What defines greatness? That is a very difficult question to answer. Is it defined by being so dominant that the fighter never even comes close to defeat? Or does come when fighters overcome adversity and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?
I think that true greatness is both of those things.
For example, I always kind of liked Rich Franklin. Rich was a tough fighter, always a game opponent and virtually never and easy out for anybody. Rich is second only to Anderson Silva in terms of dominance at 185 pounds.
But there was a moment when Rich became legendary forever for me.
That was the day he fought Chuck Liddell. Liddell broke Rich's power left hand with a kick midway through the first round. Franklin knew it was broken, but he refused to quit and kept on fighting. He even threw punches with his broken arm.
In the closing seconds of the first round, Rich Franklin punched Liddell flush in the face with is weaker right hand. Chuck Liddell dropped to the floor, completely unconscious.
Chuck Liddell would never fight again. Rich Franklin will always be remembered as the man who put the final stamp on Chuck Liddell's legendary career. But the fact that he did it with a broken arm? That's the stuff legends are made of.
At UFC 152, Jon Jones did one better than Franklin in his victory over Vitor Belfort. Jones got caught in a deep arm bar in the first round, and Jones' arm popped. Amazingly, Jones escaped the submission and spent the rest of Round 1 beating Vitor Belfort to a bloody pulp, all while sporting a severely injured right arm.
Jones fought the entire second and third rounds with that injured right arm. He threw punches and elbows with it, and he continued to absolutely dominate Vitor Belfort in both rounds.
In the forth round, Jones put Belfort into a crucifix position and then locked on an Americana. This is no easy feat with one injured arm. An Americana uses both arms as opposing levers to crank the opponent's shoulder.
Jones cranked the Americana, Vitor Belfort tapped out and the fight was over. Jonny "Bones" Jones adds a fourth successful title defense to his current run as champion.
Just to be clear, Jones is still MMA's version of Terrell Owens in my book. He says the wrong thing constantly, pisses fans and fighters off constantly and draws ill-will like a magnet draws iron filings.
But whether you love him or hate him, Jon Jones just proved to be a total badass.
After notching his fourth successful title defense, Jonny "Bones' Jones has matched the mark set by Chuck Liddell, Frank Shamrock and Wanderlei Silva. If there was any doubt before now, there is no doubt remaining. Jon Jones has just joined one of the most hotly debated topics in MMA: Who is the greatest light heavyweight in mixed martial arts history?
So how does he stack up in comparison to the greatest light heavyweights in the history of the sport? What do the numbers say?
First of all, one thing needs to be set straight. The loss to Matt Hamill doesn't count. That was a garbage loss, pure and simple. How do you "lose" when you beat your opponent so badly that they are unable to stand up to continue the fight? It is just as invalid as Fedor Emelianenko losing to Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and Anderson Silva losing to Yushin Okami. The Matt Hamill fight is a no contest as far as I'm concerned.
So with that in mind, let's look at what the numbers have to say. Here are the five best light heavyweights in MMA history in order of dominance.
- Jon Jones: 17 wins, 0 losses, 1 NC. He has finished in 82 percent of his wins, his longest winning streak is 17 and he now has four title defenses.
- Wanderlei Silva: 34 wins, 12 losses, 1 draw, 1 NC. Wandy finished in 79 percent of his wins, his longest winning streak was 14 fights and he had four successful title defenses.
- Frank Shamrock: 23 wins, 10 losses, 2 draws. Shamrock finished in 70 percent of his wins, his longest winning streak was 11 fights and he had four successful title defenses.
- Chuck Liddell: 21 wins, 8 losses. Chuck finished in 66 percent of his wins, his longest winning streak was 10 fights long and he had four successful title defenses
- Tito Ortiz: 16 wins, 11 losses, 1 draw. Ortiz finished in 69 percent of his wins, his longest winning streak was six fights and he had five successful title defenses.
Whether it's by sheer dominance, overcoming adversity, winning streak, highest rate of finishing opponents or anything else you can dream up, Jon Jones is the greatest light heavyweight ever. There really isn't any room for debate.
I'm sure there will still be some doubters and haters who will cavalierly point out, "Yeah but Tito Ortiz still has more title defenses." And they're right, Tito still has one more title defense than Jones. To completely end all doubt, Jones needs to defend two more times.
Ideally, those victories should come against top opponents. The winner of Gustafsson vs. Shogun should get the next crack at Jon Jones' title. The winner of Lyoto Machida vs. Dan Henderson should get the next shot after that.
This is where Chael Sonnen's big mouth might become a liability to Jon Jones' legacy. If Sonnen beats Forrest Griffin, the UFC and fans of the sport will probably start demanding Chael Sonnen vs. Jon Jones. Jones will win, no question about it. And years from now, history will see that fight for what it really is: A crap win over a completely undeserving title challenger.
If Chael is allowed to cut in line and becomes Jones' fifth or sixth title defense, Jones might need seven defenses to truly seal the deal.
Jon Jones may be a lot like Terrell Owens: He's a public relations disaster more often than not, making his phenomenal career accomplishments lose some of their luster. But at the end of the day, Jones is already the greatest light heavyweight fighter of all time.