In a UFC career in which Jon Jones has compiled a remarkable 19-1, 1 NC record (with that one loss a controversial DQ) competing against the top light heavyweights of this era, it’s a nearly impossible mission to whittle down those victories to six defining bouts. So we’ll adjust accordingly in the lead up to his UFC 247 title defense against Dominick Reyes and do it in two parts, with this first installment covering the years from 2008 to 2013.
These days, it’s almost hard to believe that Jones got into the UFC in 2008 as a late replacement for Tomasz Drwal. Almost as difficult to fathom is Jones being matched up with veteran contender Stephan Bonnar after beating Andre Gusmao at UFC 87. But in the biggest fight of his career to that point, the 7-0 Jones moved to 8-0 with a clear-cut victory over Bonnar, a win highlighted by a suplex and some spinning elbows that marked the New Yorker as a special talent.
Following the Bonnar bout, Jones went 3-1 in his next four bouts, with the only loss being a controversial disqualification against Matt Hamill. He was clearly on his way to the light heavyweight title, and his opponent at UFC 126, Ryan Bader, was 5-0 in the Octagon and on his way to the top as well. But in this rare meeting of hot prospects, it was all “Bones,” as he submitted Bader in the second round. What was even more notable was the post-fight interview, when Jones was told that his teammate Rashad Evans was injured and unable to face Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the light heavyweight title in a little over a month’s time. Jones was offered the title shot. And he accepted.
If Jones’ road to a title shot was the stuff of Hollywood movies, just consider that the day of his fight against Shogun Rua, he and his coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn foiled a robbery in New Jersey. Call it destiny, but after that, you had to assume that nothing could stop “Bones,” and nothing did, as he dominated Rua before stopping him in the third round and taking the UFC light heavyweight title.
After beating Rua, Jones successfully defended his title twice, submitting former champions Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida. Impressive stuff, but the fight the world wanted to see was Jones against his former friend and teammate Evans. And while the lead-up to the match was intense, the subsequent bout was a walk in the park for Jones, who won a clear-cut unanimous decision.
Originally scheduled to face Dan Henderson in his first post-Evans bout, a Henderson injury scrapped the bout, and Jones’ refusal to face Chael Sonnen on short notice prompted the cancellation of the entire UFC 151 event. But Jones would be back in action against a replacement foe soon enough in the form of former light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort. The end result was another Jones victory, but to get there, he had to survive a tight armbar that nearly finished his reign, showing that he didn’t just have talent, but heart as well.
If the Belfort fight showed Jones’ grit, his UFC 165 bout against Alexander Gustafsson took it to a new level, as he went through his toughest challenge as a pro in a five-round war with “The Mauler.” With his title on the line, Jones soared in the championship rounds and took a well-deserved decision in a fight that has also earned plenty of consideration as one of the best title fights of all-time.