2019 marked the first year in which UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has fought more than once since 2013. Jones is kicking off his 2020 schedule early in the hopes of keeping up with that trend, stepping into the Octagon in the main event of Saturday's UFC 247 fight card to defend his title against Dominick Reyes.
The event, which takes place from Toyota Center in Houston, features a pair of No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups with Jones vs. Reyes for the light heavyweight title and Valentina Shevchenko putting her flyweight championship on the line against Katlyn Chookagian.
Let's take a closer look at the biggest storylines entering UFC 247 this weekend.
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1. Jones' last run at 205?: Jones (25-1) has dominated the light heavyweight division for just shy of a decade. After exploding onto the UFC scene in 2008, he worked his way to a title fight against Mauricio Rua in March 2011. The only stumble during that run was Jones' only career loss, a still-controversial disqualification against Matt Hamill. Since then, Jones' toughest challenges have come from Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Cormier, Thiago Santos and ... himself. Santos, in Jones' most recent fight this past July, was the first man to win an entire scorecard against the champ, ultimately losing via split decision. But other than that, even Jones' toughest competition in the Octagon has come up clearly short. That level of dominance at 205 pounds has led many to wonder when Jones will take the leap and move to heavyweight.
Jones brushed off that idea for years, but has recently opened a tad more to the idea. In December, Jones said it was a "very strong possibility" he'd move to heavyweight following the Reyes fight. Such a move would cause a big splash in the sport and set up new dynamics across two divisions. Could Jones continue his incredible run against men who are bigger and stronger, his length having been a key weapon for him at light heavyweight? Who would step up and fill his shoes as king of the light heavyweight division? Jones' future could be the most intriguing storyline of the year, not just this event.
2. Maybe not the right time for Reyes: The counterpoint to Jones' dominance is the theory that the sport eventually catches up to everyone. That Jones has gone an entire career without falling the same way as other "unbeatable" fighters speaks to his greatness, but Reyes (12-0) is arguably the best of the current crop of current up-and-coming light heavyweights. He has looked great at times and punched his ticket to the title shot by sleeping Chris Weidman in less than two minutes in October. Weidman's name may look good on a resume, but Reyes was the fifth man in Weidman's last six fights to knock out the former middleweight champ.
Reyes is a great athlete with good size and big power, but he's also young in his career and hasn't faced a test anywhere near the level of Jones. In fact, plenty of people had Reyes coming up short against Volkan Oezdemir just under a year ago. The challenger may well be a future champion, but is he getting thrown into the fire too soon?
3. Can "Bullet" break through?: Shevchenko (18-3) is one of the best fighters on the planet, a dominant champion in the flyweight division and has the tools to stay on top for a long time. Unfortunately, Shevchenko hasn't really broken through as a big star for the UFC. That likely comes down to the division she rules. There aren't a lot of particularly viable fighters to challenge Shevchenko at flyweight, and there aren't many fights that feel like a "big deal" for her that don't involve a third fight with Amanda Nunes, who beat Shevchenko in their first two meetings.
Shevchenko is a massive favorite over Chookagian, a legitimate title contender given the state of the division. UFC 247 is the biggest card Shevchenko has fought on since UFC 196. Maybe an impressive enough performance against Chookagian will help boost the champion's image, or maybe she'll continue on as the most overlooked champion in the promotion.
4. "The Black Beast" fighting off gatekeeper status: Derrick Lewis (22-7) is a fan favorite on Saturday for a variety of reasons. He has big power in his back pocket at all points in a fight; one only needs look to his knockout win over Alexander Volkov just 11 seconds before the judges would have given Lewis a loss. Lewis is also a brilliant post-fight interview, and he has one of best social media games in the sport.
What Lewis has not been able to do, though, is crack through to the elite level of heavyweights. His submission loss in a title fight with Daniel Cormier is easy to overlook, but losses to very vulnerable stars like Mark Hunt and Junior dos Santos in recent years stick out to offset a valuable win over Francis Ngannou -- which was a disaster of a different form. Ilir Latifi (14-7) is moving to heavyweight in something of a desperate move after back-to-back light heavyweight losses. If Lewis wants to build toward another title shot and fend off drawing the label of "gatekeeper," he can't afford a misstep in fights like this.
5. A very shallow card: There's a line of thinking in some corners of the MMA media and fandom that you can't judge a card before you see how it plays out. And it's true there have been plenty of cards that have played out better in the Octagon than they looked on paper. That said, when you're asking fans to pay $65 on top of an ESPN+ subscription, it's only fair to have cards be judged in advance.
Jones vs. Reyes is an interesting fight featuring arguably the greatest of all time against an interesting prospect. Shevchenko vs. Chookagian features one of the best women in the sport defending her title against a top challenger. But Jones is a -455 favorite and Shevchenko -1430. There may not be a ton of intrigue aside from a pair of No. 1 vs. No. 2 fights. The rest of the card is extremely thin, just like UFC 246. The early 2020 UFC pay-per-views feel even worse when compared with the top-to-bottom strength of UFC 244 and 245 to close out 2019.