Bruner’s Beat: What Jon Jones’ Return Means for the UFC

- Bruner's Beat

by Evan Bruner

The word “perfect” is often overused in sports. Very rarely does an individual team or athlete deliver a performance without a single identifiable flaw. Jon Jones, though, has proven to be an outlier in many ways throughout his career. He became the youngest champion in UFC history at age 23, went 14-0 in world title fights in the light heavyweight division, and after spending over a decade fighting the best of the best, the only loss on his record came by disqualification for an illegal elbow thrown in a fight that Jones had initially won by TKO.   

Despite everything that Jones had accomplished in his illustrious career entering last Saturday, it’s hard to deny that his first-round submission victory over Ciryl Gane stands alone as his single greatest feat. After three years off and promises of a heavyweight title push dating back to the early 2010s, Jones finally captured the one belt that eluded him. However, it wasn’t just the victory alone that reestablished Jones’ claim as the greatest fighter in the sport’s history; it was the dominant fashion in which he did. 

For the first time since 2009, Jones opened as a betting underdog. Many cited Jones’ inexperience at heavyweight and lengthy layoff as reasons to favor Gane. Though the Vegas odds favored Jones by fight night, there was no shortage of skeptics. But once the cage door closed, it became clear that a three-year layoff and new weight class wouldn’t be enough to contain the wrath of Jon Bones Jones. Soon after the fight began, Jones took down Gane and secured a guillotine, becoming the first fighter to finish the Frenchman. 

The fight was quick, dominant, and for Jones, it was nothing short of perfect. He joined Randy Couture and bitter rival Daniel Cormier as the only fighters to hold both the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles in the UFC. Beyond that, he upped his record to 15-0 in title fights, and extended his unbeaten streak in the UFC to 19 fights. 

With Conor McGregor hoping to make his much-anticipated return to the UFC later this year, Jones may currently be the promotion’s biggest draw. The question, as always with Jones, is if he can stay active. For every one of Jones’ greatest showings inside the cage, there’s a suspension or an arrest to match. As much as Dana White tried to ignore Jones’ controversial past in the build-up to UFC 285, no one can deny how detrimental Jones has been to his own career. 

As a fighter, Jones is simply breathtaking, with an often imitated but never replicated fighting style and arguably the most complete skill set in the sport’s history. But as a human, Jones is troubled, irresponsible, and extremely unreliable. It’s almost become a reflex for fight fans to brace themselves following a Jones fight, knowing his history.

If Jones can stay out of trouble in the coming years, he has no shortage of possible options. Toward the end of his reign at 205, Jones became bored of the weight class. He had essentially cleaned out the division, and the few fighters he hadn’t beaten were often rushed prematurely just to get Jones, a new opponent. 

Heavyweight is a refreshing change of pace. With only one fight at the weight class, Jones has a plethora of new challengers. He’s already called for a fight with former heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. Early indications are that this fight will take place in July. Curtis Blaydes will fight Sergei Palovich in a title fight eliminator next month, with the winner likely getting the next title shot. Additionally, Tom Aspinall is nearing a return to full health and would pose an interesting matchup for the current champion. 

If Jones can stay active, he can once again be the face of the sport. But with Jones, nothing can be mapped out too far ahead. Regardless, nothing that happens in or out of competition in the coming months will undo Jones’ legendary 285 performance. No matter how much people may dislike Jones on a personal level, it’s nearly impossible to deny his greatness.

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