It's easy for people to claim that Jon Jones came into the UFC as a can't miss prospect expected to run through the likes of Andre Gusmao in his UFC 87 debut. That wasn't exactly the case, in fact, many people had Gusmao as the bigger prospect coming into the event. Gusmao was 5-0 to Jones' 6-0 but Andre had fought on the bigger stage of the IFL while Jones was a late replacement. Come fight time Jones was as high an underdog as +190.
Press Connects ran a piece about Jones at the time of his signing (which has since faded into the ether):
Jones likens graduation from Battle Cage Xtreme to the UFC to stepping up from modified football to an NFL tryout. [Trainer Ryan] Ciotoli said Jones has signed a four-fight contract with the UFC. Saturday's bout, Jones said, will be worth $5,000, a sum to be doubled if he wins. Additional income comes in the form of an apparel deal he's signed with a leading MMA outfitter.
Jones said he last tasted defeat in an athletic contest during his sophomore year in college, a 4-3 wrestling setback absorbed from a top-ranked Iowa State opponent. Given the step up in class, is he prepared to deal with a loss?
"I don't even like to visualize myself losing. It's not even in my mind," he said.
"But all the best fighters in the world have at least one loss on their record. Some people say you're not tough until you get your butt kicked. If I were to (lose), I'm sure I would grow by it, make me realize even more how hard I have to train and how much I need to learn."
"I think it's good for me. I'm the underdog, the guy from Upstate New York who not a lot of people know about yet," he said.
Ciotoli, for one, has great confidence in his man.
"He's unbelievable. So athletic, great personality, and he's got a great mind for it," he said of Jones. "I've never heard of anybody getting to the UFC at this stage of his career; he's been fighting professionally for just three months. It's like a guy entering boxing and he's fighting in MSG (Madison Square Garden) right off the bat -- it just doesn't happen.
"I doubt I'll ever have a guy do that again."
Jones would go on to dominate the fight while Gusmao claimed to have been struck by the infamous "Octagon jitters."
Jones would then be moved into a much more high-profile fight as he was given a shot against Ultimate Fighter season one finalist and fan favorite, Stephan Bonnar. Again, revisionism has led to some people acting as though Jones was expected to steamroll Bonnar. Instead, Jones once again entered the cage as much as a +160 underdog.
On the Bloody Elbow staff picks for UFC 94, I was one of the 6 our of 8 of us who picked Bonnar to win:
Luke Thomas: Jones is a serious prospect, but Bonnar is probably a little too much here. Bonnar is willing to exchange with Jones, but has better technical skills and a toughness that allows him to stand tall in the pocket. Jones can get by on mixing it up with takedowns, but I suspect Jones will resort to his somewhat reckless, low percentage, off-balancing tactics which will allow Bonnar to take over. Jones does well, but this is too strong.Bonnar, by TKO, round 3.
Kid Nate: Bonnar should take this, but his injury was serious and you never know how well a figher has recovered and if he'll be in top shape (see Rua, Shogun). Jones is a very promising talent but he's very young and very raw. Bonnar should be more than polished enough both standing and at the jiu jitsu game to take advantage of Jones' inexperience. Bonnar by decision.
Brent Brookhouse: Anyone sleeping on Bonnar 2.0 is going to get a big wake-up call. He's going to box circles around Jones and at some point put the fight on the ground and get the submission. Stephan Bonnar by submission, round 2.
Michael Rome: Lots of people on the Jon Jones bandwagon, and who can blame them? He's real exciting to watch. Even so, I think he will be completely outclassed by Bonnar, who has been training boxing at Mayweather's gym, and reportedly is in great shape. Bonnar kind of has a second lease on life, he needs to win this fight, and I think he will. Stephan Bonnar via TKO, round 3.
Michael Fagan: Lots of questions coming into this. How has Bonnar's injury healed? Will Jones inexperience show or does will his creative striking and good Greco be enough to defeat the infinite gatekeeper? I have a feeling Bonnar may just be too big, but I'm rooting for Jones. Stephan Bonnar by decision.
Cannon Jacques: This is a tough call. Bonnar is a tough, well-rounded fighter who hasn't fought in a good while. Jones is an athletic young gun who is largely untested. I think Jones can keep it standing and use his athleticism to make Bonnar pay. Jones by TKO, round 2.
Chris Nelson: I picked Jones to upset Andre Gusmao in his UFC debut (*brushes dirt off shoulder*) but it's much harder to throw support behind him this time. Bonnar has a distinct edge in the experience department (eight years fighting professionally vs. Jones' one), submission game (though Jones has arguably better wrestling), and, allegedly, has improved his boxing by leaps and bounds since his injury. Nonetheless, I can't ignore the rust factor with Bonnar and my gut is going toward Jones again, wild spinning back-elbows and all. Jon Jones by Decision.
Nick Thomas: Will Bonnar come in with ring rust? Is Jones too inexperienced? We'll find out. I think Bonnar will take this to the ground and dominate Jones. Bonnar by submission.
Jones won, surviving a three round battle that he dominated early but did tire late. I summed up his potential in my post fight wrap up piece:
Jon Jones - The man simply proved me wrong. I thought that Bonnar would survive an early flurry and catch the younger Jones as he overextended and gassed out. He did gas but he had built up a very big lead and Bonnar kept clinching in the 3rd round when he clearly was catching the tired "Bones" with strikes. Why he chose to do that, I don't know. But I can't take anything away from Jones. For as young as he is, his skill level and potential is amazing.
Jones' performance was so solid that it led to Mike Rome calling for Jon as a potential man to face Lyoto Machida all the way back in February of 2009.
And, of course, there was Nate's Judo Chop of Jones' phenomenal wrestling.
We'll continue our rewind looking back at articles written about Jones throughout his UFC career as we creep closer to the biggest fight of his pro career when he meets Rashad Evans at UFC 145.