Alexander Gustafsson was not supposed to push UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones to his physical and mental limits inside the Octagon.
The Swedish striker was such an overwhelming underdog, in fact, that the UFC was forced to focus its marketing strategy on his height and reach. If his actual technique and skill seemed wholly incapable of winning the title, perhaps his size would do the trick?
But one man alone believed Gustafsson could beat Jon Jones. When I talked to him two months ago, he believed. And he went right on believing through the fifth and final round of an instant classic in Toronto.
Gustafsson knew he had the particular combination of striking, takedown defense and, yes, reach, to win the fight. And he was almost right.
For five rounds, he battered the champion. So badly, in fact, that he reportedly sent him straight to the hospital:
Perhaps more importantly, he also took away Jones' supposedly overwhelming advantage—the mat.
Nine times, Jones shot for a takedown. Nine times, Gustafsson defended with ease. The tenth time was the charm, but Gustafsson was back up to his feet in seconds. When it came to wrestling, the challenger had the champ's number, even depositing Jones on the mat for the first times in his UFC career.
Jones, to his credit, never stopped looking for a way to win. When Gustafsson took away his wrestling, it would have been easy to quit. When he made the seemingly superhuman phenom bleed his own blood, it would have been easy to quit.
He never did.
Instead, the champion dug deep. Drawing from a well of energy and perseverance he likely never even knew he had, Jones kept coming. Since Gustafsson had beaten him at his own game, he had no choice but to return the favor.
Over and over again, Jones made up for Gustafsson's volume striking with his own dynamic techniques. Gustafsson won a series of individual battles with jabs and short uppercuts. But with spinning elbows and head kicks, Jones won the war.
"I've been asking for a dogfight for a long time and I finally got the dogfight I wanted," Jones said after the fight. "He was just a tough fighter, and that was by far my toughest fight."
As strange as it might seem, Jones comes out of a close fight looking stronger than ever. The final question about the young champion was on his heart. Jones has never had to gut out a bout the way he did against Gustafsson.
That's where legends are made, and Jones secured his at UFC 165.
"Who doesn't want to see this rematch?" UFC president Dana White asked at the post fight press conference. "...This is one of those fights tonight that makes you remember why your'e a fight fan. I love being a part of things like this."
Although the question was rhetorical, the answer is easy. It was, arguably, the greatest fight in UFC light heavyweight history. It's fitting, then, that fans may see it again—and soon.
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