“I think that the UFC light heavyweight division is in a great, healthy state,” Jones told MMAjunkie. “I think that there’s always going to be new competition. I think that there are guys right now that we don’t even know exist that are working their way up. There’s going to be tons of new competition for me, and really, styles make matchups.”
Jones points to his most recent outing against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 as motivation to never stay complacent at the top of the mountain, regardless of how strong his challengers are. Few expected the lengthy Swede to give the champion much of a fight back in September, but ultimately, it resulted in Jones’ most competitive match to date.
“(With) the Gustafsson fight, nobody thought it would be even close, but look what happened: The guy scarred me permanently in the face,” Jones said. “I’ve learned to not think that I’ve cleared any division and to respect every style, every fighter.”
Other than Gustafsson (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC), the only man to take Jones the distance during his reign is former titleholder Rashad Evans.
Evans (19-3-1 MMA, 14-3-1 UFC) has reestablished himself as a contender with back-to-back wins over Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen, and he’s stated his desire to earn a rematch with “Bones.”
Even though Jones tries to finish every opponent by knockout or submission, and “Suga” managed to take him all five rounds, the champ said a rematch against his former training partner isn’t appealing.
“I think I could have performed better (against Rashad), but at the same time, I was going against a guy who was an extremely high-level athlete, so I’m happy with it,” Jones said of his UFC 145 win over Evans. “As far as fighting Rashad again, I have no real ambition to fight him again. If he earns his way back to a title shot, I’ll do it all over again, but for the most part, me and Rashad are history.”
Currently, a date for Jones’ next title defense hasn’t been set. However, it’s known his opponent will be dangerous Brazilian Glover Teixeira. Teixeira (22-2 MMA, 5-0 UFC) will enter the contest on a 20-fight winning streak, but some feel his lack of victories over top 10 opponents make him a questionable title challenger.
Jones sees things differently, though, and said he’s highly motivated by the potential of losing to a significant underdog.
“When I fight these guys, that’s what brings out the best in me,” Jones said. “I think my own fear just encourages me to work hard and limit my opponents’ chances of winning.”
If Jones manages to have his way with Teixeira for what would be his seventh consecutive title defense, his next fight is already in the works. While the likes of Phil Davis and Daniel Cormier are hanging around on the verge of a championship fight, it’s Gustafsson who will earn a rematch with Jones should he defeat Jimi Manuwa in March.
A second fight between Jones and Gustafsson is in high demand after their first meeting in Toronto resulted in a “Fight of the Year” candidate. Jones said he’s open to taking on all comers; however, he feels Gustafsson should have to accomplish more than defeating an unranked opponent in Manuwa (14-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) to earn another crack at his belt.
“I think the UFC really wants to see me and Alexander Gustafsson rematch really bad, and they really gave him a really easy path back to the belt,” Jones said. “Without being disrespectful to Jimi, Jimi’s not a top 10 fighter, so I don’t see how you’re going to fight a guy not in the top 10 to get another world championship fight. It just doesn’t make sense.”