That was inevitable Jon Jones would end up as the world heavyweight champion. When Jones choked out Ciryl Gane in just 2 minutes and 4 seconds on Saturday in Las Vegas to capture the vacant UFC belt, it fulfilled a prophecy – right? A premonition long ago began that Jones was taller than light heavyweights could handle.
Jones’ supreme superiority was evident when he first stepped onto the Octagon nearly 15 years ago and began tossing around his 205-pounder peers, including a long line of past champions and future Hall of Famers. He was taller than most who could rival him, and his wingspan stretched to inescapable lengths. Jones’ fights often looked like matchups between athletes of different weight classes.
At UFC 285, however, Jones picked someone his own size — or at least very close to it. Jones weighed 248 pounds the day before, half a pound more than Gane, a career heavyweight. That meant Jones, who returned to the cage after a three-year absence from the sport, was 43lbs heavier than the weight he hit the scales at before all of his 11 title defenses in the 205lb division. It was like he was a whole new person.
And yet one thing about Jones hasn’t changed. The measure of his immensity at 205 pounds was never limited to his physical stature. He always put it more figuratively, figuratively, in how he picks up big moments and thrives in them. Jones’ boast was, and still is, massive enough to engulf the entire sport. And on his return this weekend, he didn’t shy away from his final monumental moment.
Jones put on an impressive performance in both his dominance and brevity. Returning from the cheering crowd at T-Mobile Arena to greet a hero, Jones took his time absorbing the moment, stopping at the cage to hug his father, brothers and fiancée. He stepped into the cage for the first time in 1,121 days and cycled through the middle, just like old times. After being introduced as “the only one” by Bruce Buffer, Jones showed why those words weren’t an exaggeration.
The fight wasn’t a minute before Jones had Gane wrapped and under control and within another half minute he had the Frenchman on the canvas. Jones then pinned a seated Gane against the cage, rendering him helpless before sinking into the guillotine’s choke that made “Jonny Bones” a champion once again.
“Man, I’m so excited,” Jones said after jumping onto the cage to celebrate and then climbing down to pick up his dad and carry him around, both with big smiles. “I’ve worked for this for a long time. A lot of people thought I wouldn’t even come back. I read it the whole time: ‘This guy is never coming back.’ But I stayed true to my goal.”
Winning the heavyweight championship the way he did, after a long light heavyweight domination, will reinvigorate the case for him being considered the greatest fighter of all time. Many already consider it the GOAT, but some observers – including myself – have taken a different view due to Jones’ multiple performance-enhancing drug violations. However, the US Anti-Doping Agency has since pushed the targets for acceptable levels of some substances to such an extent that Jones’ drug test results would not have earned him a ban in today’s regulatory environment. With that in mind, on top of that championship in the sport’s marquee weight class, disqualifying Jones from GOAT Talk has become a challenge.
In addition to the discussion of who is the greatest of all time, there is also the question of who is currently the greatest. Saturday’s win over Gane makes Jones the UFC heavyweight champion, usually dubbed the “baddest man alive.”
But it’s complicated.
Franz Ngannouwho recently left the UFC after a contract dispute also has a strong claim based on his long run of knockouts, including the over Stipe Miocic that made “The Predator” a champion. However, Ngannou’s final Octagon appearance was a five-round decision over Gane, the same man Jones finished in two minutes. Jones wins this comparison and may soon have another one we can use to judge him against Ngannou. That’s what the UFC has indicated Jones’ first title defense will come against MiocicLet’s see how the new champion stacks up against the old champion.
At age 35, Jones is brimming with upside potential.
Of course there are also disadvantages. Just as Jones could always take our breath away, he also made us hold our breath Anticipating his next example of bad behavior. He was stripped of his UFC title three times. He was serving three bans for doping violations, plus one in connection with an arrest following a hit-and-run accident in which a pregnant woman was injured. Jones has been arrested multiple times, including on charges of domestic violence and twice on suspicion of driving under the influence. Throughout his career, Jones has proven himself a virtuoso at the fine art of self-inflicted career sabotage.
At this point, when a fight card begins with Jones heading, the arena sound crew should set aside the UFC’s usual “Baba O’Reilly” kickoff. As a public service to fans who constantly fall for Jones’ regular assurances this time He’s a new, better, grown man, the show should start with another Who song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
But this is not the time to be too gloomy about a future potentially tarnished by a Jones fall, even if his shady past suggests it’s as inevitable as this weekend’s rise to the top of the heavyweight division. This is a night to be in awe of Jones’ comeback and his ability not just to pick up where he left off, but to improve his game. Who would have thought that this is possible?
Jones has re-established himself as a champion among champions. He’s the only one, indeed, and as long as he can keep his balance at the top of the hill with the spotlight beaming down on him, the sport of MMA will be enriched by his presence.