Jon jones only knows how to win. As of UFC 172 this past Saturday, there’s still no one in the light heavyweight division to teach him how to lose.
At UFC 172, for the 20th time in his career, Bones Jones had his hand raised in victory. It was only the fifth time in his short career that the fight had gone the distance. This time around the victim was Brazilian-born Glover Teixeira, a man dubbed by many as a real threat to Jones’ throne.
At 34, the Brazilian had gone the distance even less than Jones, winning more than half of his 25 fights by knockout and another six by submission. A second-degree BJJ black belt, Teixeira had shown that his ground game was as deadly as his heavy hands. If you watched his highlight reel enough, you got the sense that maybe, just maybe, Teixeira brought the right tools into the Octagon to defeat Jones.
The trouble is, Jones steps in the cage with arguably the most unique set of skills and physical attributes in MMA. He’s not just a tall fighter (standing at 6’4’’), but he has the longest reach in UFC history (84.5 inches, now tied with the near seven-foot giant Stefan Struve). Add to that his athleticism, great hips from years of wrestling, his razor-sharp elbows and dedication to his craft, and it’s easy to understand why Jones has proved to be such a difficult puzzle to solve.
Teixeira certainly wasn’t able to figure him out. From start to finish, Jones controlled the fight, both at a distance — with a stiff jab that on multiple occasions knocked Teixeira’s mouthpiece loose — and in close, where Jones’ years of hand fighting in wrestling allowed him to bully Teixeira against the cage.
While the win was decisive, it was not awe-inspiring. Judged against the victory of most champions, it was very good, but judging against history, against the all-time greatest title that Jones wants to achieve, the victory lacked drama.
There’s no denying that Jones posses an impressive skill set and has dominated most of his foes, but despite that he’s never seemed otherworldly like, the man who undoubtedly holds the title of The Greatest of All Time, Anderson Silva.
When Silva fought at his best, he transcended the sport. He seemed not so much a fighter but rather a violent magician in the cage. He was the Bruce Lee that captivated audiences around the world in “Enter the Dragon” but without the Hollywood trickery. He was Muhammad Ali in round 8 against Foreman, seizing a dramatic victory from the depths of defeat. He made you believe that spectacular acts in Street Fighter were possible — maybe that even the Hadoken was attainable. Jones’ work is clinical and obviously effective but yeoman by comparison.
Moreover, in his first great test, against Alexander Gustafsson, not only did he fail to turn a losing effort into an exciting victory, like Silva did with Chael Sonnen in their first fight, he did not grant Gustafsson the rematch he so richly deserved — mostly because Gustafsson actually won that fight and only lost in the eyes of blind judges.
Jones’ victory on Saturday night is also sullied by his blatant disregard for the referee’s warning to close his hands when reached out to Teixeira’s face. Twice Jones poked Teixeira in the eyes, which stopped him in his tracks. Even after two warnings, Jones continued to push his fingers toward Teixeira’s face and eyes, although he didn’t actually strike the eyes again. Still, the extended fingers helped keep Teixeira at a distance, lest he lose an eye. The referee was too weak to make Jones pay for the technical violation.
Although it likely would not have made a difference in the ultimate ending, it would have been interesting to see how Jones reacted to losing a point and how Teixeira could have fought if he was just a few inches closer to Jones’ chin.
Likely next for Jones is Gustafson, maybe even in Sweden, says Dana White. Gustafsson surely won’t have the same distance issues that Teixeira experienced.
Gustafsson’s boxing background, height and reach are all likely to help him get better results than Teixeira. How Jones performs in the rematch can take him a long way in achieving the all-time great status he covets. But he’ll have to do more than grind his way to a victory. He’ll need to excite the emotions of fans and critics. Then he’ll have to sign up for the meeting with the hungriest man in MMA, Daniel Cormier, who dropped 40 pounds just for the chance to capture Jones’ title. Win, dominate and excite against these men and then the greatest of all time conversation will start to get much more interesting.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.