UFC Champion Jon Jones: The Early Favorite for 2013's Fighter of the Year

Clinton BullockFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2013

Apr 27, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Jon Jones  during a press conference after UFC 159 at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There are a plethora UFC fighters who have had stand-out performances during the first half of 2013. Some of these combatants include Urijah Faber, Mark Hunt, Wanderlei Silva and UFC Bantamweight champion Rhonda Rousey.

However, taking into account current champions, their dominance and reign over their respective divisions, the only individual who fits this mold is the current UFC Light Heavyweight champion, Jon Jones.

(Disclaimer: Since Anderson Silva, the undisputed, longest-reigning champion in UFC history will not fight during the first half of this year, he could not be considered as an early 2013 favorite).  

Since becoming the youngest world champion in the UFC two years ago at age 23, Jones has handled all fighters—even former world champions—with ease. His 6’4” stature, in conjunction with his 84.5-inch reach, grants him a significant advantage over all his opponents. The New York native generally utilizes this length to keep his opponents at the end of his strikes.

At the same time, Jones’ ground game is unparalleled. A takedown by Jones usually results in a submission or technical knockout by strikes. His amateur wrestling background appears to have parlayed well into the world of mixed martial arts. Jones has even used this strength to win bouts against other, more accomplished wrestlers such as Matt Hamill, Ryan Bader, Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen.

On April 27, 2013, at UFC 159, Jones fought Sonnen in a bout that tested the champions’ will and ability to remain calm under pressure. The Oregon native closed the distance and rushed Jones at the beginning of the first round, throwing punch after punch. Many of the punches landed, as Jones attempted to control the damage by clinching.

Unwilling to abandon his game plan under duress, the champion eventually secured a couple of takedowns. The last one resulted in Sonnen being placed on his back, and being cut by one of Jones’ elbows in the process. After not responding to several blows, the bout was stopped.

Jones had retained his title once again.

It was later revealed that upon taking Sonnen down, Jones had broken his big toe on his left foot. Regarding his broken toe, at the UFC 159 post-fight conference, the champion stated:

“My coaches wouldn’t have allowed me to give up like that. I can’t sit here and allow myself to sit out, because of a twisted toe. My coaches would’ve allowed that either. So I’m sure one of them would have tried to snag another to straighten it out and send me back out there.”

However, the bout wouldn’t have continued into the second round had Sonnen survived the 27 seconds left in the first round. According to UFC President Dana White, “the doctor would have stopped the fight,” and the Oregon native would have then wrested away the title from Jones on a technicality.

Jones’ ability to produce highlight finish reels (he sports an 83 percent finish rate) and perform well during high-profile matches separates him from many of his fellow UFC comrades.

In addition to his resiliency, the champion has never been taken down in the UFC. This statistic speaks volumes when considering the amount of elite wrestlers in the light heavyweight division.

Respecting the champion’s takedown defense to the highest degree, Sonnen, a former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, never once shot for a takedown against Jones at UFC 159. The “American Gangster” is known for grinding out wins by placing his opponents on their back and churning out a decision.

However, Sonnen was consistently taken down by the light heavyweight champion and eventually kept there for the win.

Aside from retaining his title, beating a high-level wrestler with a broken toe, keeping his takedown defense at 100 percent and adding another win to his illustrious career, the Jones/Sonnen bout was significant in that it placed Jones at the threshold of becoming the greatest UFC Light Heavyweight champion ever.

Regarding the latter title, after his bout with Sonnen, Jones stated:

“I know a lot of people don’t like when someone aspire[s] to be the greatest at something. Maybe it sounds arrogant, but I owe it to myself. Aspiring to the greatest is something that I owe to myself, and that’s what I want to be is the greatest, and I believe that’s what will happen eventually.”

At UFC 159, by successfully defending his title against Sonnen, Jones tied former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz’s record for most consecutive title defenses. At the moment, he is considered one of the best UFC Light Heavyweight champions to ever compete in the octagon.

Just one more successful title defense later this year will deem him, at least statistically, the greatest, most complete light heavyweight champion of all-time.