TORONTO – In a fight that exceeded just about everybody’s expectations -- and set up the likelihood of sequels when people openly wondered about the competitiveness of firsts -- both champion Jon Jones and challenger Alexander Gustafsson put on one of the UFC’s greatest fights on Saturday night in Toronto.
The fight unwound dramatically, if illogically. Jones fell behind on the scorecards and still managed to find his way to victory, while Gustafsson proved more than equal to the task of "humanizing" the sport’s superman. Jones, who was thought to be the dominant presence in the threat of takedowns, could not take the Swedish challenger down. And Gustafsson, against all convention, became the first man in the UFC to take Jones down.
It was the kind of fight.
Jones took home the unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46), and broke Tito Ortiz’s record for light heavyweight title defenses. And Gustafsson became the one thing lacking in Jones’ tenure with that belt: A rival.
The obvious thing on everybody’s mind at the end was -- when do we do it again? And from the sounds of it, that line of thinking had already crossed UFC president Dana White’s mind, too.
"Who doesn’t want to see this rematch?" he said in the post-fight press conference as applause broke out. "To be honest with you, I got so caught up in the fight -- and people were yelling at me and stuff and I was yelling back at people -- I honestly didn’t’ score the fight. When I was leaving the arena people were screaming I had it 3-2 for Gustafsson, and other people were saying I had it 3-2 Jones. And I talked to [UFC Vice President of Regulatory Affairs] Marc Ratner, and he said he had it even going into the fifth round, and he gave the fight to Jones."
White, like many in the press and the fans on hand at the Air Canada Centre, talked about Jones-Gustafsson in terms of not only fight of the night, but fight of the year. Some, perhaps given the elevated stakes and the modest expectations going in, were even referring to it as the greatest fight of all time.
Given those circumstances, a rematch seems inevitable, particularly given how close the fight actually was.
"One of the exciting things about this sport is things never go as you expect them to be going. Tonight was one of those nights, and I believe this is one of those fights where you’re going to be divided in people saying Gustafsson got screwed tonight and other people will think that Jones won. That it was the right decision, but it was close."
As to when and where that will happen is up in the air. For one thing, there are factors in play. Glover Teixeira, who’d earned the right to fight the winner of Jones-Gustafsson was cageside to watch the fight. When the drama unfolded, with its many twists and turns, his No. 1 contendership evaporated into thin air. The immediate outcry was for a redo of Jones-Gustafsson.
But there are other factors than pecking orders and title promises. There was the fact that this fight left both the champion and the contender in a state of disrepair, to what extent we don’t know.
"You want to know what a good fight that was?" White said to open the post-fight presser. "Neither the champ nor the challenger will be here. Jones is already at the hospital, and they’re taking Gustafsson right now. That’s how good that fight was. I don’t ever think we’ve had that happen. We’ve had one or the other go -- they are both going."
Though White didn’t know the extent of the injuries or the timetables for return, he did know that Jones was beaten up worse than he’d ever been. Jones was seen leaving the arena on a stretcher with his eyes closed, breathing heavily. Gustafsson was noticeably limping as he made his way down the stairs at Air Canada Centre, headed to get medical care himself.
All told, these were casualties of a five-round war, each man having persevered to the point of exhaustion. The point that, as White later said without hyperbole, he thought one of them might die. That’s how bad each fighter wanted it.
Which is why the rematch escalated into a hot topic by night’s end.
"I didn’t say we’re going to do the rematch, I said I’d like to do the rematch because it makes sense," White said. "I’d like it. But first of all, in a fight like this, you’ve got to let things play out. Jon Jones doesn’t even want to hear the word fight for the next two or three weeks, I guarantee that. So we wait. We wait to see what happens, and maybe it’s Glover, and maybe it’s a rematch, I don’t know."