Apparently, greatness was, in fact, within reach—it materialized in the aftermath of UFC 165.
Make no mistake about it: The effort put on display by Alexander Gustafsson, and accordingly thwarted by Jon Jones, is the stuff of legend. The morning after, all in the collective MMA community are likely still trying to catch their breath as they ponder the consequences of Saturday night's main event.
Given Jones' aim to break the light heavyweight title defense record, maintain his unbeaten streak and Gustafsson's attempt to stop a fighter perceived as unstoppable, this was an iconic fight in every sense of the term. The end result left writers such as myself breathing frantically and questioning if we'd be able to deliver thoughts in an impassioned yet impartial manner—both men are worthy of copious praise.
Factor in the incredible performance by Renan Barao in his co-main event title defense, and you've got an evening that ensured no fight fan was left with a resting heart rate.
Now that we've all had a chance to wind down—even if only partially—let's take a moment to examine just how stock rose and fell in the hours after UFC 165.
Matt Mitrione has had a difficult year.
Yet in spite of his recent faux paus, oddsmakers chose to focus on his April knockout of Philip De Fries as they assessed his chances against Brendan Schaub at UFC 165—he was a favorite to win the fight.
It only made sense, considering that he's a heavy hitter and Schaub gets knocked down nearly as often as he manages to do so to others.
Apparently, he couldn't capitalize on the opportunity; Schaub weathered the storm, took him down and then proceeded to tap him with a textbook Brabo choke.
"Meathead" is now 1-3 in his last four Octagon outings. Not the kind of record that inspires confidence in his future efforts.
After a dominant showing against savvy cage veteran Pat Healy, Dagesti-born Khabib Nurmagomedov used his post-fight interview to vocalize his impressive record: "21-0, 5-0 in the UFC."
That's the kind of career timeline that establishes why he felt it possible to raise Healy into the air, run across the Octagon and then viciously slam his body into the canvas at UFC 165.
Yet another dominant performance from a fighter who knows nothing of defeat.
The 155-pound division is filled with waters bloodied by lightweight sharks, so it speaks volumes that Nurmagomedov continues to make a resounding case for his name to be moved toward the front of that queue.
His performance at UFC 165—against his toughest test to date—likely reminded the UFC brass why he's a fighter on the fast track to title contention.
Yes, Brendan Schaub wasn't exactly inspiring in his nonstarter of a submission grappling effort at Metamoris 2 this past summer.
But in the context of a full-contact cage fight, in the confines of the world's premiere MMA organization, Schaub was nothing short of spectacular.
He didn't get knocked down by a heavyweight with considerable power, opting instead to meticulously bide his time until he could secure the takedown.
Once on the canvas, he made Mitrione look like a fish out of water.
With legs flailing, "Meathead" was completely powerless as Schaub slipped his arm under his neck, clasped his own bicep and pressed down with full force. The result left Mitrione struggling to regain consciousness.
If Schaub can secure a victory in his next fight, he'll be looking at his first three-fight win streak since 2011.
Photo by Esther Lin (MMAFighting.com)
Unresolved with eight career knockouts and twice as many submissions spanning an eight-year unbeaten streak, UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao used UFC 165 as the venue and Eddie Wineland as the canvas on which to execute his latest display of brutality artistry. He won via the first spinning-back-kick-to-the-head knockout in Zuffa history.
When MMA analysts bluntly refer to certain fighters as "savages," they're talking about rarefied fighters like Barao. Prize fighters who are cold, calculated, elite and, in spite of championships to lose, willing to pursue the finish at all costs.
The utter beauty in Barao's execution—a momentary level change to account for opponent Eddie Wineland's attempt to duck out of the way of the impending kick—highlights why he's one of the best in the world.
His stock is soaring at ceiling height, and if he manages to stop champion Dominick Cruz in a bout to unify the belts, he'll burst straight toward the upper echelon of pound-for-pound fighters.
Heading into UFC 165, the operative question wasn't if Alexander Gustafsson would lose to Jon Jones, but instead, the question was a matter of exactly how brutally that defeat would come his way.
Yet here we are with a stark reminder that MMA's unpredictability knows no bounds.
In Toronto, Canada, Gustafsson outwrestled Jones, managing to match the champion's singular takedown with one of his own inside of fewer attempts to make it happen.
Just let that thought sink in for a moment.
In spite of the uproar over Gustafsson's unanimous decision loss, the cries of robbery were unwarranted; FightMetric confirmed that the judges had it right.
He moved laterally and struck with a smoothness that ended up putting Jones through the grittiest war of his title reign, even managing to do unprecedented damage to a pound-for-pound king who almost always walks away unscathed.
His performance on Saturday night ensured that, even in defeat, his stock rose considerably—possibly enough to secure an immediate rematch.
There's a special kind of irony in Jon Jones walking out to his UFC 165 title defense wearing a shirt with the bold disclaimer "Not quite human," only to leave the Octagon half an hour later visibly injured.
Though we don't yet know just how badly he was wounded in his five-round war against Alexander Gustafsson, we can wholeheartedly consider the consequences of what transpired during Saturday night's main event.
Jon Jones is no demigod reigning unstoppable terror over the 205-pound weight division. He is, instead, a mere mortal.
And that is a truly wonderful thing.
By pushing Jones to his limits, Gustafsson served to reinvigorate a division that had all but flatlined thanks to Jones' unwavering tyranny.
Of equal importance, Jones embodied the complete manifestation of a champion—he may have begun to break physically, but he refused to lose his mental composure. He made nuanced adjustments as the fight progressed, managing to land his most devastating elbows long after blood had begun to pour into his eyes.
He accomplished what was necessary: 10 consecutive victories and a record six light heavyweight title defenses.
Battered and bruised, he seems to already be adopting the right outlook on the test of grit and gumption forced upon him in Toronto, Canada.
If the immediate rematch materializes, Jones must train harder, evolve further and outperform Gustafsson, who'll likely be doing much the same.
Regardless of what the future holds, by way of his valiant performance at UFC 165, Jones reminded the world why he's the sport's consummate front-runner. Greatness was, is and will continue to be closely associated with his name.
Bonuses ($50,000 each)
Fight of the Night: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Knockout of the Night: Renan Barao
Submission of the Night: Mitch Gagnon
UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones retains his belt and defeats Alexander Gustafsson via unanimous decision (49-46, 48-47, 48-47)
UFC Interim Bantamweight champion Renan Barao retains his belt and defeats Eddie Wineland via TKO (head kick and punches)
Brendan Schaub defeats Matt Mitrione via submission (d'Arce choke)
Francis Carmont defeats Costa Philippou via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Khabib Nurmagomedov defeats Pat Healy via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Myles Jury defeats Mike Ricci via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Wilson Reis defeats Ivan Menjivar via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Stephen Thompson defeats Chris Clements via TKO (punches)
Mitch Gagnon defeats Dustin Kimura via technical submission (guillotine choke)
John Makdessi defeats Renee Forte via KO (punches)
Michel Prazeres defeats Jesse Ronson via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Alex Caceres defeats Roland Delorme via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Daniel Omielanczuk defeats Nandor Guelmino via TKO (punches)