Jones on verge of unprecedented year
Jon Jones is on the verge of potentially a historic year in 2011. With Thursday’s announcement that he’ll be taking on former champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 140 in Toronto, Jones is positioned to have the single greatest year a fighter can have in MMA history.
Why? Because he’ll have defeated four legitimate top-10 light heavyweights in one calendar year if he gets past Machida.
While that proposition is far from certain, as Machida’s counter-punching style seems inherently designed to give Jones enough fits to make him commit a mistake, we have to consider the ramifications of where Jones started out the year to where he’s ending it to give him some sort of historical context. Even the great and mighty Fedor Emilianenko had subpar opponents in between his battles with the legends of Pride. We’ve never experienced anything like this before in MMA history and what makes it remarkable is Jones' story itself.
He’s a fighter with such a rapid rise from unknown prospect to potential title holder to dominant champion that it is amazing. To begin the year he was a future champion, a guy a year or two away from a title fight at most, but someone who was still raw. He was a young gun, hungry and not waiting for his shot at a belt. He was the future of MMA, or so we thought.
Take a look at Jones' progression from touted prospect to dominant champion in such a short time:
— February 5, 2011: He takes down and dismantles Ryan Bader, an undefeated prospect on his way up like Jones.
— March 19, 2011: On six weeks’ notice he dominates champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, then the No. 1-ranked light heavyweight in the world, in spectacular fashion to win the UFC light heavyweight title.
— Sept. 24, 2011: Six months later, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson gets submitted for the first time in his UFC career by Jones in the fourth round after being thoroughly outclassed for three rounds.
And now he stands as the sport’s present and on the precipice of all-time greatness with a fight against another top fighter in Machida. With a win he instantly has to be elevated to the same air that Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre currently occupy, which is scary for one reason: he’s not even a finished fighter in terms of his skill set. For all the talk of Jones being the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, he’s not as complete or polished as either Silva or GSP.
With all his talents and gifts as a fighter, which are more than any fighter in the sport, Jones doesn't have the sort of finishing touches more experienced fighters have. It’s the one thing that has separated him so far from everyone else; there’s a newness to many of the techniques that stands out from more nuanced and versed practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai (among others). They’re still devastating but not as crisp and clean-looking. Despite his domination of Rampage a short while ago, the one area where Jackson did look much better than Jones was in his boxing. Jackson has spent years honing and working on his craft and it shows in how he throws punches and in his setups.
Jones doesn’t have that polish in his overall game that other fighters do, but his sheer athletic ability is compensating for it. The fact that he’s running roughshod over so many fighters makes it that much more impressive. It would be one thing if he was grinding out decisions using his wrestling and strikes; that would be understandable considering his pedigree in that area. But the fact that he’s using solid but not spectacular strikes, among other things, and still managing to dominate fighters who have much more experience than he has is remarkable. Jones may be the best light heavyweight in the world, but there’s a newness to how he does things that only goes away after years of intensive training.
It’s what makes the Machida fight that much more important. If he can get past a man who decidedly finished Rashad Evans — who was next in line for a title shot but couldn’t be ready in time for a December fight due to a lingering hand injury — Jones will have done something unprecedented in combat sports.
The year 2011 may have been a volatile one for many reasons but if he can do this, if he can get past another top contender in a short amount of time, then 2011 will have to be considered The Year of Jon Jones.