It’s one thing to break down a fight before it happens. It’s another to look at the path that took a fighter to the promised land of potential UFC championship glory. As we count down to the UFC light heavyweight title fight this Saturday night we thought id’ be interesting to take a look back at how exactly each fighter got to their side of the championship. In chronological order here are the last five fights of current light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
#1 – UFC 128, 5/19/11
Shogun Rua – The fight that won Jon Jones the LHW Championship. This fight really opened a lot of eyes to how good Jones could be. He was obviously much more unknown at that time, coming off of a submission victory over Ryan Bader and filling in for an injured Rashad Evans. To the casual fan Shogun Rua, an MMA legend who previously demolished Lyoto Machida to become champion, was expected to win in his first title defense. It quickly became clear that it wasn’t going to happen. Jones absolutely dominated Rua from start to end. Rua ended up tapping to strikes…when’s the last time you saw that happen? Here was this kid in a title fight, his first, and he made a feared striker with unquestionable toughness look severely outmatched. This had to be a huge validation moment for Jon Jones, there were no nerves, no jitters, no fear of falling short in a championship fight. Jones performed flawlessly and seized what was inevitably his seat as the LHW champion. This fight was the start of one of the most successful reigns of any Light-Heavyweight Champion and marked the beginning of the Jon Jones era.
#2 - UFC 135, 9/24/11
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson – Former LHW Champion #1. This was a chance for Bones to do three things: 1. show that his victory over Rua wasn’t just a fluke, 2. end the curse of the LHW championship that had been around since Liddell lost the strap and 3. defeat a former UFC champion. He did all three. Rampage managed to last longer than Rua, but he inevitably fell before the superior Jones. Jones also demonstrated his ability to finish a fight with jiu-jitsu rather than striking, a trend that we would see over his next few fights. This was Jones’ first defense as a champion and he passed the test with flying colors. The curse of the LHW championship came to a screeching halt and Jones moved further up the P4P ladder with a dominating performance.
#3 – UFC 140, 12/10/11
Lyoto Machida – Former Champion #2. This fight was important for all parties, firstly because it showed that there are some holes in Jon Jones’ seemingly impenetrable armor, and secondly, it showed how Jones could adapt and rely on his versatility. Machida, with his stellar evasive movements and counter striking, had Jones looking confused and frustrated for a round. That was the first time in a long while where we saw Jones didn’t clearly have the upper hand. Machida looked poised to build on that first round and take control of the fight…until Jones caught him in a clinch. Since Machida was dictating the fight with his evasions, Jones simply caught Machida and put the hurt on him with brutal muay thai until he could sink in a standing guillotine. It was a bit frightening to see how quickly Jones ended that fight when the outcome was very much in doubt after that first round. Jones flipped a switch and took his game to another level mid-fight. Jones, like any true champion, needed that adversity; he needed to be challenged so he could overcome it and demonstrate his greatness. Jones had always been better than the other guy from the opening bell, but this fight showed us not only Jones’ versatility and smarts, but his poise as well.
#4 – UFC 145, 4/21/12
Rashad Evans – Former Champion #3. Suga Rashad Evans would mark the third former LHW champion Jones would be facing. And finally, we would see the grudge match that was in the making ever since Jones filled in against Shogun Rua when Evans got injured. Evans ended up leaving Jackson’s MMA and the bitterness only grew from there. Evans was supposed to have a mental edge over Jones, painting Jones as the eager little brother, training with him and showing him the ropes. He was supposed to know how to beat Jones, both mentally and physically. The buildup to the fight was immense and the trash talk between the two was very revealing and entertaining. Many people gave Evans a fighting chance because of his knowledge of Jones as a training partner, as well as his familiarity with Jones’ coaches and training camp. Come fight night however, Jones ended up utilizing his reach to fluster Evans and he clearly demonstrated who the better fighter was. To his credit, Evans was the only puzzle that Jones couldn’t solve; meaning this was the first time in seven fights that Jones couldn’t finish his opponent (eight if you count that DQ against Matt Hamill). However, Evans never put himself in a position to win the fight, and Jones added yet another former champion (and former friend) to his list of conquered opponents.
#5 – UFC 152, 9/22/12
Vitor Belfort – Former Champion #4. How crazy was that armbar attempt from Belfort in the first round? That was a “get the hell out of your seat and hold your breath” moment. Probably no one was expecting a submission victory for Belfort, yet there he was just a hair away from pulling it off. Every dominant champion eventually has a “close call” moment in a title fight. This was it for Jones. We heard descriptions of the arm nearly breaking at the elbow after the fight. What a character-defining moment for Jon Jones, who was in as perilous a position as you can get. Jones hung on, didn’t even think about tapping, and eventually escaped. Belfort might have had the upper hand after damaging Jones’ arm, but Bones showed the heart of a champion and gave Belfort the familiar dose of striking and clinch brutality that led to a submission victory. No one can call Jones soft after this fight. For all of the brilliant technical skills and athletic gifts Jones has, he reminded us that he is still a fighter at heart. When the situation gets tough, fighters get tougher. That’s exactly what Jones did in his last title defense.
Chael Sonnen will mark the first fighter Jones will have fought in a long while that has never been a champion. As good as Sonnen is, the UFC made the big money fight here, and gave TUF a big boost at the same time. Sonnen is coming off of a loss at middleweight and had a title shot at LHW dropped right into his lap. Frankie Edgar had the same happen to him, but at least his last loss was an extremely close fight. Sonnen was finished by Anderson Silva. If all goes according to plan for Jones, this will also serve as a coincidental comparison fight, to see how well Jones performs against Sonnen compared to Silva. That may be the legacy from this fight, considering Sonnen has never been a champion and lost in his last fight. If a Jones vs. Silva superfight is indeed in our future, the results of this fight would be a big talking point to start with: who defeated Sonnen more impressively?