Jon “Bones” Jones has been perched atop the UFC’s light heavyweight division for a little over two years. With a victory over Chael Sonnen at UFC 159, he will have successfully defended his belt five times in a row, tying the mark set by former champion Tito Ortiz—which has stood for over 10 years.
Jones is currently sharing second place with two of the all-time greats: Frank Shamrock and UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell. Should Jones secure a sixth straight title defense, would that make him the greatest UFC light heavyweight ever?
I am not necessarily saying no. Yet, I am not immediately compelled to say yes, simply for the fact that anointing a fighter as the greatest ever in their respected division requires more of an archetype than just title defenses. More on that later, but first the subject in question.
Jones has finished three out of his four title defenses, submitting the likes of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort. All of those were extremely impressive. Were they as impressive as Chuck Liddell’s four straight knockouts in his title defenses? Maybe that depends on your subjective flavor of violence.
Jones, in many pundits' opinions, gets the nod in level of competition on his current streak, yet Chuck Liddell took out UFC Hall of Famers Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz in his four-fight reign. No other light heavyweight champ can lay claim to that feat.
Keep in mind this is still a comparison of title-defense streaks, not overall careers. Look at it this way: Tito Ortiz, who currently owns the record of five straight, would never be considered a greater champion than Chuck Liddell, or even Frank Shamrock, since “The Legend” defeated him the only time they fought and vacated the belt afterward. Had he not done so, we could be talking about Jones trying to surpass his record of maybe even more than five straight.
Liddell and Shamrock both defeated Ortiz, but never fought each other. We can only assume how Jones would fare versus either of the three, but we will never know for sure.
Judging who the best ever is never exactly, well, an exact science.
Since Jones is only 25 years old and still has plenty of time left in his career, he could very well end up being the best light heavyweight of all time. Even if he breaks Ortiz’s record, it’s still too early to anoint him as the greatest. Winning 16 fights inside the division with 10 career knockouts in your career like Chuck Liddell, those are some examples needed to meet the criteria of an all-time light heavyweight king, in this writer’s opinion.
Jones' rise to prominence as the currently ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound UFC fighter is indeed a distinct and special era in the history of the UFC. Let’s face it, the UFC was begging for someone to stay at the top of the division for more than one fight after Liddell lost his invincibility and his title to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
From “Rampage” on through Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, the light heavyweight division was a revolving door that featured five champions in six fights. There were only two successful title defenses out of the five fighters combined, and the oft predicted “Machida era” never materialized. Jones rose to great heights in a short period of time, and brought forth a name and a mystique along with a skill set and dynamic fighting style not yet seen in MMA.
We’ve only seen a glimpse of his career. He could go on to break Ortiz’s streak, win the rest of his fights and retire with never being truly defeated. However, with so many ways to lose in MMA, there may also be a day where we have to talk about how he lost his last three fights by knockout like Chuck Liddell and should call it a day. By that time, there may be another phenom who has entered the discussion of greatest ever.
If there was a Mt. Rushmore of the greatest light heavyweights in UFC history, Jon Jones face would be etched in stone. He is already the best of his era.
So again, if Jon Jones breaks Tito Ortiz’s streak of five straight title defenses, is he the greatest light heavyweight ever? I say no. Even if he breaks it, we still need to see more.