Jones vs. Gustafsson: Re-Energizing a Generation

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2013

Sep 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Alexander Gustafsson is examined between rounds against Jon Jones (not pictured) during their light heavyweight championship bout at UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

Sometimes expectations are shattered in the eyes of human will.  Sometimes that will reaches heights better left for gods.  Sometimes it takes a mysteriously clad Stockholm brawler to push an otherwise immortal champion to his breaking point.

But through all the instances of sheer excellence displayed during Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson's epically brutal showdown at UFC 165, the pound-for-pound king remained atop his throne.

In what many now consider the greatest fight in UFC history, both light heavyweight phenoms forged carnage in front of thousands of astonished Canadian onlookers.  Some previously discredited a towering dynamo aiming to fuse crisp boxing and hard-nosed conditioning to challenge the sport's most prolific figure.

From the opening bell to the last, war was the only option.  By stuffing numerous takedown attempts by one of the division's most elite wrestlers, the Swedish mauler satisfied his appetite with his own bread and butter. 

Whether it was slick combinations, rangy leg kicks or excellent fluency around the cage, Gustafsson was just as dangerous as the champ.

Jones on the other hand, a man who's been known to dominate every minute of every round, struggled to maintain potency.

Sure the champion did his damage with ill-willed elbows and spinning strikes from nowhere, but he was far from his usual frame of mind.  Chalk it up to the challenger's ability to hit him at will.

Sep 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Jon Jones fights Alexander Gustafsson (right) during their light heavyweight championship bout at UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

With all of that said, Jones still prevailed.  What he lacked in precision and counter-ability he more than mirrored with something unseen before.

It was Jones' unparalleled tenacity and inhuman perseverance that overcame the world-class effort and natural grit put forth by a previously overshadowed predecessor.

It was a timely combination of the two that truly dispelled any speculation about the champ's toughness and willingness to battle through a bloody state.  Because for one instance, the most physically gifted and skillfully equipped athlete in the sport was transformed into a mere fighter.

He was no longer "Bones" Jones.  He was no longer the youngest champion in UFC history.  He was no longer the quintessential untouchable name in the sport. 

For those lone 25 minutes of Octagon greatness, Jones was simply a man surviving a hungry pit bull off its chain.

Even though the brutal affair will forever be remembered as the day the pound-for-pound greatest fighter on the planet met his equal, the overall outcome holds much more power.

In a division recently riddled by aging veterans blazing their second or third title trails, top-tier youth seemed unattainable.  But after witnessing the skill and blatant brutality of Gustafsson opposite a polarizing champion, the division's future has transformed overnight.

It has sparked the newest and the biggest rivalry in the sport—one that hasn't surfaced in over a decade.  Sure you can make the case for Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen's media-driven clash, but they weren't even close in the talent department.

Jones and Gustafsson on the other hand resembled that of a throwback Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz fight.  It resembled that of a championship collision heard around the world—one that garnered more than just glitz and glamour.

On their own account, neither Jones or Gustafsson played the perfect game.  Each fighter took a calculated licking, often crippling any chance they had to swing the ever-changing momentum pendulum completely their way.

Sep 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Jon Jones connects on a kick against Alexander Gustafsson (left) during their Light Heavyweight Championship bout at UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

But together, joined at the hip by determination and moxie, Jones and Gustafsson were flawless.  They mastered the art of fighting by overcoming every imperfection.  For what was truly a back and forth affair, the everlasting battle was mixed martial arts at its finest.

So say what you will about the unexpected five-round turnout that had the MMA world on its heels. Jones and Gustafsson performed like legends.  One man was trying to forge a legacy based on divisional title defenses and the other was looking to cement himself as the man who took down the champ.

In a time when past generational stars like Silva and Georges St-Pierre are either on their way out or capping off a storied career, the sport needed a fight just like this.  One that re-energizes a generation occupied by fighters often depicted as the "new breed." 

In other words, it put the whole sport on notice.

The five-round melee was simply one of those perfected moments that made being an honest and fair combat fan worthwhile.  Just two guys slinging leather and hoping for the best—the fact that both Jones and Gustafsson are only 26 years old and destined to tangle again is just icing on the cake.


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