For better or worse, Jon Jones’ legacy was forever changed after defeating Alexander Gustafsson on Saturday night at UFC 165.
This has nothing to do with breaking Tito Ortiz’s record or making light heavyweight history. Jones’ legacy has been forever altered by the journey itself, not the records he’s broken.
People have often ridiculed Jones and attributed his greatness solely to a vast array of physical gifts. For whatever reason, Jones is the fighter people love to hate.
UFC President Dana White addressed the Jones hate at the post-fight press conference for UFC 165:
I know there’s a lot of people that don’t like Jones and boo him for whatever the reason is. Everybody has a different, weird reason on why they’re not a fan of Jones. I don’t care if you like him or don’t like him, you’ve got to respect him man. What he’s been able to accomplish, it’s like even tonight, breaking the record for most title defenses. And it’s going to sound like I’m taking a shot dummy [Tito Ortiz], but I’m not. He went through murderer’s row.
The opposition that Jones went through to win that title and defend that title does not even compare to the record that he broke tonight. The heart that he displayed tonight, this guy’s got heart, chin, he’s got it all. To get busted up in those first two rounds and then come on, he’s a special fighter man.
As fans, it’s easy to become desensitized from the comfort of our living rooms watching from afar as special human beings step into the cage and put everything on the line.
Given Jones’ physical gifts, how many ordinary human beings could recover after having their arm popped and still stop Vitor Belfort? Who could finish Chael Sonnen in the first round after nearly severing a toe?
What type of individual would it take to get busted up mercilessly by Gustafsson early and still manage to come back and win the fight?
For Jones, it isn’t all about physical gifts and God-given talent. His ability to overcome adversity is one of his most overlooked attributes.
It’s the hallmark of all great champions. He is willing to push himself to places others either can’t or refuse to go. True greatness is realized through perseverance, not easy victories.
Jones’ legacy is evolving into something much greater than initially expected. People should no longer see him as the type of fighter who only boasts otherworldly talent and an unflinching bravado. Against Gustafsson, Jones proved that he is willing to walk through the fire and do whatever it takes to remain champion.
As for fans, it’s their prerogative to cheer for Jones or not. Respect is something that should always be earned, not given.
You still may not like Jon Jones after UFC 165, but you have to respect his legacy.