Jon Jones grew in stature at UFC 165. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
When digging through the annals of combat sports history, the greatest fighters of all-time are measured by a myriad of factors. Legends like Muhammad Ali, Henry Armstrong, Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Ernesto Hoost and many others all own a number of sensational wins, have captured and defended various world titles and repeatedly topped the men considered to represent their gravest threats.
However, the best of the best all share one commonality. They all have had to dig deep to pull out a defining victory that cements their lofty status. How do they react with their backs to the wall? Can they find a way where there seems to be none? Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title holder Jon Jones answered those questions in the UFC 165 main event on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Challenger Alexander Gustafsson, a man few had picked to be competitive against Jones, had the 205-pound crown within reach, only to come up short in the waning moments. “Bones” was taken down for the first time in his career, suffered a cut above his right eye and found himself running on vapors as the fight drew to a close. By the time the final horn sounded, Jones’ eyes and lips were badly swollen and blood trickled from various spots on his face. He had been dragged into the deepest of waters.
Gustafsson never showed any signs of championship jitters, as he brought the fight to Jones from the start. He peppered the champion with stiff jabs and left hooks throughout the 25-minute battle. For five rounds, he more than held his own with Jones, the man widely regarded as the top pound-for-pound fighter in MMA.
However, Jones is cut from a different kind of cloth and sought out other avenues until he found a technique that worked: the spinning back elbow. The champion had Gustafsson bloodied and badly wobbled in the fourth round and might have put away the Swede had he been afforded just a minute longer. To his credit, “The Mauler” forced Jones to fight until the very end, the exhausted Alliance MMA export barely able to stand under his own power.
Jones won by unanimous decision, setting a new UFC record for consecutive title defenses at light heavyweight with his sixth. Though he had trounced contemporaries like Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua, Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort and Quinton Jackson, some cynics argued that “Bones” had not been tested by another great fighter in his prime.
Many wondered whether or not he had the wherewithal to survive a true brush with adversity. His performance against Gustafsson quieted those cries. No one can question Jones’ fortitude now.
The light heavyweight champion has validated his place as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, and now that he knows he can hang tough in a brutal back-and-forth dogfight, there is no telling what heights he can reach moving forward.
Miscellanous Debris: Interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao is easily the most overlooked and underappreciated fighter in MMA today. The Brazilian has won 21 consecutive fights, the last six of them in the UFC. Since joining the Zuffa family in June 2010, he has been as dominant as any fighter in the sport but continues to ply his trade in relative anonymity. Is it because he is a monster in a smaller weight class or speaks little to no English? Whatever the case, after his victory over Eddie Wineland, people have to realize Barao is far too talented to be overlooked any longer ... Khabib Nurmagomedov may not be the best lightweight in the world yet, but he is doing a considerable about of damage to his 155-pound peers. He called for a title shot after he tore through respected veteran Pat Healy. Whether he deserves a crack at the gold or not, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would not want to see Nurmagomedov and lightweight champion Anthony Pettis throw down inside the Octagon ... Mitch Gagnon and Stephen Thompson are two guys we need to see a lot more of in the future. Both looked terrific in Toronto, and it seems like only a matter of time before they take a significant step up in competition.
Follow Mike Sloan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mikesloan19.