Even in defeat, Alexander "The Mauler" Gustafsson’s star shined bright. The Mauler couldn’t quite dethrone Jon “Bones” Jones at UFC 165 on Saturday night, but he did enough to put the decision in serious doubt all the way up to Bruce Buffer’s announcement.
Bones kept his title with a unanimous-decision win, but it was the furthest thing from easy. His face looked like it had been put through a meat grinder, and for the first time, it looked as if he was in serious peril.
Gustafsson’s length and quickness was a legitimate problem for the light heavyweight champion. Per Fight Metric, he landed 66 strikes to Jones’ head on Saturday night. That is literally three times the amount Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort landed combined in Jones’ last two fights. Gustafsson also stuffed 10 of Jones’ 11 takedown attempts.
Considering the opponent, this was one of the best performances you’ll ever see in a losing effort. Gustafsson’s night stands out, but he isn’t the only fighter who put on a show.
It takes two to tango, and as great as Gustafsson looked, he didn’t win the fight; Bones did. The champion proved he’s not just a bully on the block who is going to fold the first time someone stands up to him. He is a legitimate tough guy with an excellent chin and massive heart.
With his title hanging in the balance in the final two rounds, Bones responded with a huge fourth and fifth frame. Gustafsson got a little tired, and Bones began to make adjustments.
The spinning elbow proved to be the most important weapon in Jones’ arsenal. He nearly finished Gustafsson after landing it flush in the fourth round, but The Mauler deserves credit for having an excellent chin.
Despite being cut up and swollen, Jones never panicked. He kept his composure, which is the reason he’s still champ. Some may call Jones' win controversial, but the numbers don’t support that theory. Per Fight Metric, Jones landed more significant strikes (134 to 110) and at a higher rate (62 percent to 38). Each man had one takedown in the fight, and Jones' defense against Gustafsson’s grappling efforts were nearly as impressive as the challenger’s. The champion stuffed seven of eight attempts to take him down.
It is easy to get caught up in being surprised that Jones was actually pushed in a fight. The element of surprise can often skew our decisions and force us to give the fighter with the most surprising performance more credit. The numbers remove that potential bias and support the bottom-line decision that Jones deserved to win the fight.
Dominick Cruz may want to stay inactive. Barao, the interim bantamweight champion, looked like a real title holder to me on Saturday night.
Whose performance was the best?
Defeating a tough and motivated Eddie Wineland was an impressive feat. Let’s not forget that Barao owns a win over Urijah Faber as well. This guy is a legitimate star who isn’t getting the credit he deserves.
Barao showed the versatility in his game by stopping Wineland with a spinning back kick. The stoppage seemed a little quick at first, but there is little doubt that Barao would have pounded Wineland out. He had already begun throwing hammer fists to his down opponent.
Cruz is still the official champion in the division, but injuries have kept him inactive for two years. After Barao’s performance on Saturday night, UFC president Dana White needs to make the decision to remove the interim tag from Barao’s title. There isn’t a better active fighter in the world at 135 pounds.
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