"How about this as a replacement for Overeem?" a reader emailed me last week shortly after the news broke that Alistair Overeem failed a random drug test with a hippopotamus-high level of testosterone. Now, he might be denied a license to fight Junior dos Santos for the UFC heavyweight championship next month.
This was by no means the only missive from a helpful MMA fan suggesting potential fallback foes for the main event of UFC 146 (May 26 in Las Vegas). I heard Frank Mir. I heard Cain Velasquez. I heard Fabricio Werdum. And yes, I even heard Mark Hunt. (And heard and heard.)
But Matt from Tulsa, Okla., had the most unique and intriguing proposal: "How about this as a replacement for Overeem: Jon Jones?"
You mean the Jon Jones who defends his light heavyweight belt this Saturday night at UFC 145 (10 p.m. ET, PPV)? You want him to turn around and take on the heavyweight champ a mere five weeks later?
"If 'Bones' comes away from his fight against Rashad Evans unscathed, couldn't that be an alternative?" posited Matt. "Junior isn't a massive heavyweight -- the weight difference could be less than dos Santos would've given up to Overeem. I'd love to see Joe Rogan surprise Jones with another post-fight impromptu title shot offer. Talk about selling tickets."
Ridiculous, right? Well, not entirely. Jones has said on more than one occasion that he's asked Dana White to put him in a heavyweight fight before the end of 2012. He's never fully encapsulated, however, the UFC president's reaction to the request. My guess is that Dana sat back, thoughtfully, and bestowed upon the young fighter some wisdom from Lao Tzu, who has an artful take on the urge to go to war: "Who can wait quietly until the mud settles? Who can remain still until the moment of action?" Or maybe White went directly to Leo Tolstoy, who also knows a thing or two about war (and its opposite): "The two most powerful warriors are patience and time."
In other words, let's wait until we've wrung every last drop of conflict, drama and pay-per-view value from the light heavyweight division before moving on to bigger things. And besides, if the UFC is going to put its heavyweight champion and its 205-pound crossover superstar on a collision course, it's going to want more time than five weeks to brag about it.
Wait, did I say if? I should have said when. It's going to happen. Someday. Not next month, but sometime before we know it. "Bones" is going to pack a little meat on his frame and step in with the big boys. It'll make Matt from Tulsa happy. And according to this other SI.com reader, it will mean Jones is finally playing fair:
Why is Jon Jones ranked so high on pound-for-pound lists? Don't get me wrong: Jones is one of the most skilled competitors in MMA today, but I almost feel he should be disqualified from being on such a list. He has a larger frame than most heavyweights despite his ability to make 205 pounds. Long bones equal heaps of leverage. No disrespect to his skills, his poise and his intelligence in the cage, but how does a guy clearly much bigger than everyone at 205 get ranked on a pound-for-pound list?
--Billy, Thomasville, Ga.
I don't think it's just Jones' frame that gives him a unique advantage, Billy. It's also his athleticism. He may look like a heavyweight, but he moves like a lightweight. Speaking of which, did you have a similar objection when Frankie Edgar made his last two opponents appear to be Andre the Giant? What about when Dan Henderson fought everywhere from heavyweight to 185 pounds? In this one way, MMA is quantitative, not subject to subjective decree. If you can cut it (the weight, that is), you can compete in any division you choose.
And now here's a dissenting voice on that pound-for-pound matter:
Putting Anderson Silva at the top of your pound-for-pound rankings, ahead of Jon Jones, ignores some sleepy performances by "The Spider" and shows a real lack of respect for each fighter's respective victims. Silva has fought mostly one-trick ponies who are not "mixed" martial artists, while Jones takes on multi-skilled fighters like "Shogun" Rua and Lyoto Machida. Other than Dan Henderson, I don't feel like Silva has fought anyone else in his career that matches up with Jones' top opponents. And Jones is just getting started!
--Darryl, Florence, Mass.
All fighter rankings are subjective, and the pound-for-pound ones are a flight of whimsy. We compile them because they're fodder for discussions like this. But can you truly measure Junior dos Santos against Dominick Cruz, a man about the size of one of the heavyweight champ's legs? With Jones and Silva at least, there's only one weight class of separation, so, one day, we might conceivably have concrete evidence on which to judge. (I doubt it, though.)
At least you're being fair, Darryl, and judging each fighter in his own weight class, not matching them against each other in that futuristic fantasy superfight. And I will agree that Jones has faced stiffer overall competition lately. But Silva has been in with some tough guys. Chael Sonnen, for one, beat him to the punch enough for me to say -- in all confidence -- that he's no one-trick pony.
Watched the UFC on Fuel TV event, and it looked somewhat like a promo for Jones vs. Evans with a few fights thrown in. Jones needs some PR help. He came across as a punk.
--Harry, Central Point, Ore.
Jones is the youngest champion in UFC history, which is an accomplishment, to be sure. But youth can bring challenges. Just as he's evolving as a fighter, he's still growing into his role outside the cage. And now he's in the business of hyping a fight against a former friend and teammate who is currently getting under his skin. In short: There's a whole lot of pressure on the guy. With Silva being an enigma and Georges St-Pierre out of action, "Bones" is the face of the fight organization. I'd cut him some slack. He'll grow up.
Oh, and before we close this and order a pizza for the weekend's big fight, let's go over a few reader-suggested possible replacement challengers for the May 26 title fight, which came pouring in after I put in a good word for former champion Cain Velasquez:
Wrong, Jeff, you cannot put in Velasquez, for the simple fact that another loss to JDS and he will end up in championship purgatory a la Rich Franklin at middleweight and Josh Koscheck at welterweight. My money is on Frank Mir.
--Hilario, San Benito, Texas
You clearly have more marketing acumen than I do, Hilario. I know that's an unavoidable part of the game, but I can't help but look at the list of potential challengers and simply ask myself: Who would give dos Santos the best fight? And despite November's 64-second KO, I think it would be Cain.
Mir is the logical choice, because he's a former champ and has a motor mouth that could hype the fight quickly. But he's shown time and time again that he buckles when someone punches him, and Junior hits like a truck. That's why Mark Hunt is the most intriguing choice. Hunt has arguably the best chin in MMA and will stand and bang and likely create a great highlight-reel KO for Junior.
I don't get it, Phil. Selling someone on the basis of being a likely "highlight-reel KO" victim for the champ doesn't convince me to order the pay-per-view. But that's just me.
Who has Cain fought? Brock Lesnar and Cheick Kongo? Hunt has fought Josh Barnett, Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko CroCop, Wanderlei Silva and Gegard Mousasi. Let's compare their résumés!
--@crunchless via Twitter
On that Hunt résumé you're holding in your hand, @crunchless, you'll note the "L" next to Barnett, Fedor and Mousasi and also a 2010 UFC loss to the legendary Sean McCorkle. In fact, you'll see an "L" next to nearly half of Hunt's 15 fights, while a look at Velasquez's CV reveals just one loss. As for Hunt's wins, you'll see that the ones over Wanderlei and CroCop date back to 2004 and 2005, back when Junior dos Santos was still acquiring his nickname. I just don't think the rugged New Zealander has done what it takes to earn a title shot. Dana White has come out within the last week and said so. But if you won't listen to us ...
Putting Mark Hunt into a title fight would be ridiculous! They might as well go find Tank Abbott!
--Rich, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Could you please talk some sense into Phil, @crunchless and around 10,000 people -- probably more like a loud 25, really -- on Twitter? But Rich, let's hope that, on your suggestion, we don't get a #RallyForTankAbbott.
I guess Brock Lesnar called it quits too soon, because I'm sure his name would be at the top of the list if he were still in the UFC.
--Patrick, Rahway, N.J.
Let's leave Brock alone, Patrick. He's got bigger fish to fry than Junior dos Santos now that he's tangling with the best of the WWE. He did dodge one epic battle, though, with the sad demise of Chief Jay Strongbow, a name that always makes me feel young.