Fight of the Year Watch: Jones vs. Gustafsson Edition

John Heinis@HeinisHardNewsSenior Analyst ISeptember 22, 2013

Fight of the Year Watch: Jones vs. Gustafsson Edition

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    UFC 165 saw UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones break Tito Ortiz's record of five successful title defenses, winning a narrow decision against a game challenger in Alexander Gustafsson. 

    The back-and-forth battle exceeded all expectations, with each competitor bloodying and battering one another, fighting through adversity until the final bell rang after 25 minutes of non-stop action. 

    The instant classic has earned both Gustafsson and Jones a ton of respect, and undoubtedly new fans, from the fight community, with pundits practically on their knees begging for an immediate rematch. 

    While it remains to be seen if the UFC goes in that direction, one thing not up for debate is Jones vs. Gustafsson was one of the best fights of 2013. 

    Where does the fight rank among other classic bouts of the year? Take a look at where the title fight ranks among the year's most epic wars inside the cage. 

Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann: UFC on FUEL 8, March 3

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    Photo Courtesy of MMA Fighting
    Photo Courtesy of MMA Fighting

    Former Pride champion Wanderlei Silva showcased he still hit like a truck in his rematch with Rich Franklin at UFC 147 in June, nearly stopping the fight in the second, but still showed he could be outworked in grappling exchanges. 

    That's why the majority of pundits believes Brian Stann, a Greg Jackson's MMA fighter, could score an easy win over "The Axe Murderer" if he picked his shots and worked his takedowns. 

    However, "The All-American" decided he wasn't about winning comfortable decisions, opting instead to put on a show for the fans at UFC on Fuel 9 in March. 

    Silva and Stann stood in the pocket and traded like a couple of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots for nine minutes, before the heavy-handed Brazilian dropped Stann with a couple of hard counter shots in the second fame, finishing him off with a couple of shots on the ground. 

    Silva earned both "Fight of the Night" and "Knockout of the Night" honors for the spectacular performance in front of a familiar Saitama, Japan crowd he had encountered many times when he dominated inside the Pride ring. 

    Stann believed he had the best camp of his life prior to the bout, so he opted to hang up the gloves to pursue a budding broadcasting career, via MMA Fighting

    Silva was linked to a grudge match with perennial contender Chael Sonnen for the latter part of this year, but UFC president Dana White revealed late last month the fan-friendly slugger will be on the sidelines until at least January 2014, via MMA Junkie

Junior Dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt: UFC 160, May 25

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Junior dos Santos became to the first fighter to ever finish Cain Velasquez in November 2011, capturing the UFC heavyweight title as a result of the quick knockout. 

    His title reign didn't last for very long, though, as Velasquez won a lopsided decision at UFC 155 in December. 

    As a result, JDS had to once again prove he was a cut above the rest in the UFC's heavyweight division, so matchmaker Joe Silva decided to pit the Brazilian against dark-horse contender Mark Hunt at UFC 160 in May. 

    "The Super Samoan" entered the bout riding a four-fight win streak (three knockouts) with a ton of fan support to book. 

    However, fans and analysts alike would soon learn that despite the vast improvements in his game in recent years, Hunt still wasn't ready to hang with the world's best fighters. 

    While Hunt was able to connect here and there, dos Santos generally controlled the fight and was well on his way to a clear-cut decision victory as the time in the third round ticked away. 

    Not so fast, though; dos Santos wasn't going to leave the MGM Grand Garden Arena happy unless he notched the 12th knockout of his career. 

    Known for his crisp MMA boxing, "Cigano" threw a spinning heel kick out of nowhere, dropping Hunt to the canvas.

    JDS put an exclamation point on the finish by throwing a brutal punch that connected flush shortly after Hunt hit the ground. 

    The victory was good enough to earn dos Santos a third crack at Velasquez at UFC 166 next month, while Hunt faces former title challenger Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva at UFC Fight Night 33 in December. 

Matt Grice vs. Dennis Bermudez: UFC 157, February 23

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Matt Grice vs. Dennis Bermudez is a perfect example of why fans should check out the preliminary fights. 

    On the undercard of UFC 157 in February, Grice and Bermundez slugged is out for 15 minutes to the delight of the 13,000-plus fans at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

    Both men won striking exchanges, dropping their opponent, and achieved dominant positions on the ground while inflicting seemingly endless amounts of punishment. 

    After the incredible war of attrition was over, "The Menace" won a razor-thin split decision, though both competitors deservingly pocketed an extra $50,000 for "Fight of the Night" honors. 

    Bermudez remains one of the featherweight division's most active fighters, winning another tough split decision over Max Holloway at UFC 160 in May, and is set to meet Steven Siler at UFC Fight Night 31 in November. 

    Grice was scheduled to face off with Jeremy Larsen at UFC 166 next month; however, injuries sustained in a serious car accident forced his removal from the event, via MMA Junkie

    The good news is that recent reports indicate that Grice, who is also a police officer in Oklahoma, is recovering slowly but surely, via MMA Fighting

Johny Hendricks vs. Carlos Condit: UFC 158, March 16

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    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    Despite a valiant effort against longtime welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre at UFC 154 last year, fans and analysts alike began to wonder if Carlos Condit would ever have an answer for big, strong wrestlers. 

    "The Natural Born Killer" certainly did not get a much easier matchup in his next Octagon outing at UFC 158 in March, taking on top contender Johny Hendricks. 

    While "Bigg Rigg" tagged the former WEC and UFC interim champ with his patented big left hand on several occasions, Condit's iron chin and will prevailed, returning fire for the better part of 15 minutes.

    However, Hendricks, a former four-time All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State University, made an impact on the judges by scoring on 12 of his 15 takedowns, a very rarely seen statistic. 

    Condit did a great job of getting back to his feet each time and won plenty of exchanges on the feet, but Hendricks won a close 29-28 unanimous decision on all three judges' scorecards at the end of the bout. 

    Hendricks, on the strength of a six-fight win streak, now goes on to meet St-Pierre at UFC 167 on November 16. 

    Condit has since avenged a 2009 loss to Martin "The Hitman" Kampmann at UFC Fight Night 27 late last month, finishing the scrappy Danish fighter with a barrage of punches and knees against the cage in the fourth round. 

    The New Mexico native has one more scrap left in him for 2013, taking on fellow violent knockout artist Matt Brown at UFC on Fox 9 in December. 

Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson: UFC 165, September 21

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    What made UFC 165's light heavyweight tilt so great? 

    Was it the fact that challenger Alexander Gustafsson thwarted off all of Jones' usually effortless takedowns until the fifth round? 

    What about how "The Mauler" shocked the world and took down the champion in the first round, the first time "Bones" got taken to the mat in his MMA career?

    Maybe it's the fact that Gustafsson had Jones bleeding like a faucet after just a few minutes of action in the opening frame? 

    Could it be the notion that Jones continued to battle through adversity and nearly finished the fight with strikes late in the fourth round? 

    The answer, folks, is all of the above. 

    Despite being a 9-to-1 underdog, Gustafsson certainly didn't fight like one, showcasing his precise boxing skills and an elite wrestling game no one knew existed. 

    Of course, Jones is still one of the greatest UFC champion's in company history, so he certainly had his moments using his Muay Thai kicks and elbows, as well as his signature spinning back elbows, with a great deal of success. 

    In the end, "Bones' won a hotly contested unanimous decision, a nod supported by Fight Metric, even though many fighters and fans believed a new champ should've been crowned. 

    Hopefully, the UFC listens to the pleas of the public and rewards us with Jones vs. Gustafsson II no later than early 2014.

     

    John Heinis is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA Editor for eDraft.com.