At the age of 27, could Jon “Bones” Jones already be the greatest mixed martial artist of all time? It is a debatable, but fully plausible idea for a fighter who has yet to reach the age of 30 to be already considered, as Floyd Mayweather puts it, #TBE (The Best Ever).
After taking out his toughest challenge to date in fierce rival and previously unbeaten Daniel Cormier at UFC 182, it appears that the UFC Light Heavyweight champion is already etching his name in stone as one of the best – if not the best – to ever do it. Victory number twenty-one did not come easy as months of inexplicably harsh trash talk between Jones and Cormier culminated in an epic dogfight that once again saw Jones be pushed to his limits only to prove that his desire to win is greater than that of his opponent.
Twenty-one fights, twenty wins and one loss coming by a highly disputed disqualification for illegal elbows in a fight he was winning handily. But it isn’t just the record; it is who he built his resume against. Former world champions such as Lyoto Machida, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson fell victim to the prodigious Jones. He’s derailed the hype trains of Ryan Bader, Glover Teixeira and squashed his rival in Cormier.
Is it premature to call Jones the best fighter ever? Not really. Not after the way he dismantled the unbeaten former Olympic wrestler in Daniel Cormier after recognizing that he was likely his biggest threat to date. Challenges still await but what’s left is a smaller portion than what Jones has already devoured at the table of champions. Some will quickly argue that Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter of all-time. But even Silva took a few legitimate losses early in his career. And his portfolio isn’t close to that of Jones, either. The same can be said for former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
“With all due respect, I believe I have had the toughest resume in the history of this sport,” Jones said when being compared to Silva and St-Pierre. “I’ve fought so many amazing athletes and so many times people thought I was going to lose. I will keep Anderson and GSP being above me and that attitude will keep me honest, determined and driven. I’ll keep that as my psychology until it cannot be argued anymore.”
What cannot be argued is Jones’ third most consecutive title defenses in UFC history (8) behind St-Pierre and Silva. Breaking that record seems likely. He also possesses the longest winning stream in the Light Heavyweight division (12) and is the youngest fighter to win a UFC championship (23 years, 242 days). He still has a long career ahead of him but he’s already done more in his seven year career than most fighters do in a lifetime. “It’s so hard for me because Jon Jones is so young and has so many things to accomplish still,” UFC President Dana White said during the post fight press conference. “But he’s beaten a who’s who of fighters, he’s cleaned out the division and breaking records. If this continues, he’s probably the greatest ever.”
Jones prowess as a mixed martial artist is unrivaled. For most of his career he simply overwhelmed his opponents with deft skill and ridiculous physical advantages (he’s 6’4” with an 84.5 inch reach). His unpredictability shattered his opponents’ façade as he stomped through the competition. It wasn’t until his war with Alexander Gustafsson that we realized Jon Jones also had the heart of a warrior. But some attributed that fight to Jones not taking his opponent seriously.
Daniel Cormier was the challenge that Jones needed both in and out of the Octagon. Cormier, whose highly decorated wrestling background preceded him, ran through the heavyweight division unfazed before dropping down to light heavyweight and decidedly making a run at the title. His heat with Jones was real and stemmed back to an altercation the two had several years ago before Cormier ever set foot in a UFC cage. He constantly prodded at Jones and challenged him to shed his “good guy” image. He was successful in getting Jones attention and goaded him into a war of words that culminated in the two brawling at a UFC media event last August. The heat was real as it appeared Cormier got into the head of Jones when the two exchanged expletives over a hot mic during an ESPN interview that quickly went viral.
So when the two finally met in the cage at UFC 182 in Las Vegas, Jones clearly had his biggest challenge physically and mentally standing across the cage from him. His disdain for Cormier made the fight must-watch TV as the world tuned in to see if Jones really had the fight in him.
As Jones does with many of his opponents, he proved that he could beat Cormier at his own game. It was already well documented that Jones’ striking was superior to Cormier but his work in the clinch and ability to take Cormier down five times to Cormier’s zero cemented his notion that he could outwrestle the wrestler. “I watched him fight so much that I actually absorbed who he is,” a cold and calculated Jones said afterwards. “I watch my opponents so much that I subconsciously start to inherit their talents and gifts. Sometimes you see me do exactly what they want to do to me.”
Winning the fight 49-46 on all three judges’ scorecards was one thing, willingly playing into his opponents’ advantages and dismantling them is another. As Jones said prior to the fight, he wanted to embarrass Cormier and make him pay for his sins. As Cormier spoke with a throat full of emotion after a heartbreaking loss, Jones was steel-eyed, as he was completely unwilling to bury the hatchet. “I know that if he would have won he would have been up here talking all types of trash so I don’t feel sorry for him,” Jones said when asked if Cormier paying respect would cool off the heat between the two. “This is combat…I am proud to say that this team is unbroken and everyone that bought ‘Break Bones’ shirts saw what happened. Feel free to buy my ‘Unbroken’ shirt from Reebok.”
Not only has Jones become one of the best fighters ever; he’s also inheriting a personality that broadens his appeal. Similar to Floyd Mayweather’s abrasive persona – but without the money flaunting – Jones embraces his role in the UFC. If his confidence is misconstrued for arrogance, he is no longer apologetic to your feelings. “Sometimes it feels like it’s me against the world,” Jones explained knowing that he’ll be both loved and hated with the same passion by fans. “My plan is to become the greatest fighter of all time and its so feasible and attainable. I just have to stay focused, and keep believing and working. I do believe 2015 is the year I’ll solidify it.”