Jon Jones' Greatest Moments in UFC

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2020

Jon Jones' Greatest Moments in UFC

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    He's the best light heavyweight in the world. He's the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, too.

    And he's just days away from getting another chance to justify both labels.

    But the Jon Jones who'll once again headline at UFC 247 isn't exactly an overnight sensation.

    He's been at this for nearly a dozen years, has topped the marquee on 13 previous pay-per-views and hasn't lost a fight since the 12th month of Barack Obama's first term as president.

    In other words, to suggest there have been many impactful moments would be an understatement.

    As part of the run-up to Jones' Saturday date with No. 4 contender Dominick Reyes in Houston, we went back into the archives and pulled out the moments we determined to be the most outstanding, the most memorable and the most indicative of his consensus elite status.

    Click through to see how your list compares.

6. Stephan Bonnar

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    Upon entering the Octagon 11 years ago to meet Stephan Bonnar, Jones was still a mystery.

    He'd won wrestling championships at the state (high school) and national (junior college) levels and had shown loads of promise through seven pro fights, but the New York native had never been in with an MMA opponent on the level of Bonnar, who'd won 12 fights and reached The Ultimate Fighter finale in 2005.

    After 15 minutes, though, the mystery was all but solved.

    The kid, even at 21 years old, was for real.

    Using a dynamic mix of punches, elbows, throws and suplexes, Jones beat the durable Bonnar in every facet of the match, ultimately earning a unanimous decision that bumped him to 2-0 in the UFC and established an early blueprint for the athletic phenomenon he's become.

    "I believe he has a gigantic future," analyst Joe Rogan said on the ESPN broadcast (via MMA Core). "The sky's the limit for that kid."

5. Lyoto Machida

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    By December 2011, Jones had summited the 205-pound mountain with defeats of then-reigning champ Mauricio Rua and former champ Quinton Jackson. So the best way to finish out the calendar year, naturally, was by beating yet another ex-champ, Lyoto Machida.

    As much as the achievement itself, though, this one is memorable for the optics.

    Machida competed evenly with the ascending star in the initial round thanks to superior timing and precision during stand-up striking exchanges. But things changed quickly in the second round after Jones scored a takedown and connected with an elbow that opened a bloody gash on the right side of Machida's forehead.

    Referee John McCarthy stopped the action briefly, but Machida never fully recovered.

    Jones dropped him with a sneaky left hand during a subsequent stand-up exchange and then, once Machida rose, used a knee to the body to drive him back to the fence. From there, Jones locked in a guillotine choke from the standing position that eventually left Machida's right arm dangling and drew the wave-off from McCarthy.

    The instant McCarthy gave the signal, Jones simply turned and walked away, leaving Machida's body to crumple to the floor in a motionless heap as cageside medical officials swarmed in.

4. Quinton Jackson

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    For those insisting a champ's not a champ until he defends, we give you Quinton Jackson.

    Jones encountered the artist also known as Rampage following his initial ring walk as a titleholder at UFC 135 in 2011—six months after he'd dethroned Rua at UFC 128 in New Jersey.

    And over the course of three-plus high-altitude rounds in Denver, he proved the initial belt was wholly deserved.

    Jones kept Jackson at a comfortable striking range thanks to a double-digit inch advantage in reach, followed an "attack the legs" game plan with a painful variety of kicks. He took the fray to the ground as a means of both avoiding his foe's superior punching power and exploiting his own edge in wrestling.

    He maintained the varied attack across more than 16 minutes of sustained action and ultimately was able to cinch in a rear-naked choke that yielded a submission just 74 seconds into the fourth round.

    Jackson was the best he'd been in years. Jones was just a lot.

    "I thought he was all hype," Jackson said, per Washington Post. "But he's the real deal."

3. Mauricio Rua

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    Every great champion has a memorable coming-out party. And for Jones, it was no different.

    Except that he was younger than anyone else when his moment arrived.

    In fact, Jones was still four months short of his 24th birthday—and less than three years removed from his pro debut—when he encountered a 29-year-old Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128.

    And though the Brazilian dwarfed his American rival in both overall and championship experience, it was Jones who arrived more than ready for a coronation.

    The younger man attacked from the outset with knees, kicks and all forms of takedown attempts and then battered Rua on the mat with elbows. He drew blood with additional elbows in the second round and wrapped things up in the third, pressing the young-on-old violence until the champion eventually dropped to the mat and was humanely rescued by referee Herb Dean.

    Rogan, to name just one, was impressed.

    "He is the present, and he is the future," the analyst said that night, "and he might be the greatest talent that we've ever seen in the UFC."

2. Alexander Gustafsson

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    Eventually, someone was going to give Jones a push. 

    Not everyone, however, figured it'd be Alexander Gustafsson.

    The lanky Swede was a sizable underdog when he tangled with Jones atop the UFC 165 show in 2013 and shocked more than a few people by not only surviving past the fight's midway point—but by remaining within shouting distance thanks to a clever mix of lead and counter strikes with both hands.

    But with a great contender's pushes comes a great champion's responses.

    Jones finally commandeered momentum with a series of elbows and knees in the last minute of the fourth round and then flat-out worked his exhausted opponent in the final five minutes. He scored his first takedown and peppered Gustafsson with kicks and elbows down the stretch, ultimately earning the decision by scores of 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46.

    Rogan labeled it perhaps the greatest title fight in the division's history, which prompted the requisite rematch—this time for a since-vacated belt—just more than five years later.

    It was a far less dramatic sequel at UFC 232, though, as Jones rendered Gustafsson nearly immobile with leg kicks through two rounds and then took him down before ending matters with punches and elbows in the third.

    "The main difference is that I was aware of how far away I was at all times," Jones said after the fight, per "I really believe my team is the most dangerous team, especially when we get a rematch."

1. Daniel Cormier

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    It's an odd reality for two outspoken (and oft-controversial) UFC foes.

    But it's hard to deny that the more Daniel Cormier does, the better that Jones' dominance of him looks.

    In between all the warts, that is.

    Cormier was perfect as a pro but in just his fifth UFC fight when the two met for the first time at UFC 182 in 2015, when then-light heavyweight champ Jones took him down three times—becoming the first opponent in the promotion to do so—and earned a unanimous decision with a trio of 49-46 scorecards.

    Cormier captured the vacant 205-pound belt in Jones' suspension-prompted absence four months later and then carried it into the cage when they met once again at UFC 214 in 2017.

    But the rematch ended in an even more one-sided fashion, this time when Jones floored Cormier with a third-round head kick and finished matters with a subsequent barrage of ground strikes.

    The title was again returned to Cormier after yet another Jones transgression (testing positive after the match for a banned substance), and Cormier parlayed that into even more prestige—this time defeating heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic to become just the fourth fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold belts in multiple weight classes.

    So the rivalry trudges on—guaranteeing the two will forever be linked—whether they like it or not.

    And as for a trilogy...who knows?

    "I am interested in fighting Daniel Cormier," Jones said in July, per MMA Junkie. "I just want to do it under the right terms. One thing about the UFC is we always give the fans what they want to see. Fighting him at heavyweight, I think we just have to come up with the right negotiation to make it happen."