Jon Jones may have retained his UFC light heavyweight championship Saturday night, but the lanky titlist was not wholly satisfied with his performance.
“I thought my top game looked terrible, but outside of that, I was pretty happy with everything else,” Jones told Fox Sports after his victory over Vitor Belfort in the UFC 152 main event. “Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts would know what I was doing wrong. It just wasn’t very clean on top, technically. I just kind of felt sloppy. I’ve got to work on my boxing in the pocket, and I’ve got to work on my top game and jiu-jitsu. Outside of that, I can’t complain. Vitor is a tough guy.”
Toughness was indeed on display from “The Phenom” at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, but so was a hearty helping of ingenuity, as Belfort locked up a tight, first-round armbar from his guard that caught the champion off-guard and appeared to nearly end the fight.
“The armbar was extremely tight. He definitely had it. I think maybe he was surprised that I didn’t tap. I don’t know. Or maybe he just couldn’t extend much further than what he did. I felt it pop,” Jones said of the submission attempt. “[My arm] hurts a lot, but I’m not going to sit here and show weakness. It will heal, and I’ll be ready to compete some more.”
Jones responded to the near-submission by upping his output over the next two rounds, continually attacking Belfort with lead-leg attacks to the knee and body while busting the Brazilian with elbows from his guard.
“The game plan was to fear no fighter. You respect him, but you don’t fear him in any aspect, whether it’s boxing, kicking, wrestling or jiu-jitsu,” said Jones. “Our game plan was to fight him everywhere, to use my powerful wrestling to put him on his back at times and out-strike him on his feet.
“Mainly, [I wanted to] gas him. We were looking at pictures of [Belfort] throughout his camp, and we realized how muscular he looked. With all that muscle, you have to feed it oxygen,” said Jones. “We knew going into the second or third round that he was going to start to slow down. So I just wanted to stay patient and let him waste his own energy and then pick it up in the later rounds.”
The end came quickly for Belfort in the fourth frame. Apparently suffering from a pre-existing rib injury, according to his post-fight interview, Belfort pulled guard to start round four, as he had several times throughout the bout. The move would prove ill-advised for the ex-champion, as “Bones” quickly passed to side control and dropped a series of elbows prior to locking up the fight-ending keylock.
Jones entered the cage under controversial circumstances on Saturday night, as he was initially set to headline UFC 151 against Dan Henderson before an injured “Hendo” withdrew from the fight with just over one week until fight day. After turning down Chael Sonnen as a replacement opponent, Jones was made the scapegoat for the event’s subsequent cancellation, an experience the 25-year-old says only made him stronger when he stepped into the Octagon.
“[The UFC 151 controversy] affected me a lot, but I made up my mind to keep my eyes on the prize through all the adversity and remember why I’m here,” said Jones. “I’m here to win. I’m here to be a great champion. Trials and tribulations are there for a reason. As long as things weren't life and death, I just have to be grateful for it. It was a lot [to deal with], but I can honestly say that I feel like more of a man and a stronger individual.”
His fourth title defense now under his belt, the champion says he still has plans to defend his title against Henderson in the future.
“Honestly, I think I have some unfinished business with Dan Henderson,” said Jones. “When he heals up, I’d like to pick up where we left off.”