Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport
Event: UFC 165
Date: September 21, 2013
Result: Jon Jones defeats Alexander Gustafsson by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-47)
Wins and losses are the most common metric that fans weigh fighters by. The true mark of a great fighter, though, doesn't show up on any kind of stat sheet. It shows up in the cage when he demonstrates a will to win that people like us just don't have.
Our own Jonathan Snowden summed this up perfectly when discussing Vitor Belfort:
Vitor Belfort has never fallen short when it comes to speed, strength or prodigious punching power. When the good lord was handing out those attributes, Belfort took a triple helping. Greedy and selfish, but whatever. What's done is done.
What he's lacked—has always lacked—is that little thing that separates the good from the great—heart. Belfort, when the going gets tough, will crack. There isn't a pill or a needle that can make a man persevere when things get hard. When he gets into deep waters, Belfort will drown. He always has. He likely always will.
For all Jones' accomplishments in the cage, the question "does Jon Jones have the indomitable spirit of a true champion?" was left unanswered until he came up against gargantuan Swede Alexander Gustafsson. He answered in the affirmative.
That isn't to downplay Gustafsson's part in all this. Many, including myself, completely dismissed not only his chances against Jones, but whether or not he was even truly a top light heavyweight. His fight with Jones showed that he was every bit the champion's equal.
Jones, though, was the one who found himself with an early deficit. Possibly, arguably, an insurmountable one. Still, he battled back with everything he had and would, in time, earn both the win and label of "true champion."
That performance makes this the fight of the year.