Jon Jones has never looked human.
The UFC light heavyweight champion has dominated in every single bout, manhandling foes in unprecedented fashion. Strikers, grapplers, wrestlers—none have come close to dethroning the champ.
Alexander Gustaffson was supposed to be just another statistic. A mark on the ledger, a name on the resume. Instead, he showed that Jones is far from perfect. The Swedish striker pushed Jones to his limit for the first time in the champion's UFC career.
It was the performance of Gustafsson's life. He defended the takedown, beat Jones to the punch and gave him everything he had for 25-minutes.
And even that was not enough. Jones, utilizing a spinning elbow and kicks from all angles, was able to prevail on the judges' scorecards.
But it wasn't easy. And that, as faint as it seems on the surface, is heavy praise for Gustafsson. He fought the best in the world to a standstill. It's a bout we'll remember for a long time.
Jones, of course, wasn't the night's only winner. In the following slides, I run down the winners, and losers, from a fight card that will best be remembered for its final two bouts.
Have some winners and losers of your own? Let me hear them in the comments.
Jon Jones was supposed to be something more than human—his shirt even said so on his way into the Octagon.
But Alexander Gustafsson didn't believe it. He may have been alone, but he truly believed he could win the fight. After five long, grueling rounds, he nearly did.
Jones took a decision win, but it was Gustafsson who walked away with the glory. He proved a lot to himself and his doubters.
Statistically it was an unbelievably close fight. Jones, according to Fight Metric, landed 137 strikes during the bout. Gustafsson was right behind with 114. Thought the numbers only mean so much in a sport that often scores quality above quantity, they are a good sign that each round was won on a razor thin margin.
Somehow, I suspect this isn't the last time we'll see this fight. UFC president Dana White seemed keen on an immediate rematch at the post-fight press conference. I can't wait.
Wow. What else can you say about Renan Barao?
The UFC interim bantamweight champion made the MMA world say "Dominick Cruz who?" with a dynamic spinning back kick right to challenger Eddie Wineland's face.
Who does that?
According to Joe Rogan, nobody. It's the first of its kind in UFC history. Others, notably Vitor Belfort, have scored wins with the kick's cousin, the spinning wheel kick. But no one has done it like that.
"I've always tried that [in fights]," Barao said after the bout, explaining he couldn't practice it much without hurting his training partners. "This time it worked."
Cruz, the injured 135-pound champ, has been out for nearly two years with injuries. At this point, in my mind at least, he's the challenger when he returns—if he returns.
Barao is the real champion. The road to the top of the division goes through him.
The fact that I've never been a big believer in Brendan Schaub is no secret. In this business, you put your money where your mouth is, and I've been outspoken about the heavyweight's limitations.
On the surface, there's nothing not to like. He's strong, fast and hits hard. But he also juts his chin out all the time and leave copious openings for his opponents. He's susceptible to a solid grappler on the mat.
Most important of all? He can't take a hard shot, limiting his potential in the heavyweight division.
On some nights, though, like this one, his opponent will fail to take advantage of giant holes. When that happens, he has the talent to look truly spectacular. He beat Matt Mitrione fair, square and impressively.
Despite that, I'm still not sold. Call me a hater if you must—but I'm not on board the Schaub hype train. I just don't think he has what it takes to make an extended run to the top.
Francis Carmont spent 12:05 of a 15-minute fight laying on top of Costa Philippou. He wasn't able to land any really hard strikes or secure a near submission. But he stayed busy, and it resulted in a dominant decision win.
As my old coach used to say, a win is a win is a win. Carmont got his hand raised, making him a winner in every literal sense of the word.
But, and I suspect you felt the "but" coming, Carmont's success was the product of a fighting style that, frankly, is dull as dirt. He's a training partner of UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. Is it really that he has the same philosophy GSP does?
The goal is to minimize risk at all costs. So far, it's worked well for Carmont, who is 6-0 in the UFC. Eventually, however, his boss is going to want to see some more fireworks. You can get by in the UFC as a boring ground specialist, but it will most certainly slow your career to a crawl.
Carmont won't get cut winning fights like this, but UFC matchmaker Joe Silva isn't planning his route to a title shot either. Like it or not, the UFC is both sport and entertainment. If Carmont wins, but doesn't win over fans, his future is murky.
That's not ideal—but it's reality.
For a moment, 25-year-old Russian grappler Khabib Nurmagomedov was eerily reminiscent of Matt Hughes. For those not well-versed in UFC history, that's a good thing. Hughes was one of the most decorated fighters ever to walk into the Octagon and the master of the slam.
Nurmagomedov, doing his best Hughes impression, plucked a game Pat Healy off the ground and literally ran across the cage carrying his opponent on his shoulders. Once he built up a head of steam, Nurmagomedov deposited him with a thud heard across the city of Toronto.
Hughes used to walk around the cage and look for the hard spots before his bout so he could dump his opponent where it would hurt the most. No word on whether or not Nurmagomedov did that too, but it might be a good idea for future fights.
Healy, a gutty journeyman, was a test, one that Nurmagomedov passed with ease. Now 21-0, his next fight will be against a major player in the division.
After that? There's not limits to what this young man can achieve.
If you're a young fighter looking to make an impact, a spot on the televised portion of a UFC event is a gift. A million or more fans will tune in and, with the right performance, you can find yourself skyrocketing up the card and into the consciousness of the sport's intensely loyal fans.
Of course, there's a flipside to that too. Two young prospects like Ricci and Jury can quickly develop a reputation for being boring fighters—something that's hard to shake.
UFC 165 was a good start on a bad path for both men, who landed a combined 47 strikes in 15 minutes.
We had a good laugh when we first saw the UFC's cheesy "heads exploding" ad on YouTube. I figured it was an attempt to go viral. It may have even worked in some small way.
But putting it on national television? As the primary ad to promote your best fighter?
I don't have words for that kind of decision making, at least none I can share in polite company. Perplexing and, as a fan of MMA, frankly a little embarrassing too.
As a South Carolina native, I can tell you that we don't always do so well on lists like this.
We're 40th on the percentage of population with a High School diploma list, 42nd in median household income, but first in apparel with the word "cocks" on it.
So, as a former Gamecock, I'm proud to name South Carolina a winner on this list. Not only did Stephen Thompson beat Chris Clements by knockout, but his father Ray was called "the toughest man in South Carolina" on national television.
Sounds like a winner to me.
I'll say this for John Makdessi—the man is a closer.
He caught his doppelganger Renee Forte with a punch behind the ear. It's a blow that will drop almost anyone to the mat. It's a also a blow that, with time, a fighter can often shake off to regain their equilibrium and get back into the bout.
Not against Makdessi.
The striker, who trains with Georges St-Pierre at the TriStar gym in Canada, pounced on his fallen foe, allowing him no time to recover. Punch after punch landed right on Forte's chin.
For a fighter, that's absolutely the right instinct. Makdessi is supposed to go hard until he's stopped. This only becomes a problem when no one steps in to stop the carnage.
Referee Todd Anderson, asleep on the job, allowed an unconscious Forte to take several unanswered punches. That's dangerous, and flat-out unacceptable.
Refereeing a combat sport is beyond difficult. It requires near-perfect judgement, timing and understanding of what's happening in the cage. If a ref doesn't have those qualities, he or she doesn't belong in the cage. It's as simple as that.
Jon Jones defeats Alexander Gustafsson by unanimous decison (49-46, 48-47, 48-47)
Renan Barao defeats Eddie Wineland by TKO via spinning back kick at 0:35 of Round 2
Brendan Schaub defeats Matt Mitrione by submission via d'Arce choke at 4:06 of Round 1
Francis Carmont defeats Costa Philippou by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Khabib Nurmagomedov defeats Pat Healy by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Myles Jury defeats Mike Ricci by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Wilson Reis defeats Ivan Menjivar by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Stephen Thompson defeats Chris Clements by TKO via punches at 1:27 of Round 2
Mitch Gagnon defeats Dustin Kimura by technical submission via guillotine choke at 4:05 of Round 1
John Makdessi defeats Renee Forte by KO via punches at 2:01 of Round 1
Michel Prazeres defeats Jesse Ronson by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Alex Caceres defeats Roland Delorme by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Daniel Omielanczuk defeats Nandor Guelmino by TKO via punches at 3:18 of Round 3