INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Excuse me for not rushing to praise Jon Jones today.
Yeah, the once-again UFC light heavyweight champion is still one of the finest pure talents we’ve ever seen in mixed martial arts. No one disputes what he can do when he steps into the cage and the door is shut.
His bout with Alexander Gustafsson on Saturday night at The Forum demonstrated his high fight IQ. Jones never left Gustafsson get untracked in the main event of UFC 232, punishing his opponent with leg kicks and drilling him with sharp strikes when he tried to close the distance before finishing him with ruthless precision in the third.
This marks the second straight bout in which rematches came easier for Jones than first fights, following a similar performance against Daniel Cormier at UFC 214.
But you’d have to be an abject rube at this stage of the game to go ahead and declare Jones redeemed without waiting to see what the next couple weeks bring.
You don’t get the benefit of the doubt when you’ve run into trouble as often as Jones has. Not when your management team tried to gaslight news of Turinabol not showing up in a blood test when Turinabol does not show up in blood tests either way. Not when other fighters have been suspended for similar levels of long-term metabolites. Not when adverse test results were withheld from the California commission, the sanctioning body which green-lit UFC 232’s last-minute move.
But while Jones continues to be enabled by the UFC, which moved the entire card from Las Vegas to Inglewood rather than postpone the fight and let the Nevada Athletic Commission pursue his latest questionable test result, he didn’t exactly get a superstar reaction from the crowd at the Forum on Saturday night. Half of the people booed when Jones won. Most of the rest seemed resigned.
It was a stark contrast to the Georges St-Pierre-in-Montreal earsplitting level of reaction to Amanda Nunes’ win over Cris Cyborg. Perhaps if UFC president Dana White took one-quarter of the energy he’s put into favoring Jones and instead used it to build on Nunes’ tremendous victories over the likes of Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, rather than kneecapping her drawing power by questioning Nunes’ heart, then Nunes-Cyborg would have been big enough to draw pay-per-view numbers on its own, minus Jones-Gustafsson.
Jones’ skills were unique for 2011. The best of the next generation has caught up. Max Holloway and Tony Ferguson can do everything Jones can do in the cage, and Israel Adesanya is well on his way. Perhaps if the UFC stopped putting Jones on a pedestal based on what was cutting edge in the pre-FOX era and instead put A-list promotional effort into fighters who are every bit as skilled as Jones with none of the baggage, the company wouldn’t be in a position where it needs to move mountains to save the show when Jones gets embroiled in his 1,000,001st fight-week controversy.
Let’s see what turns up from Jones’ VADA and USADA post-fight tests. Let’s see what happens when Jones appears before the Nevada Athletic Commission next month. Let’s see Jones get through this upcoming gauntlet clean.
After that? Let’s see him get through his next three or four fights without jeopardizing major shows. Let’s see him get there without kicking up a tsunami of badwill from the fans.
Then, and only then, will we take away the asterisk next to Jon Jones’ career accomplishments.
UFC 232 quotes
“He got me very, very early in the first round, very early, and after that I just shut down. I wasn’t tired. I had my conditioning, I felt good. I felt good, and we had our exchanges and everything, but he just shut me down very early in the first round and that was it, and I couldn’t move at all. — Gustafsson, on what went wrong against Jones.
“She’s the best ever. How can you deny it? You can’t deny that she’s the best ever. That’s what this fight was for,” White said at the UFC 232 post-fight press conference. “This fight was to find out. But if you look at her resume and who she beat, she’s the best ever. Nobody can dispute that.” — White on Nunes
“B.J.’s a legend in this sport. He went down to Brazil, trained hard for this thing, got into great shape, the camp was raving about him. He got caught in a submission tonight. B.J. Penn is one of the legends of the sport and helped build this company. I would love to see B.J. retire.” — White, after Penn’s first-round loss to Ryan Hall.
Up: Amanda Nunes Ronda Rousey. Miesha Tate. Valentina Shevchenko (twice). And now Cris Cyborg. No woman in the history of mixed martial arts has a resume like Amanda Nunes, who is now the first woman to become a simultaneous double champion in UFC history after her stunning 51-second knockout of Cyborg in UFC 232’s co-feature bout. All due respect to the great Cyborg. She’s a great person and she boasts tremendous skills. But she spent much of her career defeating overmatched foes due to a lack of depth at featherweight. While that’s not her fault, Nunes simply has put together the better resume, and going up in weight and handing Cyborg her first defeat in 13 years in such decisive fashion settles the question: Nunes is the women’s GOAT.
Down: Alexander Gustafsson No doubt about it, the path forward for Gus is going to be tough to figure. It’s rare a fighter gets a second title shot in the same division after losing the first time. Now Gustafsson has lost three light heavyweight title shots. Unlike the first two losses, his UFC 165 unanimous decision to Jones and his UFC 192 split decision to Daniel Cormier, which were both absolute classic battle, this time, Gustafsson was blown out against Jones. Maybe Gustafsson can go up to heavyweight, which is a bit of a tall order for someone as lanky as he. Regardless, one has to wonder if “The Mauler” has seen his best days in the cage.
Up: Michael Chiesa Chiesa looked so good in his welterweight debut Saturday night against Carlos Condit, you have to wonder what took him so long to get here. Like others who have thrived after going up in weight class, such as Robert Whittaker, Kelvin Gastelum, and most recently Thiago Santos, Chiesa looked to be at full energy and clear-headed without having to go through a ridiculous weight cut. That led to a tremendous opening round of back-and-forth, high-level ground work between he and Condit, before Chiesa took it to another level and won with a nasty Kimura in the opening minute of the second. Can Chiesa do at welterweight what Whittaker and Gastelum have done going up to middleweight? Time will tell, but Saturday night was undeniably a promising start.
Up: Alexander Volkanovski The Australian featherweight was one of the UFC’s best-kept secrets, winning his first five fights in the UFC but doing so mostly on smaller shows. But Volkanovski finally had his big opportunity on Saturday with a legit and well-known foe in Chad Mendes. Volkanovski showed tremendous poise in taking one of the pound-for-pound heaviest hitters’ hardest shots, clearing his head, and then answering with thunderous strikes of his own. The 145-pound division has a new, legit title contender.
Down: B.J. Penn I’m not even going to hash through all the gruesome details, because if you’re reading this, you already know just how far Penn has fallen since his heyday. A man who held two world championships lost in short order on the opening cable prelim on Saturday night. We’ve seen him take brutal beatings and now we’ve seen him get submitted (admittedly, Ryan Hall is probably going to submit a lot of people before he’s through). Penn is dangerously close to becoming the first name mentioned when people talk about sad cases of great fighters hanging on way too long (Okay, maybe second after Chuck Liddell). Please retire, B.J., and make it stick this time.
Now that we’ve talked about Jones, is there really anything left to be said about this weekend’s bizarre turn of events? You’ve heard it all hashed out by now. UFC 232 was a great night of fights. Rather than beat a dead horse at length, we’re simply going to note that the fans in Vegas who bought tickets and arranged travel should have had the opportunity to see it at T-Mobile Arena.
Beyond that? Not much to complain about from an officiating standpoint. The stoppages were correctly timed and the fights which went the distance were all correctly judged. Maybe this fight shouldn’t have been in California, but California-assigned officials did their job.
Fight I’d like to see next: Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones at heavyweight
I can certainly understand at this point why Jones would expect he’ll always get whatever he wants. This week’s events left absolutely no doubt on that account.
Make no mistake, Cormier and Jones are thirsty to fight each other, and we’re going to be bombarded with posturing on which weight class this fight should be held.
But if we’re going to have Jones fight Cormier a third time, it needs to be at heavyweight.
There’s little intrigue left in seeing Jones fight Cormier at light heavyweight. We’ve already seen it play out twice. Even in a best-case scenario, by the time these two square off again, Cormier is going to be 40 years old going into a third matchup. His last couple weight cuts attempting to get down down to 205 were absolutely horrendous. What value is there to running this back at 205?
Cormier is the one who has already proven himself capable of becoming a double champion. Cormier is the one who has never failed a drug test in his life.
Do you want to restore your legacy once and for all and get fans talking about something other than your PED tests, Jon? Then get out of your comfort zone. Pass all your drug tests. Have a go at Cormier at his best, when he’s not going through a difficult weight cut, and when he has the punching power to put Stipe Miocic’s lights out. Go do what no one else has done and defeat DC at heavyweight.