At UFC 165, with a win over title challenger Alexander Gustafsson, Jon Jones became more than just the UFC Light Heavyweight champion. He has ascended to the spot of greatest Light Heavyweight this young sport has seen. Not because he passed Tito Ortiz for most defenses of a title, this being Jones' sixth win as champ, but because Jones finally faced true adversity in the cage. More so that the brief, one round challenge that Lyoto Machida presented Jones, but a prolonged and determined campaign by an equally skilled fighter.
Gustafsson took the fight to Jones right away, and even when Jones came back in the second, rather than wither away Gustafsson redoubled his efforts and claimed control of the fight back away from Jones. It was a true back-and-forth battle for the fate of the Light Heavyweight division, and Jones showed the heart, grit, and focus of champion when he persevered.
Now when looking at Jones' title reign it is easy to point out the weak wins represented by Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort, both Middleweights before their title fights. But when looking at the other contenders for all-time greatness at Light Heavyweight, namely Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, and Shogun Rua, all three have wins over smaller and far less skilled fighters on their resume as well. At this point the quality of Jones' Gustafsson, Evans, and Machida wins eclipses anything else any other Light Heavyweight has done as champion.
On to more thoughts about the fights:
- The scorecards were all over the place as fans, media, fighters, and judges alike tried to contextualize the violence into a nice, orderly score in the 10-point must system. Basically the score issues arise from the fundamental problem of comparing the kicks of Jones to the punches of Gustafsson. This has been a theme in many close, striking based fights including another Light Heavyweight title fight between Machida and Shogun now almost four years ago. Regardless of how the fight was scored by any individual - I personally scored the fight 48-47 Jones - it was a very close, contentious fight and the word "robbery" should be nowhere near it.
- Gustafsson showed off much improved wrestling, stopping the takedowns of Jones consistently, even taking Jones down at one point. While clearly Gustafsson's work at Alliance MMA played a large role in this, his control of the distance and use of his reach also played a role. Don't take this as a "Jon Jones is only successful because of his reach" kind of comment. Reach does not make a fighter, reach is what a fighter makes of it. Both Jones and Gustafsson make excellent use of their frames, and last night Gustafsson used it very well to prevent many takedowns before they ever happened.
- Renan Barao is the best Bantamweight on the planet and is the real UFC Bantamweight Champion. He is fantastic in all three phases of MMA, can come up with a finish just about anywhere, and is buzz-sawing through the best 135-pounds has to offer. Dominick Cruz should not fight Barao for his first fight back, if for his own self-interest if nothing else.
- Hats off to Eddie Wineland, one of the pioneers of sub-Lightweight fighting, despite his loss he looked excellent and a big moment of shine on a UFC card was more than warranted for this grizzled veteran.
- Brendan Schaub got a nice D'arce choke on Matt Mitrione, but no, that doesn't make up for Metamoris. Gyms everywhere has advanced grapplers that love to look good against lesser grapplers, but don't want to grapple with superior guys. Right now, that is kind of how Schaub came off. Dana White teased at press conference something big is looming for Schuab, stay tuned as he might be an injury replacement somewhere.
- Francis Carmont either imposed his will on Costas Philippou, looking the best he has in the UFC, or Philippou looked horrid coming off a camp switch. It is really hard to tell which one is the truth right now, but there are no doubts Carmont won all three rounds of the fight.
- Khabib Nurmagomedov looked amazing as he just clearly beat Pat Healy from horn to horn in this fight. Khabib used his loopy striking, unorthodox combinations, and clever strikes exiting the clinch to bust Healy up on the feet. And then used an array of shots and trips to force Healy to the mat. Khabib was put on this earth to throw men on the ground and beat them up, and he very well could be doing that for a UFC title very soon.
- Aside from Philippou, it is hard to decide who had the harder let down this event, Myles Jury in getting a narrow split decision with over Mike Ricci in a forgettable fight, or Ivan Menjivar dropping a fairly clear two rounds to short notice replacement Wilson Reis.
- Stephen Thompson got a nice KO win over Chris Clements. Wonderboy can throw offense with the best of them, but his defense is so woeful, at some point somebody is going to catch a Roy Hobbs home-run shot on Thompson's completely exposed chin.
- Mitch Gagnon and John Makdessi got nice finishes for their home crowds, while Alex Cacaeres works his close decision magic yet again.