To any pugilistic purists who believe that a fighter must weather a harrowing battle to ascend from “titleholder” to “champion”: it is now safe to consider Jon Jones a true king.
Jones’ mettle in the most closely contested bout of his reign as UFC light heavyweight champion illustrated precisely why he is the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world today. Despite sustaining a foot injury and a cut above the right eye in the early going of his UFC 165 encounter with Alexander Gustafsson, Jones never stopped fighting, even when it would have been easy to do so. “Bones” withstood severe punishment from Gustafsson, whose much-discussed height and reach aided the Swede in stuffing most of the champion’s takedown attempts in their 25-minute encounter.
Through it all, Jones never seemed demoralized, instead continuing to pick away at his challenger with a variety of kicks that paid dividends in the end. When it came down to the championship rounds, Jones simply had more fuel left in the tank, and he used it to propel himself past Gustafsson for a UFC-record sixth light heavyweight title defense.
Jones and Gustafsson’s five-round thriller was the rare sort of instant classic which elevated both men’s statuses, as evidenced by calls from fans and pundits for an immediate rematch. Gustafsson proved a sterner test than nearly anyone could have imagined, with the look of a future champion. Jones silenced critics who would question his heart, and while the champ did not look bad, for a few moments, he did look beatable. Love him or hate him, that fact can only make his next fight even more exciting.
1. Jon Jones (19-1)
Heading into the UFC 165 main event, Jones viewed his showdown with Alexander Gustafsson as a chance to cement his place as the greatest light heavyweight champion in promotion history. While “Bones” was able to surpass Tito Ortiz’s record for 205-pound title defenses with a unanimous decision triumph, he learned that the 6-foot-5 Swede measured up to the challenge in more ways than just height. While twenty five hard-fought minutes against “The Mauler” exposed more chinks in the New York native’s armor than his previous five title defenses combined, Jones also displayed admirable heart in the face of adversity. An eventual rematch with Gustafsson appears inevitable, but surging Brazilian Glover Teixeira also looms as a future opponent for the pound-for-pound king.
2. Georges St. Pierre (24-2)
St. Pierre kept his chokehold on the 170-pound class by dominating Nick Diaz in a five-round rout at UFC 158, adding the brash Californian to a list of victims which includes Carlos Condit, Jake Shields, Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn and Matt Hughes. When he returns at November’s UFC 167, St. Pierre will have to deal with another tough challenger in Johny Hendricks.
3. Jose Aldo (23-1)
The featherweight division’s Brazilian ace was not at his leg-kicking best at UFC 163, thanks to a foot injury sustained early in the bout; but, as champions do, Aldo found a way to win. When challenger Chan Sung Jung separated his shoulder in the fourth round, Aldo pounced on his wounded foe and pounded out his fifth consecutive title defense. While the Nova Uniao fighter continues to discuss a potential move up to lightweight, there are plenty of 145-pound challengers hungry for a shot, including Ricardo Lamas and Chad Mendes.
4. Anderson Silva (33-5)
For the first time in 17 UFC appearances, Silva’s night ended without his hand being raised at UFC 162. After taunting, baiting and clowning Chris Weidman for little more than a round, the Brazilian met his demise when the challenger connected with a left hook and follow-up punches to put a shocking and abrupt end to Silva’s championship reign 1:18 into round two. Until he steps into the Octagon again, the debate will rage on as to why “The Spider” suffered the first loss of his UFC career. Was it his apparent disregard for Weidman’s skills or was it something deeper, such as a waning motivation to compete? Silva took up UFC President Dana White on his offer of an immediate rematch and will try to take back his belt at UFC 168 in December.
5. Cain Velasquez (12-1)
Velasquez celebrated Memorial Day in Las Vegas with his first successful defense of the UFC heavyweight strap. The sport’s top big man steamrolled Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 160, setting up an October rubber match with Junior dos Santos, whom Velasquez dominated across five rounds in December to take back the belt. Dos Santos remains the only blemish on Velasquez’s record, which includes first-round finishes of Silva (twice), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Brock Lesnar.
6. Chris Weidman (10-0)
For months, Weidman claimed he was the man to dethrone reigning middleweight champion and pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva. In the UFC 162 main event, he backed up his talk, knocking out the Brazilian a little more than a minute into the second frame. The Serra-Longo Fight Team member has demonstrated rapid progression in each fight, and his blend of wrestling, jiu-jitsu and constantly improving standup makes him a formidable obstacle for any potential challenger. Weidman will attempt to repeat his feat and prove that his win over Silva was no fluke when they rematch on Dec. 28.
7. Demetrious Johnson (17-2-1)
There is “Mighty Mouse,” and then there is the rest of the flyweight division. The UFC’s littlest champ used his unparalleled speed and potent ground game to place challenger John Moraga firmly in the latter camp on July 27, when Johnson scored his long-desired first finish in the Octagon via fifth-round armbar. With wins over Joseph Benavidez, Ian McCall and John Dodson, Johnson has already gone through the best the weight class has to offer. Benavidez has won three straight fights since falling to the AMC Pankration standout, however, and their initial meeting was a closely contested split verdict. As a result, Benavidez will get another shot at Johnson at “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale on Nov. 30.
8. Anthony Pettis (17-2)
Pettis needed five rounds and the remarkable “Showtime” kick to wrest the WEC belt from Benson Henderson in 2010, but he required far less time to earn his second victory over “Smooth” and become the new UFC lightweight king. In the UFC 164 headliner, Pettis softened his opponent with a series of brutal body kicks, then locked in a fight-ending armbar with 29 seconds left in round one. About the only thing that went wrong for Pettis was a knee injury he suffered while checking a kick. Fortunately, the ailment was diagnosed as a sprain. The Roufusport standout should be completely recovered when he defends his title for the first time against Josh Thomson at UFC on Fox 9 on Dec. 14.
9. Renan Barao (31-1)
With one spectacular spinning back kick to the face of challenger Eddie Wineland, Barao continued to put more distance between himself and the “temporary” label. Yes, the Brazilian remains the promotion’s interim bantamweight champion, but his second-round knockout of Wineland only furthers the notion that Dominick Cruz’s status as divisional alpha dog will be in serious jeopardy when he returns from injury. With a résumé that includes triumphs over Brad Pickett, Scott Jorgensen, Urijah Faber, Michael McDonald and the aforementioned Wineland, nobody can deny that Barao has earned his current spot atop the division.
10. Benson Henderson (19-3)
After seven consecutive triumphs to begin his UFC career, “Smooth” relinquished his lightweight crown to the same man who snatched WEC gold from his clutches in December 2010: Anthony Pettis. The MMA Lab product had no answer for Pettis’ dynamic attack at UFC 164, as “Showtime” had Henderson reeling with a series of hard body kicks before finishing the fight with an armbar from guard in the opening frame. The emphatic nature of the loss means there will be no immediate rematch for Henderson, but his impressive track record figures to keep him booked in significant fights for the foreseeable future.