And Jon Jones cannot do a thing about it.
I'm starting with the end of the story rather than the beginning because, well, why wait when you've got a climax never before plotted out? Whenever we write about "Bones" and his work inside the octagon, it's the same old story. OK, at age 24 he's not exactly authoring an "old" story, but it's sure become a familiar one. Jones is always in control. Always. In. Control. Over the last 16 months, even as he's faced a murderer's row of UFC light heavyweights, he has barely broken a sweat in establishing himself as a transcendent star.
But now Jones is up against Anderson Silva. And he's powerless to stop him.
This is not a cage fight I'm talking about, of course. (If it were -- and wouldn't that be sweet? -- I'd surely not be describing Jones as powerless, although he finally would have an opponent worth sweating over.) No, I'm talking about the part of the fight game that's all talk: the rankings. And not even the weight class rankings, which at least offer head-to-head results and other flesh-and-blood evidence on which we can base our judgments. Instead, I'm venturing one step further into The Land of Make-Believe: pound-for-pound rankings. Until we figure out a way to stick heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos into the octagon with bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz and make it a level playing field, the pound-for-pound rankings will remain nothing but fanciful fodder for hollow debate.
And boy what debate ensued when, two months ago, the SI.com pound-for-pound rankings first elevated Jones over Silva. ("Debate" is a deceptively genteel term for it. Other ways to characterize the e-mails I received: ridicule, scorn, the verbal equivalent of spitting in the face.)
But I had to just stand firm and take it. As I saw things, Jones simply could no longer be denied.
Exhibit A was what Jones had done in the octagon. Back in March 2011, Mauricio Rua stepped in with the championship belt, and Jones beat him up and walked out with the shiny, symbolic leather strap. Then ex-champ Quinton Jackson howled to the heavens and tried to claim alpha dog status but couldn't handle the rampage that Jones unleashed. Another former title holder, Lyoto Machida, took a deep breath and took his best shot, and ended up having the life choked out of him, his limp body dropping to the canvas as Jones again walked away the champion. Most recently, back in April, Jones had a grudge match with former training partner Rashad Evans -- still another former champ -- and controlled the fight from start to finish in taking a unanimous decision. That's four champions vanquished in barely over a year for Jones.
Exhibit B in making Jones' case was -- now strap yourself in for this one -- what Silva had done in the octagon. Yes, I'm aware that "The Spider" has won 15 straight fights and has defended his middleweight belt nine times. And yes, I've seen him dominate pretty much everyone who's dared step into the cage with him. But did you notice that I said "pretty much everyone"? The one opponent standing between "dominate everyone" and harsh reality is Chael Sonnen, who put a beating on Silva for nearly the entirety of their August 2010 bout before succumbing to a submission with less than two minutes to go in the fifth round. True, Silva walked out of the cage that night with his championship belt. But his dominance in the middleweight division was dented in a way that Jones' dominance among light heavyweights has not yet been.
So even though Silva has been beating up people for a lot longer than Jones has, in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of fighter rankings, Jones became top dog. He still is.
You might have heard, however, that Silva and Sonnen have a second date next Saturday night. There's a lot on the line: the UFC middleweight belt, of course, but also one man's legacy as perhaps the greatest ever, bragging rights from the mean streets of West Linn to the petting-zoo bus stops of South America, and maybe even plastic surgery bills. And one more thing, vastly more important than all of the others: No. 1 on the SI.com pound-for-pound list.
If Silva loses, Jones will be within his rights to build a mansion at the top of the hill. If Silva squeaks out a tight victory, well, that'll make next month's rankings a brain-rattling judgment call. But if "The Spider" marches into the cage and treats Sonnen like he's treated every other fighter who's dared to go face to face with him -- if Silva transforms Aug. 7, 2010, into the MMA equivalent of a UFO sighting, an explicable blip on the radar that maybe we all should just pretend never happened -- then he'll surely be atop the pound-for-pound list the next time we convene.
And Jon Jones cannot do a thing about it.
So now we hear that dos Santos and Velasquez "probably" won't collide at UFC 152 in September, as the UFC had been planning. Fight promotion president Dana White didn't give a reason for the delay when he made the brief announcement following UFC 147, and he didn't give a new date for the rematch. And yes, he did say "probably." But until the champ and the man he dethroned step into the cage again, the heavyweight division is a competition for No. 3.
If not for his poor judgment behind the wheel of his car recently and, before that, his younger brother being selected in the first round of the NFL draft, we might not have heard a peep about Jones these past couple of months. But as his Sept. 1 title defense against Henderson creeps up, "Bones" no doubt will start appearing in the media again for the thing he's most skilled at. Which is good. Jones-Henderson might prove to be no more competitive than any of the champ's previous title defenses, but I'm looking forward to it, aren't you?
Check back with us after the weekend.
Still no announcement on whether St-Pierre will indeed be ready to return from knee surgery rehab in time UFC 154 in November. But the champion did write on his website last week that he's "back in Montreal and full-time training." So maybe we'll see GSP-Condit on that Montreal card, which would begin to loosen the weight division's logjam of contenders.
With Henderson and Edgar preparing for next month's rematch, let's skip down the list to the other contenders. Nate Diaz has been promised the next shot at the belt, but Anthony Pettis twice was given the same promise and has nothing to show for it. And what about Maynard? He didn't get to show off his best in his recent UFC on FX fight, but who other than Usain Bolt could have looked good against Clay Guida that night?
A month has passed, and I'm not tremendously confident that "The Korean Zombie" is the one who belongs at No. 3. But I do know that one other contender I mentioned last time, Hatsu Hioki, no longer has a claim on the spot, after being upset by Ricardo Lamas at UFC on FX 4. And I also know one other thing: Jung believes he's the man to beat Aldo. I don't know that he is, but you've got to respect his confidence if he gets the fight.
The best thing about the July 21 Faber vs. Barão fight is that the UFC 149 main event offers an opportunity for one of them to make an emphatic statement. Someone needs to. At this point, neither man has Cruz shaking in his knee brace, draining much of the juice out of a potential title bout. But if Urijah or Renan looks like a force ...
So "Mighty Mouse" went out last month and broke our lame, noncommittal tie for second place, dropping "Uncle Creepy" from No. 2a to No. 3. Now we'll wait for the UFC to schedule Johnson vs. Benavidez for the honor of becoming the organization's first champ at this weight. Wish the matchmakers worked with the lightning speed of these fighters.
If you're not convinced, even after reading the beginning of this story, that Jones belongs on top of Silva, you're not alone. Far from it. Each month our friends over at Yahoo! Sports poll MMA media members to create a pound-for-pound ranking, and I noticed that in this month's poll I am one of only five voters (among the 27 polled) to rank Jones at No. 1. But as my friend Kevin Iole wrote, "If Silva routs Sonnen ... it's almost certain he'd land most of those five stray No. 1 votes that aren't in his column." Yes, Kevin. I can't speak for the other four dissenting votes, but he'd certainly have mine.