At UFC 140, on Saturday Dec 12th in Toronto, Canada, Jon “Bones” Jones faced unquestionably the toughest test of his young MMA career when he defended his UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship against former champion Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida and he passed it in what is rapidly becoming an ominously-predictable fashion. He took on a man once considered, as Jones is now, to be almost unbeatable in the Octagon and dumped him to the mat bloodied and unconscious in the final minute of only the second of five five-minute rounds.
Yet it was Machida that won the opener. Utilising his karate background, he made light of Jones’ astonishing 10.5” reach advantage and comfortably eluded his trademark array of elbows, punches, kicks and knees; the types of shots that put away fellow former champions Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in devastating fashion earlier this year. Closing the distance with body kicks and exploding with flurries of punches, he achieved the unthinkable and outstruck Bones, even wobbling the champ with a shuddering straight left.
And when the second round began to pan out the same way, it began to feel like a shock was on the cards. Commentators Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan began to speculate on the possibility of Jones panicking and suffering from an adrenalin dump that would leave him tired and more susceptible to Machida’s unconventional attack. But great champions always find a way to win, and Jon “Bones” Jones could well go on to be the greatest in UFC history.
He switched up his attack and brought the fight to the floor with a thunderous takedown. A Greco-Roman wrestling background is just another of the attributes Jones possesses and he utilised it to set up a vicious slashing elbow that busted his opponent’s forehead wide open; indeed the cut was severe enough for referee Big John McCarthy to halt the fight for the doctor to check it. And while it was resumed only seconds later, the turning point had already arrived. After fighting back to his feet, Machida was unable to re-establish his rhythm and was dropped by a fierce left hand. Jones decisively seized the opening and locked up a vicious standing guillotine choke that put his opponent to sleep. And while The Dragon undoubtedly provided more of a test than any of his former opponents, Jones was never in any real danger of surrendering his belt.
But one of the many reasons that MMA is such a fascinating and involving sport is that upsets happen, and they happen regularly
So the question is, who can beat him? The 2011 World MMA Fighter of the Year has defeated three of the top five challengers in the light-heavyweight division, all former champions themselves, in the last nine months and has finished them whilst barely breaking a sweat. His next challenger seems likely to be Dan “Hendo” Henderson, the 41-year old former Strikeforce 205-pound champion, who came through a clash for the ages with Shogun at UFC 139 to presumably set up a title shot. While Henderson’s right hand contains the one-punch knockout power to finish any fight, the chances of him actually landing it seem slim at best when you consider that Jones has a longer reach than anyone in the entire UFC and is an incredibly capable tactician. And his chances get worse the longer the fight lasts; Hendo was so tired in the fifth round against the notoriously-unfit Shogun that he was barely able to move, while Jones is seventeen years his junior and has only been into even the fourth round in one of his three championship fights.
Probably the only test Jones is yet to face is that of being put on his back by a top-class wrestler, and the division’s two best meet on January 28th in Chicago at UFC On Fox 2. Rashad Evans and Phil Davis are both accomplished amateur wrestlers and will be confident that they have what it takes to win the title; indeed Rashad has been set to challenge JBJ for the belt twice already, only for injuries to curtail his plans. But with Jones having a solid Greco-Roman background himself, his languid figure will be difficult to take down and even harder to keep down.
If he successfully navigates title defences against these opponents, he will have disposed of every creditable challenger in the light-heavyweight division and will most likely be no older than 25. Tradition suggests that he should look for pound-for-pound challengers from other weight divisions. While the jump up to heavyweight could see him giving away as much as 60 pounds to his opponent, his 84.5” reach and striking arsenal would be a match even for the lethal boxing ability of current champion Junior dos Santos and there is no doubt whatsoever that Jones is a far superior athlete and much more complete fighter than anyone in the division. A super-fight against long-time Middleweight champion Anderson “The Spider” Silva is a fascinating prospect, but seems far-fetched when you consider that Silva is already 36 and that the hugely-anticipated bout between himself and Welterweight champion Georges “Rush” St-Pierre has still not come to fruition despite being touted for years. Put frankly, it is hard to imagine a truly-dangerous challenger for Jones in the short, middle or long-term.
But one of the many reasons that MMA is such a fascinating and involving sport is that upsets happen, and they happen regularly. Nearly every time a man has seemed unbeatable in the UFC, someone has come along and shocked the world; GSP upset Matt Hughes at his peak to win the Welterweight title before immediately surrendering it to Matt “The Terror” Serra when he seemed set to rule the division for years (although he has since gone on to do so anyway). Lyoto Machida himself was knocked clean out by Mauricio Rua when he seemed frankly unhittable, let alone unstoppable. Only the greatest pound for pound fighter in the world, Anderson Silva, has never been dethroned and even he was only minutes away from a unanimous points defeat at the hands of his bitter rival Chael Sonnen in 2010.
So it may be that Jones is shocked by future hall-of-famer Dan Henderson if they soon meet as expected, it may be that he tastes defeat at the hands of his former friend Rashad Evans if they finally square off or it may be even be years before someone figures out how to beat him. One thing is for sure though; it’ll be well worth following this astonishing young man’s career to find out who it is.
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