Jones quiets critics, battles adversity to remain champion
TORONTO -- So, Jon Jones, you thought you were facing adversity over the past few weeks? Surely, it distressed you when UFC president Dana White, reacting like a jilted lover after your refusal to accept a replacement opponent and save one of his fight cards, rallied a large portion (or at least a big-voiced portion) of the mixed martial arts community against you. It must have brought you considerable pain.
Well, that was nothing.
Adversity, distress and pain revisited Jones on Saturday night, this time in a more tangible way. And by surviving, even thriving, the UFC light heavyweight champion has to have won back many of the fans who'd spent the last few weeks saying he's not a real fighter.
Jones is a real fighter, all right. He showed that in the main event of UFC 152 in a way he'd never been asked to show it in all of those dominant performances that made him a champion. He remains a champion today, thanks to a submission of a beaten-down Vitor Belfort at 54 seconds of the fourth round before 16,800 at the Air Canada Centre.
But it was not the finish that's the story of this evening. It's the refusal to be finished.
In the bout's very first minute, after Jones had quickly put the challenger on his back, Belfort didn't panic, as others before him had. Instead, he seized the champ's right arm and latched on an armbar. The crowd roared. A close-up shot on the video screens all around the arena showed that the submission hold was tight. The crowd roared even louder.
By all appearances, Jones seemed to take the dire situation in stride. He rose up, pulling Belfort off the mat with him, then slammed Vitor on his head. The crowd groaned. After lifting and slamming the challenger a couple more times, Jones escaped.
The fight went on, and we'll get to that in a moment. But let's fast-forward here to the post-fight interview in the cage, when Jones revealed that he'd felt a pop in his arm when he was in the sub. "Oh, man, he got that armbar in every way, shape or form," said the champ. "I've never had my arm pop like that before. I felt it, but I worked too hard to give it up."
How bad was it? "I honestly was waiting for it to break," said Jones. "I was not going to tap out. But man, I tell you, I've never felt that before."
He then showed up late for the post-fight press conference with his right arm in a sling, and revealed that while he'd yet to have an X-ray, medical personnel at the arena had told him he might have sustained nerve damage in his biceps. He was headed to a hospital afterward.
Interrupting the fight account to offer up that injury report was not just about getting to a newsworthy detail. It also puts in perspective what Jones did after getting out of that early armbar. He dominated the rest of the first round, keeping Belfort at a distance with front kicks, throwing punches with both hands, looking none the worse for wear.
This is what most impressed Dana White. "He made an injured elbow look like it wasn't," said the UFC president.
Indeed, Jones dominated the second and third rounds, too, damaging Belfort's face with a succession of elbows from standup clinches and while the fight was on the ground. But Vitor had no quit in him, always pressing the action and throwing punches meant to do harm. He seemed determined to seize all of the opportunities missed by all who have gone before him. But his best simply was not good enough. When Jones took him down in the opening seconds of the fourth, the 35-year-old had no fight left. He took a few elbows to the head while his left arm was trapped and unable to defend, and as soon as he freed that arm Jones seized the other and clamped on a kimura hold, eliciting a quick tapout.
Even Jones couldn't help but acknowledge this challenge as the most difficult of his career. And he was grateful for it -- and for his girlfriend, who he credits with instilling that gratitude in him. "She really taught me to be grateful for adversity, to consider it new opportunities to grow," he said while in the cage, holding his right elbow. "And I really feel like a stronger young man standing here before you guys tonight."
You want to measure how stout of a performance that was? It was so notable that we've gushed all of these words without yet mentioning that there also was another championship fight on the card, a historic one at that. Suffice to say that the next time you see Demetrious Johnson, you can call him Champ. "Mighty Mouse" became the first flyweight champion in the UFC by earning a split-decision victory over Joseph Benavidez.
The fight was odd. Despite being fought at a lightning pace, with both men firing strikes from all angles and scrambling onto and off of the mat, the bout never really captured the arena crowd, which even booed at times. Those discontented fans might reconsider if they go home and watch again on tape -- but with the DVR in slo-mo, which would make the telecast appear to be unfolding at regular speed. Watching that way might enable those folks to keep track of all of the fists and feints that made the bout look like one of those sped-up scenes out of a Bruce Lee film.
But Dana White isn't so interested in having those who booed reconsider the evening's historic fight. He's not interested in those fans, period. "If you didn't like that flyweight fight," he said at the press conference, "please don't ever buy another pay-per-view."
So he was surprised by the booing? "I wasn't surprised," he said. "I was horrified."
And on the subject of booing, we take this back to Jon Jones, since this was his night to shine like never before. It was expected to be a night when he would be booed like never before, too, but he made his first masterful move of the evening even before he stepped into the cage. It was when he walked out ... to Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved."
In one fell swoop, Jonny Bones tweaked the UFC and its fans for the hatefulness of the past few weeks, all the while entertaining them at the same time. The crowd cheered, even clapped along.
Jones noticed. "I honestly think the crowd turned around," he said at the press conference, a big smile on his face. "You can't boo with Bob Marley singing."
And after this night, maybe not with Jon Jones fighting, either.