UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones (right).
It was nearly an afterthought. The main event at UFC 165, went the narrative, was simply too lopsided to be interesting. Jon Jones, the light heavyweight champ, has too much wrestling. His takedowns are too strong. The UFC, went the jokes, was promoting the fight more with challenger Alexander Gustafsson's height and reach than any actual ability to win.
That, as they say, is why they fight the fights.
Gustafsson and Jones waged a five-round war that instantly went to the top of the Fight of the Year list. And it redeemed a fight card that was pretty lackluster up to that point. Who prevailed Saturday night, and who failed? Here are the grades for every main card fighter.
Result: Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Pat Healy by unanimous decision
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a contender.
Nurmagomedov was a bit wild at first, but came on strong as the fight wore on. The undefeated lightweight, who turned 25 on Friday, was clearly the faster fighter throughout and attacked Healy in bursts of violence. The highlight might have been Nurmagomedov scooping Healy up on his shoulder and fireman-carrying him across the cage before slamming him hard to the canvas.
Healy was a good test, and Nurmagomedov passed with flying colors. He can't be that far from a title shot.
Pat Healy succeeded in making the fight ugly. He just didn't succeed in winning the fight.
Healy was a step behind the Russian all night. He was able to use head movement to evade several big Nurmagomedov uppercuts, but took more and more damage as the rounds counted down, and was never able to mount any steady offense of his own.
Healy will be back, but he was not the better fighter Saturday night.
Result: Francis Carmont def. Costa Philippou by unanimous decision
On the one hand, Carmont dominated a top middleweight Saturday night. On the other hand, he didn't win many friends in the process.
The Frenchman threw a wet blanket on the fiery boxing game of Philippou. Sure, Philippou (or anyone else, for that matter) was free to do something about it if he didn't like it (spoiler: he didn't). But it wasn't the kind of needle-moving performance Carmont probably needed to get into the throne room.
Don't take my word for it, though. Here's what UFC president Dana White tweeted shortly after the fight's conclusion:
Sorry I just woke up! Thank god that's over. We decided a shot of @ChrisWeidmanUFC would be more exciting than the end of the fight.— Dana White (@danawhite) September 22, 2013
The man who knocked out Tim Boetsch was not in attendance at UFC 165. A visibly frustrated Costa Philippou was powerless to respond when Carmont took him to the ground. A few submission attempts were all he could muster, and those went begging.
Eventually, Philippou appeared to simply lose the desire to compete. Not that I can blame him. If Carmont was lying on top of me and making those grunting noises, I'd want to be somewhere else, too.
Result: Brendan Schaub def. Matt Mitrione by Technical submission (D'arce choke), 4:06 of Rd. 1
The action began as one might have expected: Two not-so-technical heavyweights swinging it out in the center of the cage. But the script changed when Schaub hit a double-leg takedown and quickly moved into side control. Only seconds later, Schaub had a tight choke. Mitrione refused to tap and lost consciousness.
Schaub vindicated himself not only as a legitimate MMA heavyweight but as a submission artist. He had taken plenty of Internet ribbing for not exactly acquitting himself too terribly well in a jiu-jitsu tournament earlier this year. No one will invite him to Abu Dhabi anytime soon for choking out Matt Mitrione, but still, it had to feel good.
Matt Mitrione was his usual aggressive self, plowing his way forward and landing a heavy combination early. He also showed his toughness in refusing to tap.
But seriously, Matt, we need to talk about your ground skills. That brief exchange on the mat is exactly what domination looks like. Mitrione didn't have much there, and as a result found himself staring up at the lights.
Result: Renan Barao def. Eddie Wineland by TKO, 0:26, Rd. 2
Forget interim. Barao is the best bantamweight in the game right now.
The "interim" champ battled through a close first round to score a highlight-reel spinning back-kick TKO of Wineland early in the second. As lineal titlist Dominick Cruz continues to molder on the sidelines as he rehabs from knee surgery, it appears the well-rounded Barao might have blown past him on the power rankings.
In any event, a unification bout between Barao and Cruz—if it ever happens—will be quite the happening.
The best thing about Wineland's performance was his constant head movement. It may have also inadvertently been his downfall.
Wineland was feinting throughout, making himself difficult to hit. It might have been enough to help him win the first round. But early in the second, bad luck reared its ugly head, and Wineland ducked perfectly into a Barao spinning back kick. Take nothing away from Barao's kick, which would have knocked over a mailbox. But Wineland accidentally helped him out by putting his head in perfect position.
Division: Light heavyweight
Result: Jon Jones def. Alexander Gustafsson by unanimous decision
For the first time in his UFC career, Jon Jones had to get dirty. He pulled it out of the fire, but not one second of the effort was easy.
For us fans, though, this was one of the easiest Jones fights to enjoy. If it isn't Fight of the Year, I'd love to see the winner. Early on, Jones appeared flat, from his feet on up to his brain. Gustafsson was staying out of danger while delivering plenty of bad news of his own. But Jones rallied, landing big knees and elbows when he could, busting Gustafsson open and finally landing the takedown that had eluded him on five, count them, five previous tries.
Jones ended up in pretty bad condition, cut open over his eye and limping like an old man afterward. In fact, it turns out he needed immediate medical attention:
Jones was loaded into a stretcher and is presumably being taken to the hospital. Far worse shape than Alex, who conducted a few interviews.— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) September 22, 2013
He also left with the belt. He's still the best and this was his most scintillating fight. If you missed it, find a way to rectify that. You owe it to yourself.
Gustafsson far surpassed expectations when, as a massive underdog, he went the distance with the champ. It was a testament to his performance that pundits seemed genuinely unsure whose name Bruce Buffer would call afterward.
Who would have thought these two would end up tied for takedowns? Both landed one, despite Jones trying far more frequently. The Swede became the first UFC fighter to take Jones down, and the first UFC fighter to cut the champ open. And don't let the boyish blonde visage fool you; Gustafsson has a chin of granite.
It was an amazing fight, and it created a memory on an otherwise unmemorable night. That's all thanks to the more-than-game title challenger that was Alexander Gustafsson.
Scott Harris is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report MMA. Follow him on Twitter for more stuff.