Jon Jones and Chris Weidman were not even professional MMA fighters in January 2008. Today, they're both UFC champions, each having charted their own torrid and dominant path toward their respective belts.
Over the course of five years, MMA fans have witnessed two special talents in the sport go from blue chip prospects to the elite of the division. Jones needed fewer than three years of pro fighting to capture the light heavyweight crown, while Weidman needed only four to become the middleweight champ. Weidman's UFC debut came just 2 weeks before Jones' title fight against Mauricio Rua. "Bones" has more fights under his belt, has fought on a more frequent schedule, and is on his way to becoming the greatest 205 lbs fighter of all time. Weidman is lined up for a rematch against Anderson Silva, and if he manages another victory over "The Spider" he could very well put himself in a position to be one of the greatest middleweights in MMA history.
Let's have a look at how each man fared in the UFC before becoming a champion, and ask ourselves "Who had the more impressive run to the title?".
Age of UFC debut: 26
Finishing rate: 66%
Weidman replaced the injured Rafael Natal on less than three weeks notice vs. Alessio Sakara. He was already regarded as a high-level prospect by Bloody Elbow scouts back in 2010. Despite the short notice fight, Weidman closed as a 2-to-1 favorite over Sakara, and he easily beat the veteran by unanimous decision. After dominating and submitting Jesse Bongfeldt and Tom Lawlor, Weidman was brought in at the last minute to fight Demian Maia at UFC on Fox 2 in January 2012. Despite a massive weight cut in a much shorter time span, Weidman both made weight and beat Maia in what was otherwise an ugly fight. He was given a headlining spot on Fuel TV against Mark Munoz later that July, and he delivered a brutal knockout that lasted the duration of "Hey Jude" repeated 500 times.
Instead of fighting Tim Boetsch at UFC 155, Weidman pulled out after suffering a torn labrum, and after completing surgery he was granted a title shot vs. Anderson Silva. Despite concerns about ring rust, his health, and whether or not he actually deserved it based on beating Mark Munoz, he left Las Vegas on Saturday night as the UFC middleweight champion. It was a history-making moment for him, and now we await to see if he can a) Beat Anderson in a rematch, and b) Become a dominant champion in a weight class whose only form of continuity at the top came from Anderson Silva.
Here are some facts about Weidman's UFC career thus far:
- He has finished all of his opposition (4) when given a full training camp. They've each also come within the 7 minute mark.
- The win over Demian Maia is the only fight in which he lost at least one round on two scorecards. Inexplicably, Marcos Rosales scored round 1 of Silva/Weidman for Silva, and that's the only other time any judge has scored a round for Weidman's opponent.
- He (obviously) is the first man to KO Anderson Silva and give him a UFC loss.
- At 29, he's the 2nd youngest champion in UFC middleweight history. Dave Menne won the first 185 lbs title at UFC 33 at the age of 27.
- Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history at 23 years old.
- Believe it or not, Jones opened and closed as a betting underdog against both Gusmao and Bonnar.
- After losing round 3 to Stephan Bonnar, Jon Jones did not lose another round (but he did lose to Matt Hamill by DQ) against anyone he faced leading up to his title bout with Rua.