After a series of public disagreements with his promoter over pay, then-champ Jon Jones proclaimed two weeks ago that he was relinquishing his belt. Fans and media alike understandably wondered if the announcement was simply a negotiation tool, or perhaps a ploy to steal headlines from his former nemesis, Daniel Cormier, whose farewell fight took place that weekend, but Jones never gave the slightest indication that his abandonment of the belt was anything other than sincere.
With the most dominant fighter in the history of the division out of the picture, the field is suddenly wide open. While that is cause for excitement for most light heavyweight contenders, for the ones who have already tried and failed to unseat Jones, it is a whole new world—if they can take advantage of the power vacuum. Last Saturday at UFC Fight Night 175, one of those former challengers, Anthony Smith, instead found himself a stepping stone for Aleksandar Rakic, who bullied his way into the Top 10 with a dominant three-round performance.
While Rakic called for a title shot in the wake of the biggest win of his career, even he tempered the request by acknowledging the traffic jam atop the division. At UFC 253 on Sept. 26, Dominick Reyes—who gave Jones all he could handle for five rounds in February—will square off against Jan Blachowicz for the vacant title. By the time they enter the Octagon, it is likely that the next challenger will already be in place, as UFC Fight Night 177 on Sept. 12 features a bout between two more former title challengers in Thiago Santos and Glover Teixeira.
Once that quartet sorts itself out, Rakic awaits, as does former Rizin FF champ Jiri Prochazka, who rode into the UFC on a 10-fight win streak that he extended to 11 by flattening Volkan Oezdemir in his Octagon debut in July. All of these contenders, as well as the others peering in from the fringes of the Top 10, are looking at a very different mountain than the one they thought they were scaling a month ago.
Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration