According to the pundits, Jon Jones was going to run through Vitor Belfort at UFC 152. Instead, the light heavyweight champion faced true adversity in the cage for the first time, and what followed might have been the best performance of his impressive young career.
After striding to the cage to the refrains of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” – an apropos choice if ever there was one – and crawling to the center of the cage to start the fight as he always does, Jones quickly put Belfort on his back. While many expected it to be the beginning of the end, it was Belfort who nearly secured the finish, shifting his hips deftly to secure a deep armbar on the champion. As Jones tried to slip free and Belfort torqued his body, the champion’s right arm extended at a grizzly angle, and it appeared as if a submission loss was only seconds away.
But “Bones” endured.
He managed to free his arm from Belfort’s clutches, and then spent the rest of the round using his good arm to battle “The Phenom” with elbows from inside his guard, cutting him above the right eye, and controlling the round, despite the early scare. From there, Jones delivered the one-sided performance everyone expected, picking Belfort apart from range without taking any further damage, and showcasing the fluid striking and dominant top game that are just two of the innumerable weapons the preternatural talent has at his disposal.
Jon Jones’ Last 5 Fights
- def. Belfort – UFC 152
- def. Evans – UFC 145
- def. Machida – UFC 140
- def. Jackson – UFC 135
- def. Rua – UFC 128
A quick clinch landed the combatants on the canvas early in the fourth, and rather than open up with strikes, Jones took the submission opportunity that presented itself, securing an Americana (keylock) on Belfort, forcing the former light heavyweight champion to quickly tap. For the champion, it was his fourth consecutive title defence, his eighth straight win overall, and arguably the best overall outing he’s had to date.
Considering some of the one-sided victories he’s earned on his way to being the reigning and defending UFC light heavyweight champion, it might seem curious to some for me to tab this performance as Jones’ best thus far, but I believe that to be the case. This was his first opportunity to really battle through adversity in the cage, and Jones did so in impressive fashion. As UFC President Dana White said of the champion at the post-fight press conference, “He made an injured elbow look like it was injured,” and it was definitely injured, as Jones said he was “waiting for it to break” in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan before arriving at the dais in a soft cast and a sling.
In addition to battling through adversity in the cage for the first time, Jones also came through a tumultuous summer to deliver another impressive performance at UFC 152. While he hasn’t handled the aftermath of his May DUI arrest and the collapse of UFC 151 nearly as well as he did the armbar on Saturday night in Toronto, Jones was still able to put all those distractions behind him and perform at the highest level against Belfort, and that speaks to the commitment and focus he has as a fighter. If ever there was going to be a contest where Jones wasn’t as well-prepared and mentally focused as normal, this was it. Instead, we got the same uber-talented wunderkind who has been quickly making his way up the list of all-time greats over the last few years showing us once again why he might top that list when all is said and done.
Jones has now bested five consecutive former UFC light heavyweight champions, and pushed his record to an outstanding 17-1, a disqualification loss to Matt Hamill the only thing standing between Jones and an unbeaten mark. He continues to show new techniques, new weapons, and further development as a fighter with each subsequent appearance, and at just 25-years-old, he has yet to reach his athletic prime.
Saturday night was supposed to be a walk in the park for the UFC light heavyweight champion, but it turned into a test of his resolve and character instead. Just as the trials and tribulations of the summer have made him a better man outside the cage, his early struggles and eventual conquest over Belfort inside the cage on Saturday night will make him an even better fighter.
That’s a scary proposition.