UFC 205, which is scheduled for November 12 in New York City, is quickly emerging as one of the greatest fight cards in MMA history. So long as it isn’t ravaged by injuries or PED-busts – knock on wood – it might actually take that title outright.
The card, which will emanate from Madison Square Garden – the setting of such iconic boxing matches as Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier 1 and Lennox Lewis vs. Evander Holyfield – has been packed to the rafters with some of the UFC’s very best talent.
In the evening’s main event, we’ll see UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor attempt to become the first fighter ever to hold two UFC titles simultaneously when he takes on reigning lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. In the co-main event, we’ll see Tyron Woodley defend his welterweight crown against the streaking Stephen Thompson, who has quickly established himself as one of the most difficult puzzles to solve on the UFC roster. Before Woodley and Thompson go at it, we’ll witness an additional title fight between undefeated strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and undefeated challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz – both of who hail from Poland, which will surely draw out Polish New Yorkers by the thousands.
And then there are the other highlights of the card: relevant showdowns featuring names like Chris Weidman, Yoel Romero, Frankie Edgar, Jeremy Stephens, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Kelvin Gastelum, Rashad Evans, and Tim Kennedy – exhale….
Yes, UFC 205 looks like one of the very best cards ever produced by the UFC, and really, by any organization in MMA history. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, however, it is possible that this historic card is still missing something. One thing in particular, for that matter: the return of former UFC light heavyweight champion and pound-for-pound great Jon “Bones” Jones (22-1).
Jones, who hails from Rochester, New York, entered the UFC back in 2008, debuting with a lopsided decision over an outmatched André Gusmao. Seven brilliant performances later, and Jones would pummel Pride legend Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to a third-round TKO to win the UFC light heavyweight title. With this title win, the 23-year-old would become the youngest champion in UFC history.
And so began the Jones era – an era that, were it not for a long string of troubles outside the Octagon, would still be alive and well today.
Jones began his reign as champion with a pair of submissions over former title holders Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida. His next victim was former training partner Rashad Evans, who he shrugged off with a unanimous decision. Next, Jones dispatched of former middleweights Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen – arguably the weakest competition of his title run, which is saying something. Then came the only legitimate bit of adversity of his illustrious fighting career: a tooth-and-nail battle with Sweden’s Alexander Gustafsson, which he narrowly escaped with the light heavyweight crown. He then rebounded from this close shave with dominant defeats of Glover Teixeira and long-time rival Daniel Cormier. Unfortunately, it was around the time of this baffling, eighth-straight defense that Jones’ struggles outside the Octagon began.
First, there was his DUI. Then came his very public experimentation with cocaine, and subsequent stint in rehab. Then there was his hit-and-run, which left a pregnant woman with a fairly severe injury and resulted in his being stripped of the light heavyweight title. And finally, there was his failed drug test, which followed an interim-title winning comeback bout with Ovince St. Preux, and preceded a planned UFC 200 rematch with Daniel Cormier, who has been keeping the light heavyweight title warm in Jones’ stead.
Really, there’s not much point in listing these controversies off. We all remember them well, just as we remember our reactions to them, which ranged from disappointment, to pity, to disgust, and eventually, closed in on a sort of numb indifference.
Of course, while many of Jones’ actions outside the Octagon have been inexcusable, few are inexplicable. In Jon Jones, we have a fighter who, by 23 years old, no longer squinted in the limelight and was richer than the vast majority of his fellow earthlings. The precedent for young, wealthy stars spiralling out of control and has been set, and set, and set again. – be it in the music, film or sports industry. Jones has merely been one of the latest young stars to make this ugly spiral. But he is not a bad man.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion who, at 29, is a dedicated father of three, has a long history of community involvement, continually going above and beyond the work that’s been assigned to him in the wake of his brushes with the law. And if his tears at the press conference surrounding his removal from UFC 200 are any indication, he’s also a man who regrets his actions. So, while it’s impossible to say for sure that Jones will steer clear of trouble from here on out, it’s also quite probable that he will. And if he does clean up his act henceforth, it’s entirely possible – in fact it’s likely – that he regains his footing in the light heavyweight division, reclaims the title he once guarded so ferociously, and resuscitates his incredible reign as UFC light heavyweight champion.
Now, imagine this possible Jones redemption story were to begin at UFC 205, under the glimmering lights of Madison Square Garden. Whether the former champ were to return to an immediate title shot against Daniel Cormier, or against top light heavyweight contender Anthony “Rumble” Johnson as UFC President Dana White recently suggested could be the plan, this would be massive moment for MMA, and there could be no better setting for it than UFC 205. What could be better, after all, than the coinciding debut of the Octagon in New York City, and the return of the single greatest mixed martial artist New York State has ever produced?
Again, we do not want to seem ungrateful. UFC 205 is, through-and-through, one hell of a fight card. It’s hard not to linger, however, on just how special the card would be; how tall it would tower in MMA history, if it also included the return of MMA’s prodigal son, Jon Jones.