MMA is such a chaotic, upside down, black is white white is black sport that it's difficult, even among great fighters to identify long stretches of unfettered success. What's the golden standard? Many hardcore fans will tell you about Mauricio Rua's 2005 run in Pride which included Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem, and Ricardo Arona.
All were legitimate top LHW's back in 2005. Three years before Jon Jones even turned professional, and was cutting his teeth on the wrestling circuit at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, Shogun was dominating.
Quinton was coming off a tough loss for Pride's Middleweight Championship. Rogerio was coming off a big win over Dan Henderson at Total Elimination (in a one sided fight that almost looked like Rogerio's whipping of Tito Ortiz). Overeem, still a legitimate fighter who had yet to develop an insatiable taste for horse meat, was coming off big wins over Igor Vovchanchyn and Vitor Belfort. And Arona, the guy everyone hated to admit to respecting for his conservative brand of top control jiu jitsu, was coming off a win over the champion and icon, Wanderlei Silva.
And yet all this context fades away in the presence of what Jones has accomplished in 2011. 'Best ever' is a phrase you don't use lightly. And it's not a phrase I think is applicable to Jones himself. But 2011 produced a string of performances you would only expect out of a future hall of famer, or all time great. Yes it's hyperbole, but it's completely valid hyperbole.
Rua earned his title off back to back brilliant performances against Lyoto Machida. Jackson dethroned the UFC LHW king, Chuck Liddell. And Machida was the last man standing when Forrest Griffin took the belt from Jackson, lost it to Rashad Evans, who then lost it to Lyoto. Jones took over the throne like these men had simply been saving him a seat all along.
It's a testament to Jones' skill that the criticisms are limited to his personality, and a move to HW. I don't have much to say on the former. It's worth analysis when we talk about how the man being called "the face of the sport" acts in sometimes 'phony', and often strange ways. But I don't expect Jones to be "down to earth". In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to hear anecdotes, like Jordan, of Jones cheating in a casual game of cards.
Success at the highest levels is intimately tied to two things: obsession, and performance. It's only natural for things like compassion, and humanity to be left behind. I'm not saying Jones is inhumane, or cruel. But Jones is merciless in the cage. With every punch, every choke attempt, and every kick, Jones is designed for violence. He's indifferent to his opponent's health. Maybe that indifference explains why it spills over into, say, an interview, or in response to a kid with a replica belt he wants signed.
But on the latter, I'm inclined to agree. There simply isn't much left for Jones at LHW. A fight with Henderson and Evans are interesting (assuming Phil Davis loses), and worth making. Jones should fight in the division for another year or two. But I don't expect anyone to beat him. Am I drinking the koolaid? Yes. But only because it's not spiked.