Before September 21, Jon Jones had yet to be challenged in the sport of MMA. Each and every fight had been an exercise where Jones experiments with different aspects of his fight game at the expense of top contenders and former champions. He purposefully outwrestled Chael Sonnen just to prove that he could, fought the shorter Rashad Evans with a variety of standing short elbow strikes and choked out the tough as nails Rampage Jackson, elusive Lyoto Machida and jiujitsu black belt Vitor Belfort. It became a game of not if he’ll win, but how.
A 9-1 favorite over Swedish fighter Alexander Gustafsson, Jones spent the week prior to his fight at UFC 165 talking about what would be next. A possible move up to heavyweight was tossed around along with who his next opponent at light heavyweight might be. It became obvious that Jones was actually looking past an opponent. His endorsement deal with Gatorade was announced and, truth be told, Bones might have been feeling himself a little bit. The feeling was invincible and Gustafsson would be just another tombstone raised in Jones’ MMA graveyard.
Or so he thought.
The 6’5” Gustafsson took the champion to the woodshed and gave Jones his first sense of prolonged adversity in his young career. He busted Jones’ face up, took him down (the first fighter to do so), shrugged off his repeated takedown attempts and gave him hell for the first three rounds. But there’s a reason why the 4th and 5th rounds are called the “Championship Rounds” and Jon Jones had to dig deep to prove what a champion is made of.
Instead of it being a fight where Jones had to decide how he would beat his opponent, Jones was now in a dogfight. The Swede had the faster hands and continuously clipped the champ with combinations. The face of Jones was one we haven’t seen in his UFC career. Jones sported a gash over his right eye, swollen lips and a look of desperation as he struggled with the quicker Gustafsson. As the time ticked away in the fourth round, reality began to set in that Jon Jones just might cough up the title and become the second so-called invincible champion to go down in flames (Anderson Silva’s shocking loss in July was the other). Bleeding profusely and well aware of the hole he was in, Jones unleashed a spinning back elbow that caught the challenger flush and nearly ended his night. But Gustafsson hung on, despite eating a barrage of knees, and made it to the decisive final round.
Both Jones and Gustaffson were exhausted heaps of mangled meat heading into the 5th round but Jones mustered up enough energy to score his first takedown and land the more telling blows. When the 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 scores were read in favor of Jones, the champion didn’t raise his hands in confidence. Instead, he exhaled with a look that said he escaped the toughest fight of his career. Shortly afterwards, Jones was carted into an ambulance and headed to the hospital with Gustafsson not too far behind.
So the question that looms large is whether there will be an immediate rematch. However, it shouldn’t take much thought considering that this is the first fighter to prove that Jon Jones is a human being that bleeds and can be beat. To move on would leave various question marks over the status of Jones. Was it a blip on the radar where Jones suffered from overlooking an opponent or does Alexander Gustafsson have the right combination of size and skills to give Jones a credible challenge.
It makes zero sense to put Jones in a fight with Glover Teixeira considering that Glover could certainly use a fight with a top ten light heavyweight. Phil Davis is in the same position and a potential Teixeira vs. Davis fight for the #1 contender slot makes the most sense.
A rematch of the current candidate for “Fight of the Year” is something the UFC, and more importantly, Jon Jones, needs. The champion has been tested, bruised and hospitalized. After some much needed rest, he will likely want to prove that he can beat Gustafsson again. And Gustafsson would love the opportunity to go another 25 minutes with the pound for pound best fighter in the world.
Who wouldn’t want to see them do it again?