UFC 165: Greatness within reach for both Jones and Gustafsson

 

Before Jon Jones and Alex Gustafsson set foot in the Octagon on Saturday night, the story was all about reach.

According to the hype, the 6ft 5in Swede had the genetic tools to neutralise the 84in arms of a dominant champion whose career to date resembled a youngster pulling wings off a butterfly.

In the end both fighters strode tall and proud into the Toronto’s caged battlefield, yet left as broken men. After twenty five mesmerising minutes, they were transported separately to a local hospital. Soon their collective wounds will heal, but the tale of their light-heavyweight title bout at UFC 165 will be enshrined in folklore. This was a career-defining night for both combatants.

For Jones, it was an occasion that cements his legacy as the greatest 205 pound titleholder the UFC has ever seen.

We’ve seen him grow before us in the Octagon. From his early days as a precocious young talent to the all-conquering sponsorship darling of Nike and Gatorade, it has been an extraordinary journey. Yet he’s been victim of his own success. Dominance has brought fame, fortune and fast cars but it hasn’t bought him the popularity one might expect. Fans failed to connect with a man whose superiority often made for predictable viewing.

The success story of the UFC has been based on perennial instability. Zuffa eschews the old boxing matchmaking model of good fight, easy fight, mismatch, great fight that defined the careers of the likes of Muhammad Ali. In the world’s premier fight league, titles are earned through blood, sweat and tears. Fortune can be fleeting. The margin between success and failure is the width of a four ounce glove.

Men like Chuck Liddell and B.J Penn, bona fide Zuffa legends, walked those margins every time they entered the cage. Their constant flirtation with risk earned them reward, but it also earned them the lifelong respect of the MMA fanbase.

Whereas Jon Jones made it look easy. Too easy. History told us that it shouldn’t be this way. A young twenty-something with so few fights to his name shouldn’t be this good.

Every great champion needs a great rival.

Take the case of Anderson Silva. Now acknowledged as the greatest mixed martial artist the world has ever seen, the Brazilian didn’t always command such accolades.

Prior to his 2010 bout with Chael Sonnen, Silva had stunk out many a UFC arena with a fighting style that walked a fine line between arrogance and excellence. It was only after he survived a 23 minute beatdown from Sonnen and emerged victorious in their epic UFC 117 encounter that respect flowed from all corners. He had finally shown his fighting heart and the world loved him for it.

Like Silva, last night Jon Jones showed us all the fighting heart that defines the great champions. And for that he owes Gustafsson a debt of gratitude.

And what of the Swede? Stockholm’s fighting son proved to the world that he was more than the collection of long limbs that the UFC hype machine had us believe. This is a Scandinavian warrior with an indomitable fighting spirit. He survived a brutal final minute of the fourth round and marched onward in the fifth like a soldier whose chambers have long since emptied, yet endeavours to fight the enemy with his bare hands. They were six minutes that will change the course of his career forever more.

Gustafsson personified the evolution that defines this wonderful sport. After defeat to wrestling machine Phil Davis, he was criticised as a one-dimensional striker whose lack of grappling finesse was a fundamental flaw. Rather than seek comfort in the familiar, Gustafsson pushed himself out of his comfort zone. He swallowed his pride and turned to Davis for tuition, spending hour after tortuous hour on the mat honing his craft.

Last night we saw his emergence as a truly world-class mixed martial artist and a potential long-term rival to Jon Jones. The light-heavyweight division is no longer the barren landscape we perceived it to be. There is a pretender to the throne. A challenger to push the king to new levels of greatness.

On Saturday night Alex Gustafsson reached for the crown and fell agonisingly short.

Maybe it was all about reach after all.

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Recent Comments »

TUF site profile image  

9/24/13 4:38 AM by TUF

LOL small and pathetic? Because Jon Jones has driven off much of his fan base by comparing himself to Jesus I am small and pathetic? That's crazy talk.Calm down big boy, being good at fighting doesn't mean that people can't consider you egotistical and ungracious. Believe it or not, fighting in the cage isn't very important in most peoples lives.

IAmNotImpressedbyYourStocktonSlap site profile image  

9/23/13 12:02 AM by IAmNotImpressedbyYourStocktonSlap

He got beat up, don't try and deny it just because you're butthurt someone said it.And Gus dictated that fight, hop off.

Bipolar site profile image  

9/22/13 11:53 PM by Bipolar

Haters are always easy to spot, and in this case, especially easy. You're embarrassing yourself. I think you're in a very small minority if you don't think last night's fight was a great event. It's silly to suggest that it must be measured by the yardstick of the entire sporting world to be considered great. That's just stupid. It was absolutely a great and amazing fight in the world of MMA, which is all we're talking about here. And it's just more hater garbage to argue that Bones is nothing special. Yeah, Okay. I won't bore everyone with a recounting of Jones' achievements. I guess you think the pros who believe Jon is special are just not as bright as you are. Hard to imagine many fighters more special than Bones. And again, in typical hater fashion, you twist and distort Jon's comments regarding Tex and DC. I believe what Jones said was that Tex wasn't ready yet, which a lot of people would agree with. The guy has been rocked in just about every fight he's been in in the UFC, including almost being stopped by Ryan Bader in his last outing. So no, I don't think Tex is on Jon's level either. As for DC, Jones simply said that he hadn't earned a title shot yet. Which he hasn't since he hasn't even had a single fight at LHW. But again, Jones never said that Cormier was not on his level. I just thought it would've cool for us to applauded both fighters for such a great and inspiring fight for just one day. Would've been nice to put the constant stream of criticism aside for a day and give Jon and Gus props and recognize their stellar performances.

irishrottie site profile image  

9/22/13 9:34 PM by irishrottie

Words such as "greatness" are ment to be reserved for the truly special and spectacular in the sporting world. I dont think people realise how much growth we will see in this sport in the near future. The skills on display last night were not of greatness. Jon Jones has convinced fans and journalists he is something special. He is not. Cannot question the heart and desire of both men though, true warriors. Hopefully fans and journalist calm down on the Jones greatness talk. He is not the Ali of MMA, he cannot box a Klitscko and he has no business saying the likes of teixeira or Cormier are not on his level.

Bipolar site profile image  

9/22/13 8:00 PM by Bipolar

What a small and pathetic person you are. We just witnessed 2 of the greatest warriors in MMA who engaged in a spectacular battle of mind, muscle, and heart. And both stood taller in their greatness after they left that octagon then when they entered. No matter what you think of an athlete on a personal level, there are times when he/she deserves our full respect and admiration for accomplishing something rare and special, something that we as fans are privileged to have participated in. For one night these great men transcended the sport and took us with them to a place that few ever see. These champions and what they gave you, what they gave us all, demand your gratitude respect.

nix1331 site profile image  

9/22/13 2:16 PM by nix1331

u mean as he ran to the center cuz he actually wanted to fight as he was lighting jones up and exposing jones poor boxing??

TUF site profile image  

9/22/13 1:32 PM by TUF

"Fans failed to connect with a man whose superiority often made for predictable viewing."LOL That's damage control. That sentence should read, "Jon Jones has driven off many fans with his condescending attitude and comparisons of himself and Jesus."We didn't "fail to connect" with his highness.

KingofBJJ site profile image  

9/22/13 1:31 PM by KingofBJJ

Prior to his 2010 bout with Chael Sonnen, Silva had stunk out many a UFC arena with a fighting style that walked a fine line between arrogance and excellence. It was only after he survived a 23 minute beatdown from Sonnen and emerged victorious in their epic UFC 117 encounter that respect flowed from all corners. He had finally shown his fighting heart and the world loved him for it   A beat down?  I don't remember any facial damage on Silva and he was fighting injured.  The healthy Jones showed up and did what the injured Jones couldn't, the second time around. As for Gus.  The only thing I saw from him was that he was a good track star.  That's the reason he was so tired in the 5th, because he spent all four round running.

shimitsu site profile image  

9/22/13 1:27 PM by shimitsu

More articles like this please.

The Winter Soldier site profile image  

9/22/13 1:10 PM by The Winter Soldier

Nice read!