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And Then There was One

At UFC 151 on September 1st, Light Heavyweight kingpin and MMA auteur, Jon Jones, takes on his latest challenge: the grizzled soon-to-be 42 year old and multi-time champion, Dan Henderson.

Jones will enter the fight 17 years Henderson’s junior; will have a 13.5 inch reach advantage, a five inch height advantage, and a significant weight advantage. Oh, and Jones opened a 6-to-1 favourite (to Hendo’s 4-to-1 ‘dog).

Despite these vast vitals, the champ isn’t looking past his game opponent. At last night’s media call, Jones was quick to herald the credentials that make Hendo a worthy adversary: “[fighting Henderson] is high risk, high reward. Henderson has a Pride belt and a Strikeforce belt, and I feel like I’m fighting the current Pride and Strikeforce champion right now. I don’t take his age into consideration whatsoever. Beating Dan Henderson is very, very important to me.”

However, if –as the oddsmakers believe will happen– Jones dispenses of his latest rival, as he has each of his previous challengers (the last 4 being former champs), the UFC’s light heavyweight division will be, for the first time since Chuck Liddell was smashing skulls, completely cleared out.

UFC president, Dana White, has already bestowed #1 contender status on Lyoto Machida, who earned another crack at UFC gold following his methodical destruction of Ryan Bader at UFC on Fox 4. Machida has been the only fighter thus far to best Jones for a round. Jones eventually emerged the victor in the second round of their first bout via a sickeningly slick standing guillotine choke that rendered the Brazilian unconscious. But that fight took place just last year — are we to believe that Lyoto has improved enough since then to pose a legitimate threat to the throne?

Well, some might say, there is always Phil Davis! The lanky light heavy is also the owner of a freakish reach —though it falls short of Jones’ by five-and-a-half inches– and an All American wrestling pedigree. He’s up-and-coming, constantly improving, and ranked in the top-ten. There’s just the small matter of him being on the receiving end of a dismantling courtesy of Rashad Evans earlier this year. And while I’m no proponent of “MMAMath”, as it has so eloquently been dubbed by fans, Evans had his own crack and the champ… and failed. The truth is, Davis hasn’t had a chance to show any improvement since the Evans fight and at this point in time is still a couple solid wins away from being mentioned in championship discussions.

Wait! Some of you are surely crying foul. What about about Alexander Gustafsson? A good observation, my fellow fans. The young Swede has been on a roll of late, disposing of French kickboxing standout, Cyrille Diabate (the man brought in for Henderson’s training camp to emulate Jones), James Te-Huna, Matt Hammill, Vladimir Matyushenko, and Thiago Silva; a venerable list of tough opponents. Nonetheless, we will have to wait and see how “Gus” handles former champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who relinquished his crown to the current top dog in what was arguably Jones’ best performance to date. Until their date on December 8th, at UFC On Fox 5, we should hold off on claiming “The Mauler” to be the guy to challenge the champ.

Of course, we still have Henderson who could potentially inject some new interest into this waning division. At this point, he is the only challenge standing before Jon Jones — the man who has not only risen to each prior challenge, but has overcome them with seemingly phenom-like ease. If he does the same to Henderson, the question will inevitably arise: who is left for this kid?

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