At UFC 152, Jon Jones successfully defended his UFC Light Heavyweight title for the 4th time, tying Chuck Liddell and Frank Shamrock for 2nd most defenses of that belt in UFC history (and putting him just one win away from tying Tito Ortiz in the top spot). He did it by dominating nearly every moment of the fight with Vitor Belfort. Yet the one moment that is getting all the attention, and understandably so, is the one moment he didn't dominate - Belfort's round 1 armbar that very nearly shocked the world.
Already, the buzz over this armbar is huge. The general consensus seems to be that it exposed a flaw in Jones's game, and that any fighters looking to defeat the champion need to begin working their submission game. As our own KJ Gould said earlier today, "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." But that is not the right lesson to take away from UFC 152 and Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort. The real lesson is one that Jones's opponents and detractors probably don't want to hear:
Jon Jones is going to be a lot harder to defeat than we thought.
Yes he did get caught, and yes, he did very nearly lose. But the key word there is NEARLY. Jones nearly lost. Yet at the end of the day, he is the man who stands tall as champion. Vitor's ability to catch Jones in an armbar showed that he is human. But Jones's ability to feel his arm pop and not tap, to get free of the submission attempt, and then to completely dominate the next 15+ minutes of the fight shows something else entirely. It shows a man with depth of heart and a will to win that we had not previously known was in Jones. It showed a man who, even with his arm nearly broken, can still dominate.
In many ways, it reminded me of one of the other pound for pound greats - the legendary Fedor Emelianenko. I know it's all the fashion to completely downgrade Fedor's accomplishments these days, but make no mistake - Fedor was the best in the world at one point. And a large part of that status came from his ability to overcome adversity. Look no further than the infamous Kevin Randleman fight, where Randleman brutally suplexed Fedor right on his head, only to see Fedor shrug it off and lock on a kimura for the win mere moments later. That fight taught anyone watching that it would take something special indeed to defeat Fedor. UFC 152 was Jon Jones's Randleman moment. And anyone watching last night should have learned the same lesson.
Yes, you might be able to catch Jon Jones in a submission. You might even be able to severely damage him with that submission. But can you actually defeat him? That's another question entirely, and today, 18 fights into his career, it's a question no one has yet been able to truly answer.