Helwani: The time is now for Jones’ move to UFC heavyweight, if the price is right


Jon Jones has not fought his last MMA fight. Heck, he hasn’t fought his last UFC fight, either.

I believe this is true.

I know one of his tweets on Monday made it seem like he was walking away from the sport, but I think it signified something else, although still important.

I think Jones’ days as UFC light heavyweight champion are over for now. I think he is genuinely done at 205.

And while I would have loved to have seen him fight Dominick Reyes again, I think that’s OK. He’s been the man at 205 for nine years. If he feels like he has done enough in that weight class, who are we to argue with him? He has. New challenges are good.

I know he spoke to the UFC on Monday. I know they made one last effort to book him versus Reyes again for the light heavyweight title, and I know he told them what he has been saying as of late, which is essentially: I am not interested in defending that title anymore.

Say what you will about Jones lately, his message has been consistent. He wants to move up. He wants to test the waters at heavyweight. Finally.

But he also wants to get paid.

And that’s where things get interesting.

This is exciting news for people like me who have wanted to see Jones test himself against the big boys.

So if Jones does in fact move up, does he get an immediate title shot? He certainly seemed to be angling for one on Saturday night, right? Before Stipe Miocic’s hand was raised after his unanimous decision over Daniel Cormier to retain his heavyweight title, Jones was calling next on social media.

Does the UFC want to give it to him? Well, UFC president Dana White said on Saturday night that Francis Ngannou is next (though I wouldn’t put that in stone just yet).

And, for whatever it is worth, I think it would be a crime if Ngannou got passed up. He has done more than enough to earn another shot at the heavyweight title, after losing via unanimous decision to Miocic on Jan. 20, 2018. As sexy as Miocic vs. Jones sounds, I don’t think it would be fair to Ngannou to sideline him. Not with the streak he’s on with four consecutive first-round KOs against elite competition.

So let’s say Jones doesn’t get Miocic next. Let’s say they do Miocic vs. Ngannou 2 (and something tells me the fact that Jones vacated the title is an indication they told him they are going in that direction because there’s great promotional power in doing a champ vs. champ fight, and now they can’t do that). What do they do with Jones?

Easy. They give him a heavyweight in the top 5-10.

Give him an Alexander Volkov. An Aleksei Oleinik. Heck, a Curtis Blaydes. It doesn’t really matter, in my opinion. Let’s just see how he does at heavyweight.

Let him test the waters up there the same way Anderson Silva did when he moved up to 205 and fought James Irvin, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. None of those guys was a champion.

If Jones wins one heavyweight fight, give him a title shot. I don’t think anyone would argue with that.

The issue then would be, would the UFC pay Jones what he wants to fight those nontitle fights? He already told us he makes around $5 million per fight. That doesn’t change if he moves up, I’m told. Is it worth it for the UFC to pay him that for a nontitle fight? I think so. He’s Jon Jones. He’s still one of the biggest draws in the sport.

The money is the biggest stumbling block here. Jones knows he can’t fight forever, so he wants to get paid. I don’t blame him for that. Problem is, these are tough times for a prizefighter to get a big raise because tickets can’t be sold. Will that be the case in six months? I sure hope not, but all signs seem to suggest so.

Ultimately, I don’t know how much Jones will get paid for his next fight, but I think they figure this out at some point and he fights at heavyweight. Jones indicated as much with a tweet conveying a positive spin about the negotiations. When, where, for how much and against whom is all still to be determined, but I think they figure this out and it leads to him jumping up because I don’t think Jones wants to retire. He’s too young and has missed out on too much due to his own transgressions to walk away now. He needs to make all the money he can possibly make right now. This isn’t the time to pull a Barry Sanders.

Read what he tweeted carefully. First came this: “The last I spoke with the UFC about my salary there was no negotiating. If that ever changes, i’d love to come back and compete again as a heavyweight. Until then, I’ll be enjoying Ufc has a fan and doing my best to take care of my family and community”

And then this: “In good faith I will be staying in the testing pool for probably the next half year or so. I’ll continue to lift weights and train all the different martial arts”

That’s not a person who has retired. That’s a person who didn’t get what he wanted right now and gave up something that didn’t mean a whole lot to him anymore as collateral damage.

That’s a person who is playing the game.

As he should. Get people talking. Get people buzzing. And it’s working.

For Jon Jones this isn’t goodbye. It’s simply see you later. At heavyweight.

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