At UFC 140, Jon Jones will attempt to make the second successful defense of his UFC Light Heavyweight title as he faces Lyoto Machida. It's been an incredible run for Jones, as the 24 year old with less than 4 years pro experience has already made his claim as one of the top fighters in the world. In this series, we'll take a look at that run, starting with Jones's MMA debut and making our way through his entire 15 fight career, examining how he has evolved, and what we can expect when he faces The Dragon.
Today, part 1 takes a look at when Jones was a relative unknown in those early, pre-UFC fights, including early fight video when available. Check back later this week for part 2 and the conclusion.
Jon Jones (Debut) vs. Brad Bernard (0-1)
April 12, 2008 - FFP: Untamed 20
I love debut fights. Sometimes they are just a perfect little microcosm of a fighter's career. And that's definitely the case here. This is Jones making his pro debut on a tiny card in Massachusetts at the ripe old age of 20 years old. Really, I must encourage you to watch this - if you only watch one video from this post, make it this one. I'll be back after you're watched...
Awesome, right? Things start off going along as you would expect from the debut of a future champion. Jones is controlling the ground, looking good in the process, and then he hits this stunning suplex seemingly out of nowhere, hurling Bernard straight onto his head. From there, we get a glimpse of the Jon Jones that a lot of people don't love, as he gloats over the fallen body of Bernard, then throws some shots, gets up, and viciously punts Bernard straight in the ribs. Nothing illegal about any of this, but it's certainly not the most sportsmanlike conduct you've ever seen. Still, it makes an impression, and 92 seconds into his career, it's clear this is a kid to watch.
More fights, including video, in the complete entry.
Jon Jones (1-0) vs. Carlos Eduardo (2-2)
April 19, 2008 - Battle Cage Xtreme 4
Fight number 2 comes just one week later, again on the Northeast regional scene. Three minute rounds here, which is kind of weird, but whatever. Here, we start to see a lot of what would make Jones successful. First off, there's the flashy striking offense, here represented by a big jumping switch kick. You also get some nice takedown defense, as Jones uses his collegiate wrestling experience to keep the fight standing. We also get more of that gloating, this time in the form of some clowning of his opponent straight out of the Anderson Silva playbook. Jones keeps his hands down in the style of recent Spider fights. And like Silva, he gets away with it, ultimately using those hands to catch Eduardo with a nice right hand counter punch for the KO. The confidence from the young fighter is astonishing here.
Jon Jones (2-0) vs. Anthony Pina (Debut)
April 25, 2008 - ICE Fighter
Sadly, no video from this fights exists, and we're just left with the results - a 1:15 submission of Pina via mounted guillotine. Oh well.
Jon Jones (3-0) vs. Ryan Verrett (1-3)
May 9, 2008 - USFL: War in the Woods 3
I'm fairly confident the video below if indeed Jones vs. Verrett, though it is sometimes labeled as Jones vs. Parker Porter. Either way, it's Jones's most impressive win yet, and remains the best KO of his young career. The two men come together, and Jones drops him with the very first punch he throws. Once again, he celebrates prematurely, then when he sees the fight has not been stopped, jumps on for some quick ground and pound to close the show. Total time: 15 seconds. Exactly 4 punches thrown by Jones in those 15 seconds, and all 4 landed clean. If there's one thing we are seeing from these early fights, it's that Jones is simply a step above this level of competition, even if he is less than a month into his MMA career.
And if there's one more thing we're seeing, it's that Jon Jones is a big fan of showboating and arrogance.
Jon Jones (4-0) vs. Parker Porter (2-0)
June 20, 2008 - World Championship Fighting 3
Again, no footage, though the Verrett fight is sometimes labeled as this one. The result is similar - a 36 second TKO via punches. If anyone has a lead on this footage (or the Pina fight) please speak up.
Jon Jones (5-0) vs. Moyses Gabin (2-1)
July 12, 2008 - Battle Cage Xtreme 5
Jones's final fight before being signed by the UFC comes just shy of three months since his MMA debut. In those three months, this is already his 6th fight, with none of his opponents yet challenging him in any way. Gabin is Jones's best opponent to date, as he came in with experience in EliteXC and M-1, and has since competed primarily for Bellator. We're back at Battle Cage Xtreme here, though this time Jones has moved up to 5 minute rounds.
Perhaps it's the success of back to back KO's, but Jones comes into this fight clearly focusing on the stand-up, choosing to strike with Gabin rather than use his wrestling. And that striking is definitely entertaining. Jones pours it on, unleashing a crazy stand-up flurry. Spinning back kicks, spinning back fists, jumping knees - Jones brings the entirety of his wild striking arsenal. The interesting thing is, Jones is very busy, but he's not very clean. The strikes are not crisp, not executed all that well, and though he is using some more advanced techniques, his striking looks somewhat amateurish here. Still, the sheer volume of strikes combined with aggression is too much for Gabin, who eventually succumbs, leaving Jones a perfect 6-0 on his way into the big leagues.
Jon Jones (6-0) vs. Andre Gusmao (5-0)
August 9, 2008 - UFC 87
And here we go - the UFC debut of Jon Jones. He's 6-0 here, but the ridiculous thing is that all 6 of those fights came in less than 4 months. Think about that for a minute - four months prior, Jon Jones had never fought professionally, and now is is an undefeated, heavily hyped prospect making his UFC debut. Crazy. He's facing another hyped and undefeated prospect in Andre Gusmao, though obviously their careers would take very different paths after this fight.
What I find fascinating in this fight is that Gusmao actually has a fair amount of success against Jones, particularly standing. As we've seen in the last few fights, Jones focuses more on his stand-up, and he uses a high volume of more unorthodox techniques while standing. Lots of spinning back fists and spinning elbows - seriously a LOT of them. But Gusamo simply has superior striking technique. He's crisper, gets his shots inside faster, and is able to find the holes when Jones is using those wild moves - at one point he really tags Jones mid-spin. From a striking standpoint, I watch this fight and think that Jones is fun, but really needs to work on refining his technique. This is also apparent in the fact that he kicks Gusmao low on multiple occasions - either a sign of intentional fouling (Cheick Kongo, I'm looking at you) or a lack of control on your strikes. Either way, it's not great.
Don't take that to mean Jones is dominated here. Far from it - that volume of strikes again gets him past Gusmao. He also adds back in some of his wrestling, including what has by this point been established as his takedown of choice - the lateral drop.
Overall, it's a bit of an ugly fight thanks to the low blows, but a flashy debut for Jones that shows promise and also demonstrates the need for some more striking work. But that flashiness was enough to get Jones the call up from prelim to main card status for his next fight - a fight that would see the young fighter make the most of the opportunity.
Check back later this week for part 2.