Prizefighting has probably saved more men from wasted lives of crime and certain incarceration than almost any other force.
Combat sports may be a field strewn with bad boys, broken souls, and rage-filled men unable to switch off their anger outside of the ring, but It is also home to plenty of perfect gentlemen, who shake hands following fights and conduct themselves with grace and decorum between bouts of unrestrained violence. And then, in a category all of his own, there resides perhaps the greatest fighter ever to lace a glove – Jon ‘Bones’ Jones.
Inside the UFC octagon, the Jones legacy is unrivalled. He has utterly dominated the light heavyweight division for almost a decade across 24 fights. His sole ‘defeat’ remains a disqualification for throwing illegal elbows while pummelling a hapless grounded Matt Hamill in 2008. The manner with which he took the belt stands as perhaps the most impressive title victory of all time. He toyed with defending champ, the then coffin nail otherwise known as Shogun Rua for three rounds of perfectly executed violence until the nail bent, broke, and quit. Jones out-struck the Brazilian at will while having fun. He undoubtedly relishes his work.
Since then Jones has taken apart all comers, including two victories over Daniel Cormier, a two-division champion who in any other era would probably go down as the GOAT. Jones’ closest bout was against a surging Alexander Gustafsson in 2013, a thrilling back and forth contest that can be very readily scored in Gustafsson’s favour. Jones was certainly losing until he uncorked a devastating spinning back elbow in the fourth round that rocked the Swede and added much-needed points to the Jones scorecard. Jones easily won the rematch via KO in Dec 2018.
His long unbeaten reign can be mostly attributed to a combination of natural gifts, such as towering height and extraordinary reach, and an arsenal of strikes that no other fighter can match. Jones brings flashy knees and elbows, traditional head, body and leg kicks, a side kick to the knee that he pioneered, spinning kicks to the body, above average boxing, and a devastating wrestling/ground game. This unrivalled array of attacking options makes competent fighters appear woefully outmatched. His most recent title defence against an otherwise impressive Antony Smith, descended into near farce when Smith virtually gave up early in the bout. There was just too much coming at him. Smith’s onboard computer shut down. Should he stand close and get grappled and elbowed? Or fight from a longer range and get taken apart with raking kicks? Or wrestle and get taken down and pounded out? All options seemed hopeless. The fight limped to an inevitable one-sided Jones decision victory.
The Jones story outside of the ring makes for far less comfortable viewing. As reigning champ in April 2015, a very stoned Jones ran a red light in a hire car, colliding with two other vehicles, one of which contained a heavily pregnant woman. Jones fled the scene on foot, returning to grab a bag of cannabis, before disappearing into New Mexican suburbia. The woman suffered a broken arm, but the unborn baby was miraculously unharmed. A round of court appearances and public contrition and community service orders ensued.
In addition to cannabis, Jones been pinged by UFC staff for cocaine use, and variously tested positive for banned performance-enhancing substances Turinabol, Clomiphene, and Letrozole. He tearfully protested his innocence on all occasions, claiming cross-contamination from erectile enhancers and legitimate sport supplements. The UFC administration has been extremely lenient on Jones for these many transgressions, imposing only very brief suspensions. His December 2018 fight could not be sanctioned by the Nevada Athletic Commission due to tiny residual traces of Turinabol that remain in his system, so the entire fight card was moved last minute to Los Angeles, much to the dismay of the other fighters involved. Jones is a money-maker, his fights do big pay-per-view numbers, and in the combat game that is almost all that matters. He’s intelligent, well-spoken, never loses, and plays effective and amusing pre-fight mind-games with his opponents.
Watching Jones fight is a strange experience. Does one applaud his mastery, his relentless dominance? Does one instinctively cheer for the other guy? Does Jones’ tainted legacy matter when he’s working the octagon magic? Should he even be fighting at all?
Jones steps back into the octagon on 7 July versus big hitting Brazilian Thiago Santos. Although technically outmatched, the challenger is game and fearless and throws massive right hand bombs. If he catches the champ early Jones might crumple in a heap. History is against him, but Santos might be the man to dethrone the morally compromised king.
Jackson Byrne – Combat Sports Correspondent