"Who doesn't want to see this rematch?"
That was Dana White gushing late on Saturday night, the UFC president basking in the heavenly afterglow of having just watched Jon Jones' first fight. The spine-tingling five-rounder with Alexander Gustafsson wasn't actually Jones' debut, of course. "Bones" has been the promotion's light heavyweight champion for 2½ years, and in that time he's defended the belt against several former champs. But none of them and no one who came before had done what Gustafsson did this past weekend. The big Swede engaged the champ in a memorable battle.
There were those at the Air Canada Centre who thought Gustafsson had done more than simply put up a fight. Judging by the Toronto crowd's reaction when the decision was read, many expected the coronation of a new champion. Many others cheered the reigning king for a grittily successful defense. There was a related matter, however, on which opinions were not split: Everyone who witnessed the fight appears to agree that these guys need to do it again. And soon.
Even Glover Teixeira, who was seated cageside and had nearly as much at stake as the men on the other side of the fencing, seemed on board with seeing a rematch. The dynamic Brazilian has won 20 straight fights, the most recent five coming in the UFC. After his first-round TKO of Ryan Bader earlier this month, he was given assurance by White that he would be next in line for a shot at the 205-pound title. But when he was interviewed on Saturday night's postfight TV show, Teixeira sounded like a man accepting of an evolving fate. "It is the way it is," he said. "I'm not going to say that [Guastafsson] doesn't deserve a rematch. It was a phenomenal fight, and we'll see what happens."
During the postfight press conference minutes before, White had addressed Teixeira's situation, saying that if Jones vs. Gustafsson II gets in the way, "we'll give Glover another fight." And that's what we later learned Teixeira would want, as Glover acknowledged, "I don't want to wait for the rematch."
It sounds like a done deal, then, doesn't it? Well, it's not. Gustafsson surely wants another crack, Jones likely relishes an opportunity to reassert his dominance, and even Teixeira seems willing to step back and allow it to happen. But Dana White, for all of his delighted effusiveness on fight night, remains uncommitted.
The UFC has not made it a practice to make rematches of title bouts won by the champion. It usually doesn't make sense, with new challengers lined up. In this case, while Dana seemed to be heavily leaning toward a rematch on Saturday night, he was more measured when he met with reporters on Monday in Los Angeles during a UFC World Tour stop to hype a different rematch, December's second go-round between middleweight champ Chris Weidman and longtime king Anderson Silva. By that time, White had watched the UFC 165 main event on video and had scored it for Jones. That might lessen his urgency to get Jon and Alexander back together right away. Dana said he and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta plan to meet on Wednesday to sort things out.
The rematch is the way to go, fellas.
That decision would benefit not only Jones and Gustafsson, but even Teixeira. Glover's gaudy winning streak, which extends all the way to 2006, is a credit to him, no question. But take a close look: Who's he beaten? Before Bader, his UFC resume displayed the scalps of James Te Huna, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Fabio Maldonado and Kyle Kingsbury. The only name on that list that might impress is Jackson's, until you take into consideration that by the time Teixeira got to him, Quinton was long beyond his days of creating anything resembling rampage in the cage.
This is no shortcoming of Teixeira's. He's fought whomever the UFC has put in the cage with him. And sure, Glover has every right to grab for the title shot whenever it's dangled in front of his eager eyes. Especially at age 33, with the clock ticking. But wouldn't he be better prepared if he walked into the octagon to fight Jones -- or Gustafsson -- after he'd been tested by someone with Top 10 credentials? Phil Davis, situated directly below him in the UFC's media-voted official rankings, doesn't have a dance partner at the moment.
However this plays out for Jon Jones -- whether his next appearance is a return engagement with Gustafsson or a new challenge by Teixeira -- everything has changed for the champ. Late on Saturday night, he walked to the octagon wearing a T-shirt on which, in big letters, was printed the slogan "Not Quite Human." A half hour later, he appeared very much human and very much hurting, limping out of the cage and being helped down the stairs by his cornermen. A large piece of gauze covered the gash on his right eyebrow. Below both eyes were puffy bruises. His lips were grotesquely swollen. He was on the way to the hospital.
At that moment, Jones was not the superman we'd come to know. He was a beaten man. Yet he was, as always, the winner of the fight and still champion of the world.
This time, though, Jones had been asked to dig deeper than ever before, and he had. He'd lost the first round after being bloodied and, for the first time in his career, wrestled to the canvas. He fought back. He turned the tide. When the Ontario Athletic Commission's cageside doctor took a look at the wound near the champ's eye after the fourth round and considered stopping the bout, Jones insisted that he still had some fight left. And he did, winning the final round, which proved pivotal on the judges' scorecards.
For a man whose dominance we'd taken for granted, this was a new path to glory. A bumpy road is the grandest avenue for fighters. Anderson Silva being dominated for nearly five rounds, then pulling off the submission of Chael Sonnen. Cain Velasquez avenging a knockout loss to Junior dos Santos. Frankie Edgar overcoming everything, every time. These are how champions are measured. Was there a greater moment in the career of Muhammad Ali than when he had his weary hand raised in "The Thrilla in Manilla"?
Jon Jones still reigns as the top fighter, pound for pound, in his sport. For years we've watched him showcase the skills, the physique, the grace, the ferocity of a champion. We've had the briefest of glimpses at the heart of a champion as well -- a year ago, when he fought out of a Vitor Belfort armbar, and in April, when he dislocated his big toe but persevered in finishing off Chael Sonnen. But it wasn't until Saturday night that we had a sustained encounter with Jones' grit, and for that we have Alexander Gustafsson to thank. The greatest thank you gift -- for "The Mauler" and for us all -- would be a rematch.