Transcendent athletes are few and far between, sometimes arriving once per generation. By all measures, they're mere mortals—ostensibly no different than any of us. They, too, are made of flesh and blood.
But that doesn't explain why they're capable of such feats of athleticism, does it?
They breathe a rarified air. They know there are limitations in effect—they just choose to ignore them and press forward.
MMA has had its fair share of fighters that reached for the stratosphere and nearly punctured its upper limits—Fedor Emelianenko and Anderson Silva are part of an elite few that redefined the potential for a fighter.
But then there's Jon Jones.
Emelianenko's unbeaten streak doubles the present length of Jones' career. Anderson Silva was demoralizing opponents long before the notion of competitive fighting had even entered the young champion's mind.
Why, then, is this 25-year-old wunderkind constantly discussed in the company of such giants?
Jones is built from a similar mold as that of many MMA greats—physically daunting, unpredictable, and supremely confident. With each consecutive victory, he pays homage to their prior successes. He does, after all, tread upon the foundation they've sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears to build.
But "Bones" only shares their mold at this juncture in his championship reign. What's to come is far more daunting. He morphs and evolves at an unprecedented rate—the fighter he is in 2013 will pale in comparison to the fighter he'll be the year after.
He's quickly filling the cracks in that mold—plugging up any holes in a quest for nothing less than invincibility.
When he finds solace and satisfaction in his accomplishments, Jones will have marked his place in history as the most dominant fighter to have ever competed.
What started as an effort to determine the best martial art of them all, ultimately proved that specialization is never the key to victory. MMA has demonstrated that a strong grappler can nullify even the most devastating striker. Likewise, ground skills aren't necessarily the key to defeating a fighter with grenades for fists.
The hybrid fighter—capable of honing all specialties into one, sinister concoction—will almost always defeat one who spends too much time refining an individual aspect of the fight game.
It's not a novel idea.
Georges St. Pierre laid claim to the Welterweight throne by training with decorated wrestlers, refining his boxing with trainer extraordinaire Freddie Roach and somehow squeezing in gymnastics for all-around dexterity and strength. Anderson Silva managed to offset his Chute Box Muay Thai with a prestigious BJJ black belt from friend and training partner, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
But none are able to execute these various forms with the lethality of Jon Jones.
In the beating heart of Jackson's MMA, head coach Greg Jackson molds Jones into the fighter of the future. No trade secret is left uncovered—defensive and offensive wrestling is drilled relentlessly, with interludes of submission grappling squeezed in-between.
Jackson's manifesto to the world of MMA is made real in Jones.
He has myriad abilities, but mercy isn't one of them. Rampage Jackson placed too much weight on his lead leg—Jones capitalized on the opportunity with an oblique knee kick. Vitor Belfort raised his arms a bit too high—Jones responded with a turning side kick to the liver.
Shortly before the Ryan Bader fight, he observed fellow training partner and Jackson's MMA superstar, Georges St. Pierre, training a variation of the guillotine choke. He figured he'd try it the night of his own fight. With a special twist courtesy of his long arms, it worked like a charm—Bader was tapping before he knew what hit him.
No technique is too risky to try, every untested method is worth pioneering—that is the ethos of Jones' craft when he steps foot inside the Octagon.
His repertoire is perpetually expanding with each, successive fight. At the ripe age of 25, we're only seeing the developmental years of his handiwork. The vicious ground-and-pound, slick submissions, creative kicks, and slicing elbows are only going to grow in number and efficiency.
If he continues on this path, Jones will become the definitive mixed martial artist.
Put simply: his physique defies any semblance of the prototypical light heavyweight fighter.
He's a towering 6'4'—certainly an impressive height, for a heavyweight. With an outlandish 84.5" reach, his wingspan certainly pairs well with his height.
Viewing him beside an ordinary light heavyweight feels somewhat inappropriate.
At those dimensions, physics and mechanics start to come into play. His elbow and shoulder joints function as counter levers for additional pressure and pull. If Jones secures an s-grip under your chin, it may be lights out. Lyoto Machida knows this all too well—the former champion was put to sleep while still standing.
He treats his elbows like sharpened katanas—shoulders propel each bent arm with laser-guided precision. With a single downward elbow, he literally shattered Brandon Vera's eye socket into splintered fragments.
He's not the first to gain notoriety for ground-and-pound but he's certainly the most memorable. It's not that others didn't want to produce that kind of force, it's more that they simply couldn't.
Fortunately for Bones, his legs complement his arms. He can practically start a kick on one side of the cage and finish it on the other. He famously claimed the belt with a series of strikes—against then-champion Shogun Rua—that culminated in a brilliantly timed knee.
He doesn't just like to throw them in an orthodox manner, he prefers to make them spin.
Jon Jones has no rivals in his abilities not just because training and natural skill—he's granted physical gifts that bewilder and mesmerize any who dare oppose him.
He's unleashed those assets before and he won't hesitate doing so as he moves through future contenders.
He's not particularly opposed to taking his work home with him, either.
The Light Heavyweight Champion is notorious for his nearly obsessive study of his opponent's fight footage. Jones will meticulously analyze the other fighter's mannerisms and idiosyncrasies in a quest to expose crucial weaknesses. Alongside head coach Greg Jackson and striking coach Mike Winkeljohn, he'll pick apart the habits that title contenders can't avoid.
In that sense, Jones comes to a fight with a decisive advantage: cunning and intellect.
He reinforces his training, skill and physical gifts with a rigorous work ethic. He makes no sacrifices in preparation—failure is never a consideration.
Champions have fallen in unfortunate ways—egos grew so large that the Octagon could no longer contain them. They grew so confident in their skills that they voluntarily dropped guard and exposed vulnerabilities.
Jones trains physically and mentally to prevent that from ever becoming his reality.
When Vitor Belfort locked in a tight armbar, Jones managed to muster enough courage and determination to squirm his way out of it. He later remarked that "he'd never had his arm pop like that before."
Against Lyoto Machida, he showed deference and respect to his opponent's striking—cautiously timing his punches and kicks in order to keep Machida at bay.
With all the reasons to become a reckless juggernaut, Jones manages to remain composed, cool and collected.
Just consider, if only for a moment, that Jon Jones has yet to reach his physical prime.
Time is still on his side.
He rose from obscurity to the world's premiere fight organization. He then rocketed up the ranks towards title contention. He ripped the belt away from a former Pride Champion and has kept it ever since.
He did it all before he even began the second half of his twenties.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Physically speaking, he's still growing accustomed to what his body can accomplish. His genuine potential is unforeseen and unknown. Statistically speaking, he's only started to perform to his maximum potential.
Jon Jones is an anomaly in every way—he managed to reach the pinnacle of a weight division without a decade's worth of experience.
Though the sands of time continue to tumble, they're doing so in his favor. With each and every outing, Jones unveils another demonstration of the unstoppable force he's destined to become.
UFC 159 was, for all intents and purposes, a mismatch. It filled an undesirable void, yet did so superficially. MMA fans and pundits were less concerned with Sonnen's chances at victory than they were with exactly how he'd succumb to defeat.
That's the glass half empty perspective.
The repercussion of Jones vs Sonnen was revealed during the UFC 159 post-fight press conference. When asked to compare Jon Jones to Anderson Silva, Sonnen offered a sly but profound assessment of the matter:
(Jon) is a lot better than I thought he was. To beat a guy is one thing. To beat a guy at his game is another. He’s the best fighter I’ve ever fought...He was stronger than Silva. The last thing I want to do is disparage Anderson Silva. It’s tough. I whipped him for 30 minutes. He whipped me for 30 seconds. I whipped Jon for zero seconds. He whipped me the entire fight. If you’re asking me for my opinion, Jon’s better.
Powerful words when delivered from a man who experienced the full fury of both the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked fighters currently competing in MMA.
Sonnen's outlook is anecdotal and subjective, likely to remain unconfirmed unless that superfight finally materializes.
Worse yet, debating its outcome will offend some and enrage others.
Whether or not their paths cross, Silva and Jones are likely to continue their indirect struggle for the top spot in all of mixed martial arts. Jones will proceed to amass a heap of light heavyweight bodies until the greener pastures of the the heavyweight division come calling, whereas Silva will opt to pick apart whoever is left standing at middleweight.
If all the pieces fall into place—availability, venues, and signed contracts all resolved—perhaps Jones will be able to literally overcome the undisputed pound-for-pound Brazilian.
If not, a 38-year-old Silva will eventually submit to Father Time. He'll retire with an unrivaled track record, one filled with more quantifiable achievements than thought possible.
But the sport will rush forward in his absence.
With legacy cemented, Silva will either face-off against the light heavyweight kingpin, or move on to the next chapter of his life and allow his younger successor to claim the throne.
Whether directly or indirectly, Jones is on a path that leads to a singular destination.
He won't leave it up for debate—when all is said and done, Jon Jones will make sure that he's the most dominant fighter to have ever competed in mixed martial arts.