Jon Jones-Chael Sonnen was a fight for which nobody on Earth—outside of Sonnen—was clamoring, yet once it had been spoken into existence, it somehow became a huge thing. As such, their meeting in the UFC 159 main event on April 27, 2013 managed to stand as a simultaneous testament to Jones’ dominance and Sonnen’s game-changing charisma while still offering fans a few surprises and a shocking near-miss.
While the matchup had been born of Jones’ refusal to fight Sonnen on eight days’ notice the previous September—leading to the unprecedented cancellation of UFC 151 and the introduction of “f------ sport killer” to the MMA lexicon—if the spurned challenger had been anyone but Sonnen, the gauntlet would probably have been left on the ground where it was thrown and safely ignored. However, Sonnen’s transcendent popularity and willingness to poke publicly at the champ led to the greatest light heavyweight of all-time defending his title against a habitual middleweight; and not only did the fight happen, but it was deemed a big enough deal to schedule a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” in which they would coach against one another.
Once referee Keith Peterson waved the two men into action, that action was utterly predictable. In an early example of his habit of toying with opponents by attacking their strengths, Jones took down the former NCAA All-American wrestler with ease in the opening moments. After a few minutes of scrambles and clinch exchanges, Jones caught Sonnen mid-escape and punished him with punches and elbows until Peterson intervened. The stoppage came at 4:33 of Round 1 and appeared to be a routine smashing—until the post-fight interview, where cameras showed Jones had suffered a gruesome injury to his left big toe. The injury, a partial degloving that had pulled the flesh completely away from the clearly visible bone, would have resulted in a TKO win for Sonnen between rounds if the fight had gone just 27 more seconds. Given that Sonnen had gotten up protesting to Peterson—though most observers seemed to agree that it was a good stoppage—the what-ifs are tantalizing.
From there, Jones has gone on to further cement himself as the greatest light heavyweight of all-time and perhaps the greatest of all time in any division in spite of his litany of misconduct outside of the cage. Meanwhile, Sonnen continued to parlay his fame into large paydays in the sport for another six years, first in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and then in Bellator MMA, before retiring from competition in 2019. Since then, he has remained deeply involved in combat sports, including prominent roles as the founder of Submission Underground and an MMA analyst for ESPN and Bellator.