After Jon Jones put the finishing touches on a Rembrandt-like artistic domination of Glover Teixiera on Saturday night, his one-time teammate, Brian Stann, on Fox Sports 1's post-game show, pushed the idea that Jones was the greatest UFC fighter of all-time.
Generally speaking, arguments about UFC's all-time greatest have come down to Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, the dominant stars of the modern era. With both out of action due to injuries, it has left the best fighter spotlight open to Jones, Renan Barao, Jose Aldo, Cain Velasquez, Demetrious Johnson and even Ronda Rousey. But Stann's argument was that Jones, at 26, has already beaten better competition, and beaten them by a far more decisive manner than Silva or St-Pierre.
Jones' unique physical attributes and skills have had people talking greatness for him since his win over Stephan Bonnar in 2009, less than nine months after his first pro fight. By the time he won the title from Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, nobody was arguing his potential to be the biggest star in the company at some point. But being the all-time greatest is something established over time. Without question, Jones has accomplished more at the same age than Silva, who was an 8-1 middleweight at the same stage. St-Pierre was 15-2 before his 27th birthday, and was considered the best in his division as interim champion. But he had not beaten fighters the caliber of those Jones has at this point.
Jones has made seven successful light heavyweight title defenses, putting him behind Silva's ten (2007-2013) and St-Pierre's nine (2008-2013). But an asterisk should be in place regarding Aldo, who, if you include WEC defenses, which you should given that was the top promotion in the world for the featherweights when he won the title, would have eight, spanning 2009 to the present.
Where Jones stands out is his victims list. Jones has beaten five former UFC champions, Rua, Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort, as well as Teixeira, coming off a 20-fight winning streak. While Belfort had been fighting a weight class under, as had another victim, Chael Sonnen, the list is unprecedented. He's had five finishes in those eight fights (including the title win). In that time period, he's lost only two or three rounds (one or two to Alexander Gustafsson, one to Machida).
The comments on him from Saturday night was how he fought Teixeira where Teixeira figured to be at his strongest, and almost completely shut him down. That was the same thing people said about St-Pierre at the same stage of his career, when he shut down Hughes at wrestling. St-Pierre often challenged guys where they were best, outwrestling high-level wrestlers like Hughes, Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch, going to the ground with Matt Serra, and outstriking Nick Diaz.
Jones (20-1) has the edge on St-Pierre (25-2) in that he's really never lost a fight. The Matt Hamill disqualification loss was a fight he dominated and came from a series of questionable calls. By all rights, Jones should be undefeated. St-Pierre clearly lost, and was finished, twice, and many argue he lost a third time to Johny Hendricks. Some would argue Jones should have lost to Gustafsson, but that was really the only close call in his career.
St-Pierre's edge is time, as he had two title runs and was really the best in the world at his weight for most of eight-plus years, with a loss that he easily avenged. Jones has just past the three-year mark. St-Pierre beat three UFC champions (Hughes, Serra and Penn) and two Strikeforce champions (Jake Shields and Diaz). He fought all the best, and welterweight was a deep division the entire period he was champion. And he dominated everyone until Hendricks. Between his two title reigns, he finished four of 13 opponents.
Silva (33-6), is best remembered for his 16-fight winning streak in UFC, which included ten title defenses. In championship action, he finished nine of 11 opponents, which would have been ten out of 12 except one missed weight. He also scored three wins one weight above, which neither Jones nor Silva has done. He defeated four former champions, Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson (Pride champion), Forrest Griffin (champion a weight class above and Silva moved up to fight him) and Belfort (champion a weight class above but they were the same weight at the time). But Silva had his scare with Sonnen in the first fight, and lost twice at the end of his career to Chris Weidman. He's also viewed by many as the all-time greatest because of his style points, in the sense his wins were more spectacular than St-Pierre, even though St-Pierre controlled the action more until the Hendricks fight.
Realistically, Jones now belongs in the discussion, with Silva, St-Pierre and Fedor Emelianenko as the greatest this sport has ever seen. And while he's beaten more top quality opponents over a three-year period than anyone in history, it's premature at this point to say he's the all-time greatest. But he clearly belongs in the discussion.
But he's not alone. Aldo is nipping at his heels more quietly. Barao hasn't been touched, but hasn't stood the test of time as champion. Except for one punch, Velasquez has been more dominant than Jones, but injuries cutting back on his number of fights in his prime may hurt his legacy in comparison. And realistically, on the women's side, it's a division still in its infancy.
While Jones took most of the headlines by taking apart Teixeira for five straight rounds, UFC 172 was the night with more spectacular finishes than any show in recent memory. It started early, with Chris Beal's flying knee knockout of Patrick Williams. That could be up for strong consideration for knockout of the year. Danny Castillo followed with as perfect a right hook to the jaw as you could imagine. Later in the show came four straight submissions, by Joseph Benavidez, Max Holloway, Jim Miller and Luke Rockhold.
All were noteworthy.
Benavidez's "Joa constrictor," forced foe Timothy Elliott to tap with his legs instead of his arms. Holloway finished Andre Fili with a guillotine, noteworthy since Fili came from Team Alpha Male, a camp known specifically for that move. Miller's foe, Yancy Medeiros, wouldn't tap, and was put out cold by his guillotine. And Rockhold used almost a reverse triangle to set Tim Boetsch's up for a Kimura in the type of submission that looks great in demonstrations but is rare to execute in a fight against high-level competition.
A look at how Fortunes Changed Saturday night for five winners:
Jon Jones - With Jones continuing to master the light heavyweight division, a number of questions come up regarding business and legacy.
Jones has struggled with popularity in recent years for a number of reasons, which led to him being well behind St-Pierre and Silva as a drawing card. He was hugely popular against Teixeira, but some of that may have been brother Arthur was a former star for the Baltimore Ravens. But Silva also had his struggles with popularity and drawing, until eventually winning crowds over in recent years. Most likely, if his title reign has the longevity of a St-Pierre or Silva, his popularity will be back to where it was against Rua, and the drawing power will follow.
His next fight will be with Alexander Gustafsson (16-2). Given the classic these two had the first time, which turned Gustafsson into a major star in losing, the rematch should be the biggest UFC fight on the current horizon. Dana White teased the idea of doing it at a soccer stadium in Sweden, where Gustafsson is something of a national hero.
Anthony Johnson - As the world's largest welterweight, Johnson (17-4), was never a title contender. As a middleweight, he blew weight badly and was submitted by Vitor Belfort. He was never on anyone's radar when it came to the title picture.
But after completely dominating No. 4 ranked contender Phil Davis, Johnson, in his first UFC fight back after two years with the World Series of Fighting, Johnson suddenly finds himself in the thick of the light heavyweight division.
The obvious direction would be for Johnson to face the winner of the May 24 fight with Daniel Cormier vs. Dan Henderson. The perfect scenario would be to put that fight on the same card as Jones vs. Gustafsson, setting the stage for the two winners to meet in the following championship match.
Before Saturday, nobody would have given Johnson much of a shot with Cormier, who is favored to beat Henderson. But it was scary the way he completely shut down Phil Davis' wrestling game enroute to a clear 30-27 win. Johnson looked gigantic at 205. But Davis doesn't have the stand-up game as the other top light heavies, relying most of his career on takedowns and a ground game. Either Cormier or Henderson will present a very different set of problems.
Luke Rockhold - After quickly dispatching Boetsch, Rockhold (12-2) made it very clear where he wants to go next, challenging Belfort, who knocked him out with a spinning heel kick on May 18, 2013. He also noted at the press conference that he'd like the fight in Las Vegas, with the idea most likely that Belfort would be more heavily drug tested there. But there is no upside for Belfort to take that fight, as in theory, Belfort should be next on the agenda for the Weidman vs. Machida middleweight title fight winner.
So as a secondary choice, he mentioned Michael Bisping. Rockhold was irked that Bisping, in talking about the two training together last year, made a crack that he (Bisping) showed he was the real Strikeforce middleweight champion (the title Rockhold held before coming to UFC). But Bisping is coming off a loss and didn't look good with Tim Kennedy. Bisping will promote the fight but there are issues with it. Bisping is difficult to finish, but with anything less than a finish, it probably won't help Rockhold's ultimate goal of a title fight.
Rockhold has wins in Strikeforce over both Tim Kennedy and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, but if matched with Souza, the winner of that fight could easily get a title shot. Another option would be the winner of the May 31 fight with Mark Munoz vs. Gegard Mousasi, but like Bisping, that would at best be a more lateral step than a progressive one.
Jim Miller - With his 13th UFC win, Miller is tied with Gleison Tibau, and one behind Bisping, for most wins by a fighter who has never gotten a championship shot. Like with Bisping, it hasn't been for lack of opportunity, as he lost to Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz in fights that could have garnered him a title shot. And like Bisping, he's really never gotten that signature win over a top-five fighter.
He wasn't shy about where he wants his career to go, issuing challenges to Khabib Nurmagomedov, Josh Thomson, Donald Cerrone and TJ Grant. Numagomedov's name came up again during the press conference, and Miller responded with a big smile on his face saying he'd take that fight against the former world sambo champion who has dominated everyone on the ground. With Grant still out after a concussion, and Nurmagomedov vs. Thomson a fight that would be difficult to put together since the two are training partners, Miller against either Thomson or Nurmagomedov and Cerrone against the other look like viable possibilities. Thomson vs. Cerrone makes all the sense for the July 26 FOX show in San Jose. Cerrone is coming off a big win on FOX, and it's Thomson's home city and it being a good style match for that type of show.
Joseph Benavidez - In upping his record to 20-4, Benavidez in many ways finds himself in a similar position to teammate Urijah Faber a weight class up. Both almost always look spectacular, unless a title is on the line. Considered the No. 2 flyweight in the world, Benavidez won a performance of the night bonus on a night when the competition for such bonuses was a stiff as ever. His four losses were two to champion Demetrious Johnson, and two to Dominick Cruz, the longtime bantamweight champion.
He's now in that position where he's difficult to book. He was knocked out in the first round by Johnson in his prior fight, making a rematch difficult to put together. But if he's put against a top contender, he'd be favored against all of them. In a division without a lot of viable challengers, the worse thing to have is a spoiler of that degree. So while the obvious matchup with former Bellator bantamweight champion Zack Makovsky (18-4) makes sense, UFC risks a potential challenger for Johnson when nobody else is ready.
But there's nobody else available. Jussier Formiga da Silva (16-3), looked strong in his win over Scott Jorgensen on March 23, but Benavidez just finished Formiga in the first round on Sept. 4. Another potential opponent, Josh Sampo (11-3), just lost to Makovsky. The next person down the line, John Lineker (23-7), is coming off a loss to Bagautinov.