Jon Jones plans to make a return to UFC in the second half of 2022. He would like to meet the winner of Francis Ngannou against Ciryl Gane. (1:05).
UFC 266's main and co-main events featured huge victories for Alexander Volkanovski, Valentina Shevchenko and Valentina Shevchenko. But the true stories of the weekend were Nick Diaz making his return to the UFC after a long absence, and Jon Jones who was arrested Friday night after having his fight inducted into UFC Hall of Fame. Jeff Wagenheim, Brett Okamoto, and Marc Raimondi discuss the weekend and what their options are for both fighters.
Raimondi: UFC 266 had a great card. Alexander Volkanovski overcame a lot of obstacles to defeat Brian Ortega, defending his UFC featherweight title. He should next fight Max Holloway against Yair Roddio. Valentina Shevchenko performed flawlessly against Lauren Murphy in a title defense. I'm hopeful that we will see her again against Amanda Nunes. She'll probably wait for the next flyweight contender.
We know what the future holds for Shevchenko and Volkanovski. What about Nick Diaz, the undisputed champion? Saturday night, I wrote that I thought Diaz looked great in his third round TKO loss to Robbie Lawler. This was arguably more than I expected. But, I don't think I want to see Diaz again. At 38 years old, he was noticeable slower at middleweight. Brett, what did you think of Diaz's performance in the fight against Lawler Do you like the idea of another Diaz fight at the UFC
Okamoto: Marc, I felt mixed emotions. One, Diaz had been out for six years. He told us before the fight that he didn't want Saturday to fight. However, I was able to see skill once the fight began. I saw a man who is still able to compete in the appropriate UFC fights. I spoke to some people from his camp after the fight, and they told me that he was smiling and would do it again. It would be great if Diaz fights again. On Saturday, I saw a man who, if he fights again within the next six month, would likely look better than he did. The matchmaking is crucial. If Diaz is paired with the right opponent I would support him fighting again.
Wagenheim: It's all about matchmaking, Brett. It's also about Diaz realizing where he is in his life. It was a wonderful job by Diaz of showing that awareness at Saturday's end, even though it might have seemed anticlimactic to some. It was a sign that Nick understood he had given everything he could and that the fight was over. Remember in the lead-up when Diaz said that Lawler's match was an "idiot"? And that Kamaru Usman should have been in it with him? Can you picture it?
Although I would love to see Diaz fight again in a proper fight, I fear the worst. I hope that the UFC does not allow a young, tough man to take Diaz's place. Even more, I am apprehensive that in a time where people pay to see YouTubers fight and MMA guys "box" and old legends like Evander Hollyfield making us sad -- we might be in for a Diaz spectacle.
Nick Diaz lost to Robbie Lawler in his return fight, but he doesn't seem to be finished with the UFC yet. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Raimondi: Both you and I agree that Diaz can fight against the right opponents. What is the name of that middleweight? It could be a middleweight. A welterweight moving up? I don't see Diaz facing a star in his prime like Jorge Masvidal or a young hungry monster like KhamzatChimaev. If you are looking for good matchups, the UFC is not the right place. These are the times where you have to either sink or swim. This is my concern. Brett, how does Diaz's next fight look?
Okamoto Sure, Askren is retired. However, Diaz had been retired until last weekend. Askren could sell the fight and be entertaining. He would not have to face a dangerous opponent that would do a lot of damage to Diaz.
Raimondi: Brett, I like the place you are at with the Askren concept. Although he isn't currently on the UFC roster, I will throw my name out there: Demian Maia. That bout at middleweight would be a great fight. Two legends.
Wagenheim: Other than Diaz and fighters that should not be matched, I don't have any other names. In which case I could easily cite the majority of the UFC roster. This is not a knock against Diaz. At 38 years old, six and a quarter years is quite a time to be gone. Perhaps there is one more magic trick left for the king of 209. I will be there, sure. Perhaps I'm holding my breath.
Raimondi: We are still holding our breath. I have a question for Jon Jones. We are aware that Jones was arrested in Las Vegas Friday on charges of misdemeanor domestic violence and tampering. He was just hours away from a ceremony in which his famous fight with Alexander Gustafsson was honored and inducted into UFC Hall of Fame. Jones is now a questionable UFC member. Jones has had numerous chances. Imagine Jones being the UFC champion at this time.
Play 1:05 Jon Jones Eyes 2022 Return Jon Jones hopes to make a return to UFC in the second half of 2022. He would like to meet the winner of Francis Ngannou against Ciryl Gane.
Okamoto: This is a great question, but it's also irrelevant. Jon Jones is not a major part of the UFC's career at this time. Jones' eligibility for fight is now a question of the UFC. Before this, I believed Jones would fight at heavyweight twice by 2022. I believe that, despite current circumstances it is still possible. We are in a strange sense where we were with Jones. He is talented and may be the greatest fighter in the world. However, his personal life could cause problems.
The bottom line is that I believe Jon Jones will fight for the UFC Heavyweight Title in 2022.
Wagenheim: The idea that Jones could fight for the heavyweight title in the near future, given this latest arrest, is troubling to me. It is also unthinkable. That is why I wouldn't be surprised if it happened. MMA is a pageant full of unimaginable twists and troubling events, isn’t it? We thought that "Bones" would be a difficult belt candidate a year back, but look at where we are today.
Jones' fight career is the only thing that matters. He has lost any negotiating leverage he thought he had with UFC. Jones might be able to return to fighting if the legal system allows him to do so. He could take any fight he is offered and pay the UFC the price. If Jon Jones does as well as the light heavyweight Jon Jones, then there is no ceiling. However, there is no floor that's too slippery.
On Sept. 23, Jon Jones's fight against Alexander Gustafsson saw him inducted into UFC Hall of Fame. Jones was arrested shortly thereafter. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Raimondi: It is not clear how much this slows down Jones. Over the past few days, I spoke with several Las Vegas lawyers and they are fairly certain that Jones will not be serving any lengthy jail sentence based only on the charges.
We now know a lot more about what happened on Thursday night and Friday morning. It's not a good look for Jones. It's a little uncomfortable to talk about Jones' athletic career while he's being charged with domestic violence. This is the reality, however, and Jones is regarded as one of, if not THE greatest, fighters in the history.
Is there any way Jones could turn his life around. He keeps claiming he is doing better but the poor decisions are mounting up.
Okamoto: This question has been a constant in our lives for over a decade. Jones has managed to overcome his personal problems and continue his career. He will, and I believe he will. In terms of Jones's career in the Octagon I believe Jones will continue to fight down the road, and has a chance at becoming a heavyweight champion. As long as he is still eligible, his outlook in the Octagon remains the same.
His legacy is already complicated. An incident like this will be his legacy. This incident is part of Jon Jones' larger story. It is very disappointing that the greatest fighter in this sport can't conquer his own demons. As many of you, Jones should be seen competing and I want him to be part of UFC. However, some of the details in this case are troubling and Jones needs to prioritize his personal life and not his UFC title.
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Wagenheim: Jones' legacy is not the most important. Jones' legacy as a man has been ruined. The best thing he can do right now is to grow up. We've all heard him talk about his problems and how he can improve himself as a person over the years. He talks with the best intentions. He has repeatedly proven that he is incapable of maintaining his good-willedness.
Jones is clearly unable to clean up his act by himself. He needs to surround himself and others who will hold him accountable to a higher standard. Jones' latest claims will make it more difficult to support him. In his ongoing struggle with his worst tendencies I will root for him. Not for Jon Jones, the mixed martial artist, or for the UFC's coffers. But for his family who has been through enough.