JON JONES cemented his status as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time many moons ago.
But he can begin to outright lay claim to that title, which many aspire to have, this weekend with victory in his long-awaited comeback fight.
GETTYFormer pound-for-pound king Jon Jones returns to the octagon this weekend[/caption]
GETTYJones will be welcomed back to the cage by Ciryl Gane, who he’ll meet for the vacant heavyweight title[/caption]
GETTYVictory over Gane will see Jones become a two-division champion[/caption]
GETTYJones can begin distance himself from the pack in the GOAT debate at UFC 285[/caption]
But for the first time in 12 years, he’ll do so as a legitimate challenger for a world title – the vacant heavyweight belt.
Jones first mooted a move to heavyweight all the way back in October 2012 after just over a year at the summit of the light-heavyweight division.
Even then, well before he became the legend killer at 205lbs, he knew that his road to mixed martial arts immortality would one day be forged in the heavyweight division.
It may have taken him ten years to finally make good on his promise to move up to heavyweight, but the moment many have long anticipated has finally arrived.
Bones is officially going for a second world championship and the title of ‘Baddest Man of the Planet’.
And he’s left no stone unturned ahead of what could be another legacy-enhancing night in the Las Vegas desert.
Jones has lifted all the weights and wolfed down all the meals to transform himself into a true heavyweight.
That has come at the expense of his usually-lean physique, which is now a rounder, harder and albeit slightly pudgier in some places.
But ahead of his eagerly-anticipated comeback and heavyweight bow, mixed martial arts fans new and old have several very justified questions of Jones.
Is his frame big enough to compete at heavyweight? Will his long lay-off lead to ring rust?
Is he still the dominant and feared fighter he once was? Has Father Time caught up with him?
They’re all valid questions to be asking, especially the latter as Jones looked distinctly ordinary by his incredible standards in his last two fights.
While those questions are right to bounce around and cloud the heads of fans, one thing is crystal clear ahead of the Sin City showdown: Claiming a second world title in the manner he used to see off legends of the sport will go a long way to making him the best to ever do it.
In normal circumstances, Jones’ supreme dominance at 205lbs – in which he won all but one fight due to a controversial DQ – would’ve ended the mixed martial arts GOAT debate.
Two failed drug tests, however, have sadly tarnished his incredible body of work – which features the names of multiple hall of famers – despite his exonerations.
GETTYJon Jones has been mulling a move up to heavyweight for over a decade[/caption]
Jones light-heavyweight resume is second to noneGETTYGETTYBut his failed drug tests have tarnished his incredible work at 205lbs[/caption]
Victory over Gane and beating heavyweight GOAT Stipe Miocic will immortalise JonesGETTY
But getting his hands on the heavyweight title and racking up several title defences – so long as one of those is against heavyweight GOAT Stipe Miocic – would see him become the undisputed king of the sport.
Becoming the best to ever do it in two weight classes is something no fighter has done in UFC history.
Jones’ list of controversies – including his recent domestic violence incident – will, for some, forever be the main talking points when his name is mentioned in years to come.
Fans, fighters and pundits alike, however, are right to bring them to the fore when talking about his legacy – because they’re firmly part of it.
But he’ll be hoping they’ll eventually play second fiddle to the narrative of Jon Jones ‘The Greatest MMA Fighter of all Time’.
Throughout his career, Jones has had a knack of delivering spectacular moments when the pressure is at its highest.
We don’t have much longer to wait to find out if he can, as the kids say, come up clutch and add a second – and potentially career-defining world – title to his legacy.