. Let’s also not forget about Phil Davis, who could emerge as the dark horse in the race to the title, but that’s a story for another day. And that’s the bottom line.