Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson 2 should have been a rematch for the ages. Sure, the Daniel Cormier rivalry offered some spark but their first fight wasn’t particularly close. On the other hand, Gustafsson can legitimately claim that he won their first meeting three rounds to two. Sure, losing to Anthony Johnson and Daniel Cormier hurt his stock but he’s one of the few marquee match-ups left at light heavyweight. A more convincing beating would go a long way in cementing his place among the greats.
And now it genuinely won’t matter.
Jon Jones won the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship at the age of 23, and it wasn’t close. He’d opened as the favorite against Shogun Rua, but no one expected the one-sided beat down that followed. With the exception of Gustafsson, none of Jones’s opponents looked like they even stood a chance.
At six-foot-four with a ludicrous 84-inch reach, Jones is like if the smartest kid in the class got an extra hour for the test. Credited with popularizing the oblique kick to the leg, Jones is the finest out-fighter of his generation. Fighters have to get inside his range to be effective and will eat a bevy of stamina-sapping kicks for their troubles. His kicks are so incredible that they hide the fact that Jones is a so-so boxer.
Since he has so much time to observe his opponent, no trick works twice against him. This was why Gustafsson went from out-pointing Jones to getting countered in the championship rounds.
But getting inside may be even worse.
Jones may be the best wrestler in UFC history, holding that spot alongside Georges St-Pierre. His ability to slam grown men to the canvas from a clinch is absurd, given his frame. Once grounded, his opponent finds himself ensnared in Jon’s limbs and sliced open with surgical elbows. Even if he doesn’t hit the takedown, Jones’s clinch game is monstrous. The fact that Cormier, one of the premier clinch fighters of this generation, couldn’t work him properly speaks volumes.
Almost the greatest
Despite his trouble with the law, there was a period when Jones was being considered as the greatest of all time. Idiocy outside the ring and brilliance inside it are not mutually exclusive, after all.
Even if the light heavyweight division only had two or three top-tier fighters, no one even had an idea how to beat Jones. He was so good in every facet that we grasped at straws, inventing fantastical scenarios in which he’d suffer defeat. Some say Anthony Johnson would have tested Jones with his power, but who are we kidding? Admirable as his power is, swinging overhands and uppercuts won’t flummox a defensive virtuoso like Jones. Gustafsson surprised us with his stride length and quick hands which forced Jones into a boxing match for much of the first three rounds. Even then, it was marginal point-fighting against the vicious knees and elbows Jones would land later.
But due to extended absences from the ring and shallow competition at light heavyweight, Jones was just a smidge short of the GOAT moniker. And now, he’ll never get it.
Jon Jones can never be the greatest
Remember that as soon as stricter drug testing went into effect, multiple fighters tested dirty and others declined physically at an alarming rate. There’s a general understanding that UFC fighters could have used PEDs and gotten away with it but barring the discovery of time travel, we have to assume fighters from that bygone era were clean.
But getting popped multiple times? A few people commented that the only time we can be sure Jones wasn’t juicing was his fight with Ovince Saint Preux, in which he looked notably slower and less impressive. They were only half-joking.
Jones was probably the best athlete in UFC history not named Georges St-Pierre. The physical strength he had to go along with his lanky frame made him a terror at any range. It nearly pulled Glover Texeira’s arm out of its socket and rendered Daniel Cormier’s takedown attempts useless. For a fighter like him to test dirty multiple times looks especially bad.
It calls into question all his previous feats at light heavyweight. Yes, fans will vehemently defend him but that doubt will always linger.
Georges St-Pierre was the greatest welterweight of all time, a two-division champion and may also be getting a fight with Nurmagomedov soon. Max Holloway has flattened one of the UFC’s most talented divisions in less than three years and may do so again at lightweight. These are the types of competition Jon Jones has to become the GOAT. Now, it’s closed off forever.
He doesn’t have enough credibility or leeway anymore. There aren’t enough marquee match-ups left to build his legacy on the few years he has left. One of the greatest talents in combat sports history has disqualified himself from its highest honor by no one’s fault but his own.
A fight is like wood carving; multifaceted, beautiful and it'll leave you hurting if you get thrown into one. I have puns like perforated edges: tear-able.