This past Saturday night, the bad blood between Jon "Bones" Jones and Daniel Cormier finally came to a head. Through five rounds of gruelling, exauhsting clinch work and long range striking, Jones vanquished his nemesis to earn a unanimous decision by a score of 49-46 on all three judges' scorecards. The victory delivered Jones his eighth Light Heavyweight Championship defence (most in the division's history) and continued his essentially perfect record. Let's just not count the Matt Hamill fight.
Prior to the fight, the argument for the "Pound for Pound" best fighter in the world seemed to ping pong between Jose Aldo and Jon Jones. If you were to include Aldo's world title defences in World Extreme Cagefighting (a Zuffa-owned promotion which UFC absorbed) he actually has more than Jones with nine, including victories over Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes(x2) and Urijah Faber. Jones's resume includes championship wins over Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Alexander Gustafsson.
While Aldo may have a longer title reign than Jones, Bones is without a doubt the more interesting and dynamic fighter of the two. Constantly hounded about his "fakeness" and his holier than thou persona, Jones is a lighting rod for controversy and debate based off his character alone. Some will come to Jones's defence and tell his haters to ease up, but it seems that for the most part Jones is one of the most despised men in MMA.
That's not what we're here to discuss. Even the haters know that Jones is a spectacular fighter and a nightmarish matchup for anybody in the UFC. This list will analyze the 10 most impressive performances of Jon Jones' career. These are the performances that dazzle and shock you on the skill of the Light Heavyweight champ. Most importantly, these are the performances that should make you respect Jon Jones.
10 Stephan Bonnar, UFC 94
You only have one chance to make a first impression. While Jones's UFC debut actually took place at UFC 87 vs Andre Gusmao, that fight took place on the preliminary card and even though Jones won the fight, he didn't look to be anything special. His UFC 94 performance against TUF original Stephan Bonnar was truly the first glimpse at Jones' potential.
The veteran Bonnar looked like a child against the gangly Jones. The 21-year-old flipped Bonnar across the ring with Greco-Roman and Judo throws and hit Bonnar from just about every angle. He also debuted his signature spinning back elbow, one of the best signature moves in MMA history (cheap plug for the win!). Bonnar is definitely not Jones's toughest challenge, but a victory over a fan favourite like the TUF 1 finalist netted Jones some needed notoriety early in his career.
9 Ryan Bader, UFC 126
The light heavyweight division was in a state of temporal flux around 2011. The championship had changed hands four times in the past four years. The legendary Chuck Liddell had retired in 2010 and the defending champ Mauricio Rua had not defended the title in 10 months due to a knee injury. The division needed some fresh faces, and two names were stepping up to plate; Ryan Bader and Jon Jones.
The fight was essentially a scrap to determine who would be the future of the light heavyweight division. Jones put a stop to any debate about the future quickly when dominated the NCAA All-American wrestler Bader with his grappling. Using his Mr. Fantastic limbs, Jones locked in a guillotine choke in the second round to submit Bader. As a nice bonus, Jones accepted a title fight with Shogun Rua due to his training partner Rashad Evans pulling out of the title fight due to a knee injury. That's a pretty, pretty, pretty good bonus.
8 Glover Teixeira, UFC 152
It wasn't a shock that Jon Jones defeated Glover Teixeira at UFC 152. Jones had better grappling, a more diverse striking game and had championship round experience. Teixeira's only hope was a big overhand right and the moral support of Chuck Liddell. What was shocking was just how badly Jones massacred one of the toughest men in the division.
7 Quinton Jackson, UFC 135
For a few years, it seemed that Jones was on a mission to defeat all former Light Heavyweight champions, almost like a UFC version of Randy Orton's "Legend Killer" gimmick. In his first title defence, Jones was paired against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, a certifiable knockout artist and one of the physically strongest men in the Light Heavyweight division. It was the clash of the old school brawler and the new school dynamic tactician.
Jones, like he's done several times through his career, made a legend of the sport seem like he didn't belong in the octagon as him. By refusing to brawl with Rampage and instead pick him apart at range with kicks, Jones displayed his ability to strategize against Jackson. Once he had tired Jackson out by the fourth round, Jones took him down and choked him out only 74 seconds into the round.
6 Vitor Belfort, UFC 152
The hate for Jon Jones may seem to be at an all-time high today, but UFC 152 was still the highest boiling point for that hatred of Jon Jones. Due to Dan Henderson pulling out of a title fight with Jones and the champion refusing to fight Chael Sonnen on a week's notice, UFC 151 was cancelled. Due in large part to a public tongue lashing by Dana White, Jon Jones was public enemy number one. At UFC 152, the people were dying to see the TRT-fueld middleweight Vitor Belfort pull off the upset and dethrone Jones.
By some freak miracle, it almost happened. Only about a minute into the fight, Belfort whipped out an armbar from his back and had Jones desperately trying to shake it off. The Air Canada Centre was waiting on pins and needles to erupt but Jones shook it off after 15 seconds of the most dangerous situation in his career. From there it was routine Jon Jones domination, but the armbar escape showed Jones's heart, something we'll see much more of later in the countdown.
5 Lyoto Machida, UFC 141
If UFC 135 proved anything, it was that Jones could deal with a brawler. When Jones stepped into the cage with "The Dragon" at UFC 141, he stared down an entirely different beast. Machida is one of the most notorious fighters in the UFC, known for being damn near impossible to beat. Where others were swept up in the hype, Jones kept his head clear of the mystique of Machida and even survived his ridiculous striking speed.
Jones withstood the infamous Machida blitz in the first round. Once Jones took Machida down in the second round, he sliced open Machida's forehead, superman punched him down and choked him unconscious. This stays out of the higher spots due to the giant size discrepancy, but out-manoeuvring Machida is still a tremendous cap in hat of Jon Jones.
4 Mauricio Rua, UFC 128
By the time Jon Jones defeated Ryan Bader at UFC 126, it was clear to everyone that Jones was the future of the sport. What folks didn't realize was that the future didn't mean in a few years, it meant in a month.
Shogun had just knocked out the ever elusive Lyoto Machida at UFC 113 and seemed to finally be living up to his potential that we saw in PRIDE. Unfortunately, a 10-month layoff due to a knee injury stopped the momentum cold and that was all the opening Jones needed. Blasting Rua with a flying knee out of the gate, Jones dominated the PRIDE legend and TKO'd Shogun, a man who was once considered the future of MMA, with a liver shot in the third round. The start of a championship dynasty that seems unbeatable.
3 Rashad Evans, UFC 145
A large part of Jon Jones's success stems from his coach, Greg Jackson. Jackson is known as one of the best trainers in MMA and his camp, Jackson's Martial Arts and Fitness Academy, has produced fighters like Travis Browne, Carlos Condit and Rashad Evans. When Jones accepted a championship fight vs Shogun Rua due to his training partner Evans blowing his knee out, Evans decided to leave Jackson's camp. The success of Jones seemed to create a rift between the two friends and they became bitter enemies, both intent on claiming their spot as the number one Light-Heavyweight in the world. Evans said that he knew Jones like a book due to their training together and he would knock Jones out.
Come fight time, it was clear who was the better fighter. Jones picked apart Evans with his jab and kicks and whenever Evans got close, Jones smashed him with elbows. Jones did not wilt under the trash talking and pressure from Evans to defend his title for the third time and vanquish his former training partner.
2 Daniel Cormier, UFC 182
This fight was easily the hottest debated fight of Jon Jones's career heading into it. This was the first time that Jones would face a wrestler with an Olympic pedigree and Cormier had the striking technique to give Jones serious issues. Also, these guys do not like each other. Jones played the role of a troll to perfection and DC (mostly) kept his cool while taking shots at the champion's "fake" persona. The hype all came to an end at UFC 182.
It wasn't the most exciting fight ever, but it was a damn impressive performance by both men. Cormier got in Jones's face and landed several uppercuts while Bones ripped kicks and punches to the body of Cormier all night long. Most notably, Jones took down the Olympian three times while Cormier couldn't take Jones down once. By sealing the win with a D-X crotch chop, Jones took the unanimous decision over his most hated rival.
1 Alexander Gustafsson, UFC 165
This may seem like an odd choice for number one, but hear me out. Heading into this fight, it seemed like a forgone conclusion that Jones would walk over Gustafsson en route to his next challenger. Jones would take Gustafsson down at will and "The Mauler" only had to defeat an over the hill Shogun to earn his title shot. Things on paper seemed to favour Jones.
The fight was anything but a Jones cakewalk. Gustafsson took Jones down for the first time in his career and while he ultimately did nothing with it, it certainly messed with Jones's head. Gustafsson flustered Jones with his movement and boxing technique. So why is this the most impressive performance of Jones' career? Because he had to dig down deep to win. For the first time in his career, Jones fought a man with a reach comparable to his own. Jones was cut, he was hurt and maybe even a bit demoralized, but he still managed to use a bevy of high kicks and a spinning elbow smash in the fourth round to come back and take a close decision over the Swede. If Gustafsson can get by Anthony Johnson in his next fight, we will see Bones and The Mauler go at it again.