When Vitor Belfort caught Jon Jones in a deep armbar during the opening round of last night's UFC 152 main event in Toronto, Canada, the young champion appeared for the first time to be at his most vulnerable in his MMA career so far. Admitting post-fight he felt his arm pop several times during the near fight ender, Jones showed the grit and determination that is characteristic of combat sports' greatest legends and champions; staying composed and enduring the worst of it until enough of an opening could be created for him to escape and for his opponent to abandon the crippling joint lock.
The closeness of Belfort's potential victory can not be undersold, and will have done a lot to dispel the growing myth that Jones is invincible inside the Octagon. UFC President Dana White at the post fight press conference maintains Jones still looks unbeatable, and Jones could well remain Light Heavyweight champion for the rest of his career, but that moment between Jones and Belfort in the first round will have done a lot to bolster the confidence of the rest of the Light Heavyweight division looking to work their way up and into an eventual title fight.
I also expect even though Jones was able to overcome that in-ring adversity (on top of the damaging publicity he may still have to overcome going forward), that moment of peril will have done a lot to humble the talented New Yorker. Any ideas he may have had himself of being untouchable -- despite any words to the contrary -- were dashed when he found himself in that scenario of survival. Such experience can not only make him grow and become a better fighter, but it can help him become a better person too.
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Jones is well known for talking about his religious faith, sometimes to the point where it can be quite obnoxious, but being forcibly humbled as opposed to just practising humility will likely do more to benefit his emotional development going forward. The prospect of losing his title became very apparent to Jones in that first round, and he may realise he can't afford to take his position within the UFC for granted, even if he has done more than enough to earn that position.
Jon Jones is that rare talent in MMA that might come along only once in a generation. He's amazing to watch in the arena and can devastate opponents like few that have come before him. Yet, he has polarised the hardcore audience through public relations missteps and maintaining a persona that feels contrived; not in an exaggerated, extroverted manner like we see with Chael Sonnen, but in a manner that puts out a sense of false modesty that thinly covers an aura of self-righteousness.
Being forcibly humbled in that moment with Belfort at UFC 152 may help naturally create that element of realness fans have been looking for in Jones, as opposed to the apparent front Jones tries so hard to put on. Becoming humble instead of acting humble, and learning to just be himself may be the key to the connection with fans Jones so greatly desires.