Someone woke up this morning, looked at the sports ticker and saw the raw truth: Jon Jones defeated Dominick Reyes by unanimous decision. But there was another key takeaway Saturday at UFC 247, even if it isn't the tidiest thing to quantify. It turns out Jones might be human after all.
Yes, indeed. Jones (26-1 ) took down the previously undefeated Reyes (12-1) in the main event in Houston. But not before Reyes outstruck and outhustled the champ for significant stretches—and put him in more trouble than he's ever been in before, at least inside an Octagon. Fights that close can never be considered robberies, but no one would have blinked at the sight of the challenger leaving the office with a championship belt.
"Dominick Reyes did a tremendous job," Jones told broadcaster Joe Rogan in the cage after the fight. "[He] totally earned my respect. That was a great fight. ... He landed some tough shots."
With the win, Jones eclipsed welterweight GOAT Georges St-Pierre for most title wins in UFC history with 14 and tied another GOAT, flyweight Demetrious Johnson, with 12 title defenses. Warts and all, Jones is the best MMA fighter ever.
Most fight fans will point to Alexander Gustafsson as Jones' toughest test. It was a grueling matchup and an all-time classic, with Gustafsson opening a cut on Jones early before ultimately dropping a nip-and-tuck decision.
But Jones was never rocked. He never has been.
That is, until UFC 247. And the man who did it was Reyes, who devised a terrific game plan and had the skill and the will to pull it off.
Reyes stayed on his wheels from the jump, circling and attacking and minimizing exposure to Jones' lethal leg kicks. One Jones kick elicited a perfect counter left from Reyes that caught Jones off-balance and knocked him on his backside. That's not something you see much. Jones quickly regained his footing, but Reyes had stung the champ, and he stung him a few more times after to send Jones reeling back toward the fence.
The audience inhaled sharply. At a bare minimum, the sequence forced Jones out of autopilot and won Reyes the round.
That ceaseless movement resumed in the second, with Reyes charging forward at any hint of blood in the water. About a minute in, Jones, seeming almost bewildered by Reyes' activity, literally turned his back and ran to escape yet another onslaught. Reyes landed more significant strikes in two rounds than previous Jones opponent Thiago Santos did in five, according to the ESPN broadcast. Once again: advantage Reyes.
As the third began, Reyes was slowing down—it would have been impossible not to. Jones capitalized by turning up the pressure, but Reyes simply refused to give in, keeping up his movement and output as much as his body would allow. At the same time, Jones checked or slipped many of Reyes' shots, meaning it looked worse for the champ at a glance than it really was. This was the closest round of the fight.
That brings us to the fourth. Sometimes a punch makes a certain sound when it truly lands flush across the jaw. Something like a third baseman's glove stopping a line drive. In any case, a Reyes punch combination made that sound on Jones' mug about a minute into the round. Jones began to bleed from his nose, but more telling was his reaction.
Jones immediately went for the safety takedown—and was visibly disoriented as he did so. He managed to tie up Reyes along the fence, holding on with all his might until the world could stop spinning out of his control. Jones was hurt! He was bleeding his own blood!
It might have been a wakeup call for Jones. Once the cobwebs cleared, he began looking for proper takedowns. He started getting them, too. Each time Reyes was quick to get back to his feet, but the takedowns still had the desired effect on the judges—if they hadn't, we'd have a new champion. So, smart strategy by Jones. The counter-argument runs that takedowns in themselves can't score points, that it's the damage associated (or not associated) with the takedown that matters. But we all know that in the real world, especially in locales like the Lone Star State, judges take a much more, shall we say, interpretive approach. Jones can't be faulted for taking what the system gives him.
The takedowns plus Jones' pressure down the stretch appeared to finally drive Reyes' gas tank down to fumes, as he outlanded Reyes going away. Even by Reyes' post-fight estimation, Jones won the final two frames.
Strike statistics are not the be-all and end-all of anything, but it's interesting to note that, per the broadcast stats, Jones landed far and away the most strikes of any round that night in the fifth, with 25 of his 96 total strikes coming in the final frame.
Oh, by the way, Reyes landed 103 total strikes.
Those aforementioned Texas judges had a rough night, with an indefensible undercard decision marring the evening, but the 48-47, 48-47, 49-46 scorecard was not a robbery, even if one of the judges believed Jones had won four rounds. (That just isn't correct.) Still, it didn't affect the outcome. A close fight is a close fight.
"I knew it was a really close fight, and I turned it on in the end," Jones told Rogan. "That fifth round won me the fight. ... I think the difference in the fight was that and those takedowns."
As one might anticipate, Reyes saw it differently.
"I thought I had one, two, three," he told Rogan. "He was on me four and five. He's a champion, he pushed me and he got those takedowns at the end. But I popped right back up, so I didn't think they'd be a factor. But I had him one, two, three. But it is what it is."
Reyes made a name for himself Saturday on a large stage. Gustafsson might still be Jones' closest fight, but this was the first time Jones really had his bell rung.
This could all be just what the doctor ordered. There's been plenty of noise about the competitiveness of the light heavyweight division in a Jones context, as well as the potential for him to move to heavyweight (for the record, he was noncommittal after the fight). But this sets up an easy rematch, sooner or later.
Jones could continue his grim march down to the bitter end of the division, until he's eliminated any and all signs of opposition. In which case, how about the winner of next Saturday's bout between Corey Anderson and Jan Blachowicz? Why not? Of course, a move to heavyweight is always on the radar, but there's a good chance it would be a long-term switch. Most moves like that, at least when done fully of a fighter's own volition, tend to happen later in careers. At 32 years old, there's still time for Jones. If you're going to leave 205, you might as well leave it a moonscape.
Meanwhile, there's all sorts of fun to be had with the newly minted contender. Personally, I vote for Reyes and the winner in March's bout between Nikita Krylov and Johnny Walker. No way that wouldn't be fun.
Through that lens, it's easy to argue that both men benefitted from the outcome. Reyes announced himself as the real deal and Jones continued his ascent toward some singular place where only he can go.
For now, though, Reyes just showed everyone Jones still has some competition down here on Earth.
Scott Harris writes about MMA and other sports for Bleacher Report.