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Jon Jones' case for MMA G.O.A.T.

What exactly is your criteria for an all-time great?

I don’t think there’s an answer out there that gets unanimous approval, but with this series, I want to help in outlining the argument for seven different fighters as the G.O.A.T.

Anderson Silva, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Amanda Nunes, Georges St-Pierre, Fedor Emelianenko, Demetrious Johnson, and Jon Jones.

I won’t deny it, the seven fighters named are not all on the same level, but each has certainly something that has established them as a cut above all others within their respective eras and divisions.

Everything else is a matter of preference.

Week by week I’ll take one and break down their claim to the throne, drop some insight on where that claim might be hindered, and leave the actual decision-making up to you guys.

I think it’ll be an interesting and enjoyable dip into one of the sport’s most ever-present topics - and between myself and you guys, our loyal viewers, we’re going to come as close as possible to Finding The G.O.A.T.

So after a bit of a hiatus from this series due to us being completely and utterly saturated with gloriously entertaining MMA over the last three weeks, I was definitely looking forward to diving back into it with an episode centered around a figure who is as fresh in our minds right now as any fighter in the game.

But I think just before we get into this G.O.A.T candidate’s conversation - I’ll point out that this isn’t a topical discussion about the personal problems and major controversies that current surround Jon Jones - we actually have another video that gets into that.

Instead, just like I’ve done with Anderson Silva, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Amanda Nunes, and Georges St-Pierre, this is a video that will serve as an outline of this long-time light-heavyweight champions claim to that throne - and where its strengths and weaknesses lie.

So let’s just get into it.

Out of all of the fighters this series is based upon - I’d argue that none of their respective rises were anything quite like the ascent of Jon Jones.

Anderson Silva was the polished striker and submission threat who became a greater and greater version of himself as the years went on - eventually perfecting his approach to the point where he could summon moments of magic without a second’s worth of notice.

Khabib was similar in that regard. We knew what he was when he debuted in the UFC and like Anderson, he went on to perfect his game - bringing it further than anyone could have ever imagined.

I think you can look at Georges St-Pierre as kind of an outlier to that - as he developed very useful striking and the best wrestling game at 170lbs - as a member of a division full of legitimate wrestling greats. And he did this out of nowhere, using his talents as a total natural and scarily good athlete to eventually beat guys like Fitch, Koscheck, and Hughes at their own game.

But the roadmap for what GSP would eventually be known for was there in front of our eyes.

I’d argue that Jon Jones came into the sport and with the passing of each one of his earliest fights, we were forced to reassess our thinking on who this guy currently was, and who he could eventually become.

I’d recommend to any MMA fan that they should go back and watch this guy’s career back again in its entirety - or at least his road to UFC gold and maybe the first few defenses if you have the time.

Those first pre-UFC fights showed a fighter that was clearly athletic as hell, gifted in greco-Roman wrestling, and above all other things, totally fearless in there.

And it’s not that all other fighters have a fear that Jones doesn’t - but there is a certain confidence and arrogance, even, to the way that Jon fought in those early fights, the way he wanted to show us his improvements, how he clearly, clearly strove to make us reassess where we saw his ceiling.

He went out there against Andre Gusmao in his UFC debut and was green as hell - giving us a completely unrefined display that looked like he was just getting comfortable in his surroundings more than anything else.

It wasn’t even a great win - but there was an attitude to Jon here that would define his best moments in the sport.

When he returned to take on Stephan Bonnar - he brought new weapons to the cage, including the spinning elbow that would really drag a lot of the sport’s attention towards him.

Indeed the dynamic wrestling and all of that explosiveness was a major part of his first few fights - but we started to see this guy reshaping himself as a bit of a wildman, all things considered.

He didn’t move like these other light-heavyweights - and over the next few years, his wide range of striking tools began to really baffle his opponents.

Everything about Jon Jones during these opening few fights was flashy, it was explosive, it was like he was determined to let everyone watching know just how god damn athletic he was - and the crazy thing was that all of this excess worked perfectly in his pursuit of dominance.

He wasn’t needlessly throwing silly techniques or wasting energy - what I’m trying to say is that Jon Jones was giving us displays that were honest, clear portraits of who was and would continue to be - a reckless, but truly brilliant competitor.

And over the next ten years or so - he would amass a collection of names that can only really be challenged by Georges St-Pierre in terms of their prestige.

And I think with the G.O.A.T conversation in mind, the sheer weight of his resumé is definitely one of his strongest arguments.

He beat everyone he ever faced - and the guys who many people maybe think edged him out - Alexander Gustafsson, Dominick Reyes, and Thiago Santos - could not find any form of definitive victory.

These were razor close fights.

I scored the Reyes one against Jon on the night itself, but my subsequent rewatch made it a bit less clear.

The only fighter who has ever had a run of dominance that was better than Jones was, of course, Khabib Nurmagomedov - but he didn’t sustain that for anywhere near as long as Jon did.

Jones’ resumé is just ridiculous to be honest. He beat guys who were already established - Vitor Belfort, Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans.

He beat his contemporaries, Ryan Bader, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira, and, of course his most noteworthy victories - his pair of wins over Daniel Cormier.

And he did it all with a level of offensive and defensive savvy that has barely seen him troubled in terms of damage sustained.

I’d argue that Jones might have the best defense in MMA history - in every sense of the word, whether in terms of striking, grappling, or wrestling.

And his arsenal of weapons - though he definitely is a lot more reserved these days, is among the most diverse we’ve ever seen.

Coming in as a greco-roman wrestler, and not a striker - yea, that just shows what a natural he is.

So what exactly are the downsides to his claim.

Well, to an even greater degree than with Anderson Silva - the whole PED allegations and frequent issues with USADA will likely be a major turn-off to a lot of you.

No matter where you stand on how guilty Jones is - the sheer number of incidents is definitely a cause for concern if that’s something that impacts your G.O.A.T decision making process.

And I know some people have raised the point that some of Jones’ opponents were more natural middleweights - the likes of Vitor, Machida, Rashad, and Chael Sonnen - guys who eventually would find their way to 185lbs for an extended period.

And though I have my own thoughts on a lot of the revisionism that a lot of fans are into these days - I’ll just leave that there with the point that it was a different time - and a lot of fighters weren’t as driven to fight at their perfect natural weight as they are these days.

Look at Frankie Edgar at 155lbs, Wanderlei Silva and Rashad Evans at heavyweight - et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

It could be said that 205lbs hasn’t always been the strongest division - even if a dominant champion can make a weight-class look like that.

But for sure, there’s an argument to be made about how long it took for fresh contenders, exciting new talents to emerge at light-heavyweight - something that heavyweight also was hit with for years upon years.

Sometimes Jones is criticised, especially on his more recent run, for fighting to the judges - not being overly willing to chase a finish because he’s just so in-tune with the point-scoring requirements that will eventually decide the fight - major examples being the Anthony Smith and Ovince St Preux fights.

He’s a man who is acutely aware of the scoring criteria - and in his career’s later period, some might find it annoying or even underwhelming that he has been more of a points fighter.

And obviously, the elephant in the room is his constant use of eyepokes - a result of his ridiculous 84 inch reach.

And yea, in a world where all fighters should be the best and most noble versions of themselves possible - Jon should probably adapt his style, but like we’ve seen with Yoel Romero on so many occasions, if the incentive is there to bend the rules and the consequences aren’t - certain guys are going to take advantage.

If you know anything about Jon Jones, the man, you’ll know he’s not overly concerned with what anyone thinks of him.

So yea, like all of the other candidates in this series, there are some shortcomings, but with a UFC record of 20 wins, 1 frankly ridiculous loss to Matt Hamill, and, of course his TKO that was later declared a ‘no contest’ against Daniel Cormier - Jon has managed to amass a frankly ridiculous level of consistency over the course of his 22 UFC outings.

14 wins in UFC title fights - counting his interim championship win over OSP, but not counting his TKO of Cormier.

He’s never been dropped, he’s never really been properly stunned, he’s been taken down just a handful of times, and though he’s got some very unique drawbacks that will turn a lot of people off his G.O.A.T claim, I just want to see him at heavyweight before he retires or gets locked up in a jail cell or whatever happens to him.

Jones, above all other candidates, can make his G.O.A.T claim beyond watertight if he is successful in capturing UFC gold in the sport’s most historically significant division.

And with Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane looking set to compete for the heavyweight strap, I’d argue that there’s not a more interesting time for this potential super-fight to happen.

So yea, the Jones episode was always going to be a weird one. The man has done so much through his rise and overall progression that it’s difficult to really paint a vivid picture of why he’s so special.

Just like he’s so problematic as a G.O.A.T conversation candidate that it’s tough to really establish the middleground.