Jon Jones (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

The UFC Light Heavyweight Title: Where Does It Go?

From 2000 to 2007, there were three names that were synonymous with the UFC’s light heavyweight division: Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture and Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. If someone in a crowd mentioned the UFC, these were the names that came to mind. Ortiz was champion for 1,260 days. Couture held the belt two separate times for a combined 365 days. Vitor Belfort even held the title for 203 days. But Liddell was the breakout. While his reign wasn’t the longest, he held the title for 770 days and defended it against the likes of Jeremy Horn, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Ortiz and Couture. Liddell was the face of the UFC until Quinton “Rampage” Jackson ended his reign in the first round in May 2007.

The title would go on to be held by five different men before it was defended more than once. It would take a young man named Jon Jones, who captured the belt on three weeks’ notice from the legendary Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128, to bring stability to the title picture. Jones was a man of integrity and sheer incredible talent, the likes of which the Octagon had not been graced with for quite some time. He defended his belt an astonishing eight times, with relative ease, before running into his toughest opponent to date: Jon Jones.

The news about his hit-and-run accident was devastating. The legal woes that followed dragged his name down even further. Jones was and is still a young fighter. He made some terrible mistakes. However, Jones seemingly got back on track and was scheduled to face Ovince Saint Preux at UFC 197. The winner would meet the winner of the evening’s main event between Jones rival Daniel Cormier and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. The night unfolded with Jones winning a lackluster decision in his return to the Octagon and “DC” shocking many by submitting the ever-durable Rumble to capture the vacant light heavyweight title. It seemed that the stars had aligned for DC vs. Jones II, this time with DC as the champion and Jones the challenger. The stage was set. It would go down at UFC 200.


July 2016. It was the week leading up to arguably the biggest card in UFC history. It was the return of Brock Lesnar, the women’s bantamweight title was on the line between Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes, and it was finally time for the feud between Cormier and Jones to be settled in the rematch fans had been craving for over a year. But just three days before the event, Jones was pulled after failing a drug test. The crushing blow was captured on video as “DC” was told he wasn’t going to get the chance to avenge his one and only loss. Anderson Silva stepped in to save the day and fight Cormier, but the fight was lackluster at best. It just didn’t have the same appeal. Add in the failed post-fight drug test for Lesnar, and UFC 200 became the event that most wanted to forget.

In the year that followed, UFC President Dana White said many times that upon Jones’ return, the former champ would not be headlining a pay-per-view, nor would he be getting an immediate title shot. Then UFC 214 happened. While the event was definitely overshadowed by the looming Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. debacle, this was the fight everyone wanted to see. It was time to settle the score once and for all. The night concluded with a brutal knockout of Cormier courtesy of Jones to recapture the title he never really lost. All seemed right again… right? Wrong.

While the reports are conflicting right now, it seems that one thing is certain: the reign of “Bones” will be coming to an end. Jones has failed another drug test, this time for a performance-enhancing substance. The second failed drug screen, whether it be a tainted supplement or Jones trying to gain an edge, is still a bad sign. Yet, the question no one has really focused on surrounds the future of the light heavyweight title.

When it comes to the stripping of titles, history shows us that any champion that has been stripped due to a post-fight drug screen has had his belt taken from him months later. Josh Barnett defeated Randy Couture in March 2002 at UFC 36. He was stripped four months later. Tim Sylvia defeated Ricco Rodriguez in February 2003 at UFC 41. He was stripped eight months later. Sean Sherk defeated Hermes Franca in October 2006 at UFC 64. He was stripped two months later. Where did the title go? It was made vacant.

As much as it makes sense to just give “DC” the title, as the UFC has opted to do, it appears the loss to Jones, albeit via a possible unfair advantage, was the last straw for the will of “DC.” Will this defeat still lessen Cormier’s legacy as champion? It’s a definite possibility.

Furthermore, who is worthy of challenging for the title? Alexander Gustafsson maybe? Well, he’s already been defeated by Cormier. Rumble? He’s already lost to “DC” twice and subsequently retired. Maybe it’s time for some new blood, like Volkan Oezdemir, who has really stormed his way to the top quite rapidly. There’s a definite need for a changing of the guard. A new era. Oezdemir could be that new era. Regardless, it seems like the Cormier and Jones era, just like the Liddell, Couture and Ortiz era, is coming to the end of the road.

Perhaps the test result was a false positive. Maybe this is all just a bad dream. But fighters like Jones need to be wary of the supplements they ingest and the company associated with those products. In the event that this isn’t simply a bad dream, then this is the final chapter in the once phenomenal story of Jonny “Bones” Jones.