5 Defining Moments: Jon Jones

Already on the short list of greatest mixed martial artists of all-time, Jon Jones continues to build and fortify his legacy in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The reigning heavyweight titleholder will carry a 27-1 record into his next appearance, a controversial disqualification loss to Matt Hamill in 2009 the only blemish on his otherwise flawless resume. Jones has left one beaten contemporary after another in his destructive wake, from Quinton Jackson, Ryan Bader and Lyoto Machida to Glover Teixeira, Vitor Belfort and Anthony Smith. Still just 35 years old—he turns 36 in July—the Rochester, New York, native looks to have plenty of story left to tell.

As Jones awaits his next assignment from UFC matchmakers, a look at five of the many moments that have come to define him:

1. A Crown for a King

Jones handed Mauricio “Shogun” Rua a savage beating in the UFC 128 headliner, where he captured the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight crown in a third-round technical knockout on March 19, 2011 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Beaten almost beyond recognition, Rua finally wilted 2:37 into Round 3. “Shogun” never had a chance. Jones secured his first takedown inside the first 30 seconds and patiently brutalized the Brazilian with punches and elbows. Rua stood near the cage, ate a knee to the body, a shin to the face and punches to the head. He wobbled forward and was never the same. Jones landed one of his patented spinning back elbows to open Round 2, caught an attempted leg kick and drove Rua to the ground, where elbows and punches to the head and body greeted the battered and broken champion. So complete was Jones’ dominance that he attempted a kneebar on the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt near the end of the period. At the start of Round 3, it was clear Rua had little left in the tank. He swooped in for a leg lock, only to wind up on his back. There, he was at the mercy of the challenger. “Shogun” returned to a standing position, as Jones backed him into the cage and cracked him with a mean left hook to the body that put him down for good, tapping the mat as he went. With that, Jones’ ascent was complete.

2. When Friends Become Foes

The incomparable Jones controlled the distance, unveiled an endless bag of tricks and kept his stranglehold on the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s 205-pound division when he defeated former friend and training partner Rashad Evans by unanimous decision to retain his light heavyweight crown in the UFC 145 main event on April 21, 2012, at Philips Arena in Atlanta. Scores were 49-46, 49-46 and 50-45. Jones’ prodigious offensive skill and creativity was something to behold. The Jackson-Wink MMA representative tore into Evans with kicks to the leg, body and head, a stiff left jab, crackling right hands and even violent shoulder strikes from the clinch. However, his most effective weapon was the standing elbow—a technique for which Evans appeared wholly unprepared. It nearly finished the fight for Jones in the second round, where he staggered the challenger against the cage. A flying knee and a beautiful left hook followed soon after. Evans, like others who have preceded him, struggled to bypass Jones’ enormous reach advantage. He landed a clean head kick in the first round that seemed to rattle Jones and delivered a nice right hand in the third. Beyond that, he fought mostly with his back to the cage, eating punches and kicks from a distance. Jones punctuated his latest conquest with a strong fifth round, as he backed up a jab with a crisp right hand, uncorked a knee from the clinch and scored with the only takedown of the bout. Evans scrambled free, perhaps wary of the champion’s infamous elbow strikes on the ground, but his fate had long been sealed.

3. Close Call

Jones retained his Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight crown with a unanimous decision over Alexander Gustafsson in the UFC 165 headliner on Sept. 21, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. All three judges scored it for the champion: 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46. Gustafsson gave the pound-for-pound king all he could handle. He cut Jones over the right eye in the first round with a glancing blow, and the cut grew into a gash over time, the Swede scoring with repeated multi-punch combinations to the head and body. After 25 minutes, Jones was bloodied and swollen, but he had answered the first serious challenge of his career. In the first round, Gustafsson became the first man to take down Jones. More importantly, he stuffed 10 of the champion’s 11 takedown attempts. Trapped on the feet, Jones absorbed more punishment than he had in any of his 19 previous professional bouts. He sprang to life in Round 4, however, where he badly stunned Gustafsson with one of his trademark spinning elbows. In the fifth, with both men clearly exhausted, Jones scored with his only takedown and unleashed a series of head kicks that likely secured the victory.

4. A Rival Answered

Diverse standup, statement-making takedowns and a grinding clinch game spurred Jones to a unanimous decision over Daniel Cormier, as he retained the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight crown in the UFC 182 main event on Jan. 3, 2015 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. All three cageside judges arrived at the same verdict: 49-46 for Jones. Cormier was effective in spurts but gradually wore down. The American Kickboxing Academy captain did his best work near the end of the first round and into the second, where he attacked Jones with potent dirty boxing in close quarters. Right uppercuts connected often but failed to deter the champion. Jones responded with standing elbows, knees and a variety of kicks to the head, body and legs. The complexion of what had been a competitive fight changed in the fourth round, where Jones executed a pair of double-leg takedowns and seemed to suck the life right out of his opponent. Cormier landed a takedown of his own in Round 5 but never put himself in position to author the finish he needed.

5. As Potent as Ever

Jones returned from a three-year sabbatical and laid claim to the vacant Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight crown when he submitted Ciryl Gane with a guillotine choke in the first round of their UFC 285 headliner on March 4, 2023 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Gane raised the white flag of surrender 2:04 into Round 1. Jones—in his first appearance since Feb. 8, 2020—executed a takedown a little more than a minute into the bout, applied his ground-and-pound while climbing into a seated mount position and threaded the needle on the choke. Before Gane realized what was happening, his fate had been sealed. It was Jones’ first successfully executed submission in more than a decade, as he became the eighth competitor in UFC history to win championships in multiple weight classes.

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