Jon Jones and the tale of two UFC light heavyweight title reigns
Jon “Bones” Jones is the most dominant light heavyweight champion in UFC history. Winning the title at the age of 23 and almost 10 years later, he is still the champ. He has had his ups and downs in his career, but his dominance is unrivaled. Even with 14 title defenses under his belt some question … is he really that good? Let’s break down his title reign, or should I say “reigns.”
The first title reign
After winning the title in 2011, Jones would go on to face future UFC Hall of Famers like Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida, and Chael Sonnen.
People would claim that these fights were tailor-made for Jones to win. Evans was too short and Jon Jones was familiar with him as they trained together. “Rampage” was looked at as a one-trick pony – a striker with no ground game. Belfort had Jones in the most danger he had faced to date when he had him locked in an early armbar that hyperextended his elbow but was able to survive and ended up getting the win in the end.
Some would say these fights were against guys who were past their prime and much older than the champ. But when you dig deeper and watch those fights, Jones was physically better than all of them. He also possessed an offensive skill set that was ahead of its time.
Although he was a world-class wrestler, his kicking game along with his 84-inch reach allowed him to do some things in the Octagon that we hadn’t seen up to that point. Against Evans, Jones used his elbows rather than his hands to throw jabs.
Two of his next three fights were against Alexander Gustaffson and Daniel Cormier. The Gustaffson fight was his hardest fight. Most had him losing that fight going into the championship rounds. He dominated Gustafsson in the fourth and fifth rounds to pull out a narrow victory. Gustaffson was the first fighter he fought that had the same build as Jones and skills to match.
Cormier fighting at light heavyweight after moving down from heavyweight was supposed to be a harder challenge than Gustaffson. The fight turned out to be a mismatch as Jon Jones dominated the shorter Cormier and even became the first man to take Cormier down. He actually ended up scoring three takedowns in the fight overall. There was no doubting his dominance as he cleaned out the division.
The second reign begins
After being stripped of the title and suspended a few times, Jones re-emerged in the title picture in December 2018 vs. Gustaffson after Cormier relinquished the title. Most were expecting a repeat of the fight of the year nominee that they had in September 2013. Jones dominated Gustaffson this time around winning by third-round TKO.
The division had changed since Jones had gone away, there were now some young challengers on the horizon. Anthony Smith, Thiago Santos, Dominick Reyes, Corey Anderson, and Jan Blachowicz. Smith was first to the plate only to be outclassed by Jones while looking totally lost inside the Octagon, losing by unanimous decision.
Would Jones run through the division as he did previously?
Santos was next up and he was a game opponent as he used his kickboxing style along with his heavy hands. He was ahead going into the championship rounds but he injured both of his knees along the way allowing Jones to take advantage of his limited mobility and win the fight via split decision. Some said after the fight that there were some chinks in Jones’ armor now. Reyes would look to crack the armor even more next.
Reyes came out like a ball of fire in rounds one and two. Although he was effective in the early rounds, he seemed to tire in the third round and in my opinion, he basically started riding his bike for the remainder of the fight allowing Jon Jones to win by unanimous decision. The naysayers were at it again saying he should’ve lost the fight and he was exposed by Reyes.
I totally disagree with this sentiment. The guys that Jones is fighting during his second reign are more well-rounded and they now have plenty of tape on the champion. Also, his challengers are close to his height meaning that his reach advantage is not as great of an advantage as it once was. I’m not saying he doesn’t train hard but he can no longer walk into the Octagon and win on talent alone. Against Santos and Reyes, Jones’ gameplan seemed to be “I will beat them at their game.” Meaning, beat Santos in a kickboxing match and trying to match Reyes in a standup fight. Jones needs to get back to what made him almost unbeatable, using his wrestling and kicks to set up his devastating elbow game.
To sum this up, Jones dominated during his first title run. His second title run hasn’t been as dominant but he is still racking up wins. Some would say these close fights are hurting his legacy. I beg to differ as winning tough fights can only enhance his legacy. Champions should be challenged in tough or close fights as they are fighting upper-tier fighters every time they step into the Octagon.