UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones completed what may have been one of the greatest years in mixed martial arts history last night when he not only put former division champion Lyoto Machida to sleep, but questions about his mental toughness as well.
Up until now, everything has seemed so easy for Jones, which, if you sit back and look at just what he has accomplished, seems almost laughable. To begin 2011, he took on fellow undefeated light heavyweight prospect Ryan Bader and made short work of the winner of season eight of "The Ultimate Fighter" by choking him out in the second round. At no point during the bout did Bader offer up any competition for the then 23-year-old Jones.
It was announced afterwards that Jones would replace injured teammate Rashad Evans and take on then UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128. I believe this was the beginning of when the fans would turn on Jones. First off, Jones was facing a man in Rua who has a legion of loyal fans, and it was apparent early on that Jones was not going to be the crowd favorite despite fighting in close proximity to Rochester, N.Y., the place he was born and raised.
During the pre-fight hype, Jones admitted he would fight Evans if he was successful against Rua. By doing so, Jones not only drew more ire from the fans, but he also caused some fans to sympathize with Evans, a fighter who had been criticized for being too cocky.
Jones's "just happy to be here" attitude seemed to rub some fans the wrong way as well. Many believed he was being phony and was nothing more than a cocky fighter in his own right.
After quickly dismantling the once-great Rua, Jones was matched up against another fan favorite and MMA legend in Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Rampage did nothing to help Jones by mocking him and calling him out on his cockiness and what he perceived to be a phony personality.
Even when the two men sat side by side on Jimmy Kimmel's couch and seemed to enjoy going back and forth in good nature, the fans still didn't seem to find anything about Jones that they liked.
Jones ran through Rampage with relative ease and was set once again to face Evans, but as luck would have it, Rashad hurt his hand and was unable to face Jones at UFC 140. In Evans's place stepped in Machida, a man at first ridiculed for fighting too cautiously, but who since has become beloved and respected. There was no trash talking between the two; in fact, Jones seemed very complimentary of the Brazilian-born Machida.
When I saw the weigh-ins and listened to the chorus of boos rained down upon Jones while he was on the scaIe, I could not believe my ears. What more did this guy have to do to earn the fans' respect and what else could he do to win their admiration?
He is without a doubt the most talented fighter to ever step inside the Octagon, he is nowhere near his physical peak and here he is dominating fighters with much more experience and who have been training in the martial arts a lot longer than he has been.
I figured once he had been tested even in the slightest bit, the fans would learn to love him more. Machida took it to him in the first round last night in a way no other fighter has taken it to Jones before. He seemed to frustrate the young champion and even seemed to daze him a bit, but like all good champions do, Jones made the proper adjustments and soon had Machida bleeding, reeling and hurt before cinching in a textbook standing guillotine and putting The Dragon to sleep.
I realize Jones does some things that may irk the fans. During his bout with Rampage, he seemingly shoved Jackson aside after the end of Round 3. Many fans felt it was very disrespectful, but have they been in a fight with someone who has questioned their heart and their abilities?
Jones had a lot of pent up aggression, and if pushing Rampage aside after another dominating round was his way of letting loose, then so be it.
After referee "Big" John McCarthy stopped the fight last night once he realized Machida was no longer conscious, Jones let Machida fall to the floor and he walked away. Fans have called this disrespectful, but what was he supposed to do, carry Machida to his corner and throw water on his face?
Machida chose to go to sleep rather than tap. On top of that, Jones deserved his moment in the sun, he just defeated a great champion and was able to overcome adversity in the first round, something he was not used to.
To be honest, I am not the biggest Bones fan, but I can tell you I respect him and enjoy watching him fight. I believe you have to be cocky to be a fighter, and for anyone to criticize him, they should try walking a mile in his shoes.
His heart and mental toughness has been questioned, he has been mocked and he has been criticized. Most of it seems to be out of jealousy, maybe he is too good for his own good, but shouldn't we appreciate the fact that we are witnessing history rather than constantly looking for flaws in Jones's personality?