UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones wanted a challenge. He may have got more than he bargained for.
The pound-for-pound king of mixed martial arts overcame the fight of his life at UFC 165 on Saturday night in Toronto, surviving a valiant effort from unheralded challenger Alexander Gustafsson in front of over 15,000 fans at the Air Canada Centre.
In a heated war of attrition, Jones rallied back from a strong start by the Swedish contender to win a unanimous decision and successfully defend his throne for the sixth time, setting the all-time UFC record for consecutive 205-pound title defenses.
To Rematch or Not to Rematch?
That is the question.
Immediately following Jones’ gutsy title defense, talks of an immediate rematch surfaced at the post-fight press conference.
UFC president Dana White stopped short of guaranteeing Gustafsson another crack at the belt, but the proposition isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
After all, Glover Texeira may be riding an impressive 20-fight winning streak, but he has yet to fight anyone in the top 10 of his division. There’s something to be said about guaranteeing someone a title shot and then taking it back. But it wouldn’t be the first time a title contender was stuck in limbo.
Gustafsson is undoubtedly the most compelling title challenger at this stage. In fact, many observers thought he could have warranted the decision. It certainly wasn’t a robbery, but it was much closer than anyone could have ever imagined.
In a "Fight of the Night" effort and a "Fight of the Year" contender, Jones struggled with his repeated takedown attempts, while Gustafsson became the first man to take the Jackson’s MMA prodigy down. That was a moral victory in and of itself, but the 26-year-old Swede didn’t stop there. He pressured the champion from start to finish, walking through his leg kicks, head kicks, spinning elbows and other dynamic offensive weapons. A late surge from Jones was the difference maker, but the battered champion limped to the back and he was sent straight to the hospital with bruises and cuts all over his face, joining Gustafsson in the emergency room.
In triumph, the champion proved he can overcome real adversity in a fight. We saw him lose a close round to Lyoto Machida and nearly succumb to an armbar against Vitor Belfort, but he never absorbed the type of damage Gustafsson dished out.
Immediate rematches should be a rarity in the sport. In this case, however, it could be warranted.
Rather than wait in the wings for a title shot, Teixeira could face Gustafsson’s teammate Phil Davis, who just won a contentious decision over Lyoto Machida this past August in Brazil.
Daniel Cormier also has his sights set on Jones as he expects to drop to 205 pounds after fighting Roy Nelson next month. He may have to wait for his opportunity as the division’s landscape just got a lot more interesting.
Crowning an Undisputed Bantamweight Champion
Interim 135-pound torchbearer Renan Barao delivered another scintillating performance, flooring durable challenger Eddie Wineland with a sensational spinning back kick to earn "Knockout of the Night" honors.
Barao has defeated nearly all the top contenders in his division, from Urijah Faber to Michael McDonald and now Wineland.
The Brazilian berserker has now won 21 consecutive fights. At the post-fight presser, White compared him to boxing great Floyd Mayweather, perhaps the greatest compliment one could receive in combat sports.
Still, Barao needs to lose the "interim" label to cement his place as a pound-for-pound star.
An undisputed title fight opposite Dominick Cruz is now a no-brainer. The 28-year-old California native has the unenviable task of facing Barao after sitting on the sidelines for over two years, but it’s the only option saving him from being stripped of the title.
In comparing similar opponents, Barao has arguably done better for himself against the likes of Faber and Scott Jorgensen. He has all the tools to rule the division for years to come, but unifying the titles would go a long way in solidifying his place among the sport’s elite.
Meanwhile, the inaugural WEC bantamweight champion Wineland will look to rebound from the first real knockout setback of his career. Wilson Reis made a successful promotional debut on the undercard, outworking Ivan Menjivar to earn a unanimous decision. A matchup between the two could be a sensible option for their next Octagon appearances.
Schaub Showcases Submission Prowess
A lackadaisical effort against Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu on the sophomore Metamoris submission grappling card led to significant scrutiny about Schaub’s real grappling skills.
But the 30-year-old former NFL hopeful reinvented himself on Saturday night, bombarding Matt Mitrione with a multi-punch combination before securing a takedown and latching onto a tight D’Arce choke, rendering his fellow Ultimate Fighter alum unconscious in the opening frame.
Schaub is back on track since his successive knockout losses against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Ben Rothwell, but talks of a top 10 opponent could still be premature.
The increasingly deep heavyweight division has plenty of potential options for Schaub. White hinted at Schaub stepping in as a replacement for an upcoming heavyweight bout.
If the fight fails to materialize, Schaub, who credits a new camp focused on Olympic-style training for his career resurgence, could fight hulking knockout artist Todd Duffee, who owns the record for the quickest knockout in heavyweight history.
Other Fights to Make:
Francis Carmont vs. Yushin Okami – It wasn’t pretty and it rarely is, but the 31-year-old Frenchman Carmont turned in his most impressive performance to date, controlling top 10 middleweight Constantinos Philippou over the course of three one-sided rounds. The close friend and training partner of welterweight titleholder Georges St-Pierre has endured constant criticism for his performances, but winning is the name of the game. The rebounding former title challenger Okami also excels with wrestling and clinch warfare, so he would provide a real point of assessment for how good Carmont really is.
Constantinos Philippou vs. Derek Brunson – Any momentum Philippou had in the middleweight division came to a screeching halt as he was flattened and controlled by Carmont throughout 15 minutes. In a forgettable Octagon debut, the 29-year-old Brunson earned a unanimous decision over fan favorite Chris Leben. A clash between the two is a plausible pairing.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Winner of Gilbert Melendez-Diego Sanchez – Still perfect after 21 professional appearances, Nurmagomedov enjoyed his finest showing to date, dominating rugged veteran Pat Healy with sublime control and relentless takedowns. The Russian’s sights are now set on the title, but there are plenty of other men in line. Fighting the winner of an upcoming bout between Melendez and Sanchez would certainly move him closer to the fight he desires.
Pat Healy vs. Myles Jury – After a tremendous performance against Jim Miller in his UFC debut, Healy had no answer for Nurmagomedov’s pressure-based offense. The 30-year-old grinder remains an arduous test for anyone in the division. Jury improved to 13-0 on the prelims, getting the better of Tristar Gym product Mike Ricci. At 24 years of age, the sky is the limit for Jury, but Healy would mark his first meaningful test in the upper echelon at 155 pounds.
Stephen Thompson vs. Siyar Bahadurzada – One of the most dynamic pure strikers on the roster, the 30-year-old Thompson showcased the evolution of his wrestling and ground game before ultimately crushing Chris Clements with a second-round flurry. Thompson will always benefit from fighting like-minded standup practitioners, so a showdown against the Afghan standout Bahadurzada could translate into fireworks.
John Makdessi vs. Jamie Varner – Speaking of gifted strikers, the Montreal-based Makdessi turned Brazilian Renee Forte’s lights out with a thunderous first-round combination. Makdessi’s Achilles’ heel is evidently his ground game, so he’ll need to test himself against more experienced competitors versed in the wrestling and submission arts. The former WEC lightweight champion Varner fits the bill perfectly.