Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson's UFC 165 encounter heads the Fight of the Year race.
Gustafsson did absolutely everything in his power to snatch the light heavyweight title from Jones, but the champion prevailed, showcasing his heart and determination more than his sheer athleticism and skill set as he had in the past.
The stage was set for an historic showdown, and the two young superstars delivered beyond everybody's expectations.
A closely contested fight isn't automatically the fight of the year, though, so what made this fight special?
Mixed martial arts thrives on the unexpected, and this bout delivered in abundance on that front.
Gustafsson out-wrestled Jones.
I don't...I can't...I...
That actually happened.
I thought Jones would rag-doll the Swede, tossing and throwing him at will before eventually securing an easy submission victory.
Instead, Gustafsson scored the bout's first takedown, and he did it in Round 1, when Jones was still at full strength and energy. From there, the challenger repeatedly shrugged off Jones' takedowns, fending off nine attempts in the first four rounds before finally succumbing to the champ's wrestling prowess in Round 5.
For Gustafsson, this is a huge win, and it provides a major storyline coming out of the bout.
The wrestling equivalence, however, is just one unexpected outcome from this historic match.
On the feet, Jones was expected to have a range and versatility advantage, while Gustafsson was thought to have more power and better footwork and angles.
Jones nearly ended the fight in Round 4 with a spinning elbow and maniacal follow-up attack, and he repeatedly blasted Gustafsson with powerful head kicks and stepping elbows throughout the bout.
Without a doubt, the most damaging blows in this fight were delivered by Jones. Gustafsson certainly found success striking as well, but he never appeared to have the champion hurt or even stunned despite landing some clean counter hooks, overhand rights and uppercuts.
This is not quite as shocking as Gustafsson's remarkable takedown defense, but Jones' power and chin provided another layer of intrigue to this fight.
All of this made the fight great as it happened, but there was plenty at play beyond the action inside the Octagon.
Most notably, Jones looked to break Tito Ortiz's longstanding record of five consecutive title defenses at 205. If he could trump Gustafsson, Jones would secure his sixth defense and become the undisputed greatest in the history of the division (and let's be honest, most of us thought he'd do it with ease).
Next, the judges' decision...Oh boy.
As if the fight was not good enough, fans and critics still can't even decide who deserved to win—it was that close.
Check out the Twitter reactions from some of the sport's biggest stars:
That was fight of the year, no matter how it was scored.— Bad Boy (@BadBoy) September 22, 2013
WooooooW!!! Now that was a fight. Had me on the edge of my seat— Cowboy Cerrone (@Cowboycerrone) September 22, 2013
Well the decision is final so congrats on a great fight. Jones showed spirit for sure. I thought Gus won but as I say great fight, well done— michael (@bisping) September 22, 2013
What a fight! Respect Jones and Gustafson! Good show boys!— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) September 22, 2013
Unexpected outcomes in the grappling department?
Unexpected outcomes on the feet?
A legacy on the line?
Combined, these points add up to create a clear-cut Fight of the Year front-runner, but if you need more convincing, check out the opposition.
None of these delivered the unexpected and the epic on such a monumental stage, and none involved such a major star in the sport.
Fights like Jones vs. Gustafsson represent everything that is incredible about the sport, everything that makes it so volatile, polarizing and utterly exciting.
These are the fights that fans live for, and when one takes place in the main event of one of the year's most anticipated events, a Fight of the Year nod is all but certain.
Unless one of the year's remaining fights delivers something mind-blowingly insane (and that is certainly a possibility with the year's ridiculously stacked conclusion), we have our 2013 fight of the year courtesy of Mr. Jones Jones and Alexander Gustafsson.
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