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UFC 172:

Jon Jones’ future path takes shape quickly after he inherits throne as UFC’s biggest draw

Several fighters calling out Jones before champion tries to defend belt against Glover Teixeira

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones smiles between fights at UFC 162 on Saturday, July 6, 2013, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165

Sweden's Alexander Gustafsson (left) lands a blow on American Jon Jones during their World Light Heavyweight Championship bout during UFC 165 in Toronto on Saturday Sept. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young) Launch slideshow »

Those unfamiliar with mixed martial arts could come away confused with whom the sport’s best fighter is facing this weekend based solely on listening to an interview or two.

The time UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has spent discussing potential future opponents like Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Cormier and Phil Davis dwarfs the amount devoted to Glover Teixeira. The disregard for Teixeira, who challenges Jones in the main event of UFC 172 on Saturday in Baltimore, reached such a conspicuous level in a recent media session that Jones issued his version of a public service announcement.

“I want to go on record and make it very clear that I’m in no way, shape or form overlooking my opponent,” Jones stated. “I’m just being asked these questions and answering.”

It’s not a good omen for UFC 172 that Teixeira is getting glossed over, but it’s a great sign for the promotion’s future.

With the UFC still adjusting to a year minus its two most established stars — Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva are out at minimum for the foreseeable future — Jones is the heir apparent.

Jones’ torch bearing time coinciding with a wealth of 205-pound challengers is like a fighter firing a haymaker the split instant a foe drops his hands. It’s perfect timing.

Jones knows as well as anyone that it wasn’t always this way. Two years ago, after he had wiped out four straight former light heavyweight champions to begin his title reign, Jones fed into rumblings that his best options rested at heavyweight.

Jones inquired with UFC President Dana White about taking a heavyweight bout before the end of 2012 with the thought of an eventual superfight against Cain Velasquez looming in the back of his mind. White told Jones to hold off, convincing his fighter that new contenders would arise.

White could award himself a championship belt of deductive reasoning for that assessment. Jones, and everyone else, has come around to White’s view in short order.

“I have no interest at this point,” Jones said of moving to heavyweight. “There’s a lot of great competition for me to test myself against.”

Jones’ legacy no longer hinges upon how he performs against Velasquez and overall in a heavier division. Although bulking up remains a viable long-term option, Jones could come to be considered the greatest fighter of all time before it’s necessary.

Cormier expressed that belief months ago and listed himself as one of the fighters Jones would have to get through. With an undefeated record and Olympic wrestling background, there’s no arguing Cormier is a part of the gauntlet Jones must run in the next couple of years.

So is the once-beaten Davis, who has wrestling credentials that can nearly match Cormier’s. As long as neither Cormier nor Davis gets upset in their next bouts — against Dan Henderson at UFC 173 and Anthony Johnson on Saturday, respectively — they’re in the queue.

Both of them know they’re waiting behind Gustafsson, which speaks volumes to how highly The Mauler’s fight with Jones is still regarded.

“Jon didn’t know up from down when he was fighting Alex,” Davis said. “He didn’t know what hit him. He didn’t know why he hit him that hard, why he was hitting him so much. I still don’t understand really how he lost.”

“Alex hit (Jones) so many times in the right eye, (he) almost turned into a pirate.”

Prompted by White questioning his championship desire, Davis has been the most vocal before UFC 172. Teixeira could rightfully lament yet another person interfering with his moment to pick their own fight with Jones, but the Brazilian who hasn’t lost in eight years has sounded genuinely apathetic.

“I knew when I was going to fight Jon Jones, this was going to happen,” Teixeira said. “I don’t care. I just have to prove them wrong.”

Jones cares. Ever concerned with his outside perception, Jones has grown uncomfortable talking about every rival other than Teixeira for long stretches.

He’s resigned to its purpose, though. These are the fights that could carry the UFC in a new era.

“It’s actually kind of sad that me and Glover haven’t had a better chance to promote our fight,” Jones said.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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