The controversial UFC light-heavyweight champion got the job done at UFC 152 – but his performance was a mixed bag for fans and critics alike.
It seems like Jon Jones can do nothing but polarize fans these days.
No one is sitting on the fence when it comes to the reigning UFC light-heavyweight champion. For most folks, you see either the dynamic, exciting future of mixed martial arts – or an arrogant phony who swallows his own press like Roy Nelson downs Whoppers on dollar Tuesday.
And so it was with Jones last night. The champ defended his title against stalwart vet Vitor Belfort, and it felt like the “drama” of the fight had already played out before the two men had stepped into the cage. The Jon Jones vs. Dana White story threatened to distract from the fight itself, which already felt like an afterthought. Belfort, after all, hadn’t won a fight of consequence at 205 since John Kerry was running for president.
And than the fight happened – and more specifically, the first round. Jones gets sloppy, leaves one of his notorious lanky arms open, and Vitor pounces on an armbar. In seconds, Jones went from the inhuman conqueror of the light-heavyweight division to a guy fighting not to tap to a middleweight fighting him on short notice. Visions of GSP and Matt Serra went through everybody’s head I’m sure, although let’s be honest: had Jones tapped, this would have been a thousand times more shocking.
Vitor Belfort tapping Jon Jones with an armbar from his back in the first round. I bet you couldn’t have found a human being on the planet who would have taken that action before the fight.
Jon Jones didn’t tap, however, although it was razor close – Jones admitted his arm “popped” and felt numb the rest of the fight. That he didn’t tap is a credit to him. But then again, the fact that he found himself in that position I the first place really isn’t.
And therein lies the fundamental problem for Jones with this fight: how do you spin his performance? Because that’s exactly what people are going to do. When a guy is this polarizing, it’s tough for most fans to be objective. And this fight certainly was a mixed bag for Jones.
Let’s start with the positive takeaway first. He won, convincingly, with a clean submission finish over a Carlson Gracie BJJ black belt. He extended his streak of successful light-heavyweight title defenses to four, with only one of those fights going to decision. The Jon Jones hype train may have hit some serious bumps, but it’s still very much on the tracks and moving forward.
We saw the familiar trademarks of Jones’ offense: the weird (but effective) side kicks, the excellent use of distance and movement, good stacking and guard passing skills from on top, and the ever-present threat of the elbow. He out struck Vitor, busted him up, and ultimately out grappled him as well.
But this was far from a flawless performance for Jones. He made a big mistake in the opening round and he very nearly paid for it. Worse, he did it against a guy who’s not really known for submissions off his back. And fights at a lighter weight class. And was coming in on only a month’s notice. I’m afraid the opening two minutes of this fight dropped Jon’s stock more than any UFC event cancellation or totaled Bentley ever did.
Any thought that Jones isn’t a “real fighter”, or lacks “warrior spirit”, or whatever other terms fat writers like myself invent from the comfort of the couch was put to bed last night. Let’s not discount the heart that Jones showed in not tapping when the armbar was deep, and continuing on to win the fight. It’s a credit to his conditioning (not to mention his mental toughness) that the arm injury he sustained escaping from that armbar didn’t seem to hinder his performance to a large degree.
But it must have hindered his performance a little, because his wrestling looked godawful – at least by his standards. When you’re considered the most dangerous wrestler in the division, being shut down time and again by Vitor Belfort is not exactly reassuring. Randy Couture looked way more dominant in the wrestling department against Vitor way back when than Jones was last night.
In the end, we have to make some allowance for the chaos of the moment, the (sometimes critical) ways luck and random chance can effect a fight. If you fought that fight ten times over, does Vitor ever find himself in a first round submission situation like he did last night? Who knows. What we know is that he showed great poise and savvy in getting that position, just as Jones showed great heart in finding a way out.
What you draw from there is up to you.