Jon Jones fights Glover Teixeira this weekend at UFC 172 in Baltimore. At stake, of course, is Jones’ UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.
Jones is riding a ten fight winning streak — the longest in the UFC Light Heavyweight division’s history. He has defended his title six times in that stretch, another UFC record.
His opponent, Teixeira, isn’t as familiar to UFC fans; in fact, Saturday marks his first appearance at a PPV main event. But he’s riding an astounding 20 fight winning streak of his own — one that spans about nine years and eight promotions.
The Brazilian is looking to become the fight game’s latest rags-to-riches story, and earn himself a measure of UFC history.
But, maybe that’s just for starters. The UFC, and its poster boy Jones, may just have more at stake here.
Not too long ago, many fans were describing Jones as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. The day before Alexander Gustafsson back in September, I wrote about how we had felt the same way about other fighters, whose time came and went, in an article somewhat-satirically titled Jon Jones is the Best Ever.
The next night, to many of us anyway, Jones time came. Gustafsson entered the Octagon a huge underdog at about seven-to-one odds but pressed the champion to the limit, winning the bout in the opinions of many observers. I wasn’t one of them — I had Jones win a very close decision that night — but I’ll agree, as Joe Rogan puts it in UFC promotional material, that Jones’ “aura of invincibility” had ended.
Can he get that back? Win or lose against Teixeira, will Jones find himself in discussion among the greatest of all time?
Is he doing himself any favors when he seems reluctant to fight Gustafsson again, or rising star Daniel Cormier? Or, when he seems wishy-washy on which opponents he will request random heightened drug testing from, as ESPN reported last week?
These seem, oddly, uncertain times for the champion. Maybe the UFC dropped the ball by not scheduling an immediate rematch between the two; a chance to answer all those questions right away.
But maybe they’re uncertain times for the UFC, too.
The UFC has lost its two greatest stars in recent months: Georges St-Pierre (in a surprise retirement), and Anderson Silva (to injury, following his second straight stoppage loss). The product is feeling a little stale in an over-saturated market, featuring as many as three events in an eight day span. Can UFC 172 turn the ship around?
The ratings for this past weekend’s UFC on Fox event, as reported by MMA Payout, were not good. They represent both the lowest rating for a UFC network show, and a last-place finish among network shows (in terms of average viewers) in its time slot. With less than two million viewers, it reached barely more than a third of the audience of UFC on Fox 1 back in 2011.
Can the winner on Saturday inject some enthusiasm for the UFC product — some of that excitement that may have faded in the last year?
What’s at stake Saturday night?
Maybe, just the UFC Light Heavyweight Title.
Or maybe, a lot more than we think.