To the untrained eye, as well as many trained ones, the UFC light heavyweight champion has appeared a near-flawless fighter.
But in less than a minute at Toronto's Air Canada Centre, Belfort not only put Jones in the most challenging spot he's ever faced in his mixed martial arts career, he's also given the champion something to obsess over going forward.
While you and I might see Belfort's almost-submission of Jones via armbar in the opening moments of their UFC 152 main event as simply the handiwork of a master jiu-jitsu practitioner who has seen and done it all, Jones, in the manner of elite athletes across the sporting spectrum, came out of the situation seeing a glaring hole in his game that's in dire need of work.
"I would rate the performance, I think it was a good performance, but there was definitely a lot of room to improve," said Jones, wearing a sling on his right arm at the post-fight press conference. "Vitor had me second-guessing myself. I've just got to get more comfortable in the Octagon. I work so hard on my wrestling and so hard on my standup. I definitely need to embrace jiu-jitsu more and practice what I preach, being a true mixed martial artist and embracing all martial arts. I have to admit I don't practice my jiu-jitsu every day."
Jones went as far as to say he was grateful for nearly getting his arm snapped.
"I just remember getting to that second round, thanking God that I had gotten out of that armbar, and thanking God for that adversity. ... I honestly thank God just for having a hurt arm, just to prove to myself and prove to my coaches that all the speeches and all the stories I heard about warriors, just to be able to prove that I can be a warrior as well, I was grateful to be able to come back from something."
All the more remarkable was that, in spite of the hurt limb, Jones went ahead and fought a near-flawless bout the rest of the way, picking the former champion apart before finishing him in the fourth round with an Americana.
The performance capped a week in which Jones hit all the right notes in his campaign to remake his image after UFC 151. He stood his ground against UFC president Dana White and stuck with his beliefs without being drawn into arguments; stayed poised in the face of relentless questioning; and then did the most important thing in showing courage under adversity in the heat of battle.
"I think I have a lot of fans behind me," said Jones. "Obviously there are going to be people who support you, and people who want to see you fall, and that just goes with the position I am in. The biggest thing is focusing on the people who are pulling for you. And want to see you make it and wanting to focus on them."
UFC 152 Notes
"Let me tell you what: If you didn't like that flyweight fight, please, I'm begging you, don't ever buy another UFC pay-per-view again. Don't ever buy another one. I don't want your money. You're a moron, you don't like fighting and you don't appreciate great talent or heart if you didn't like that flyweight fight."
I won't go so far as to call the people who disliked Demetrious Johnson's flyweight title win over Joseph Benavidez "morons," (and let's face it, those most loudly decrying White's comments will, in fact, tune in for UFC 153), but sometimes you've just got to wonder.
Johnson's basically a smaller Frankie Edgar, using speed and elusive footwork to frustrate and pick apart his foes. Edgar's rightly lauded throughout the sport for his courage and tenacity, but when Johnson, who like Edgar also spent years going up against bigger opponents, fights the same stye, he's boring and deserves to be booed? Really?
This is the second straight event in which Canadian MMA fans, who have long had a reputation for being more knowledgeable and educated than most, have jeered a good technical fight, on the heels of the Urijah Faber vs. Renan Barao bout at UFC 149 in Calgary. There seems to be a pattern developing here.
UFC 152 Quotes
"People do want to see it. I don't know. Who knows? People do want to see it. If enough people do want to see it, I guess I'd have to make it." -- White, on the possibility of Jones vs. Chael Sonnen
"I could go on and on forever, but the top five pay-per-view draws in this company are Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen makes the list now, Jon Jones and Rashad Evans. So there are your facts, my friend." -- White, as part of his rant against Toronto Star columnist Steve Simmons, the entirety of which you can hear here.
To referee "Big" John McCarthy, who seemed to have been teleported straight from the 1990s into the Octagon at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. McCarthy put on an officiating clinic in how to call a main-event fight, starting with his first and most important non-call in letting Jones continue despite being stuck deep in Belfort's armbar. A lesser referee might have pulled the trigger in that spot. McCarthy was equally adapt in recognizing Belfort could continue later in the round, despite being deeply cut open by several of Jones' nastiest elbows. Throughout the bout, McCarthy knew when to let the fighters do their thing and when to step in. In other words, he was exactly what you'd expect from a main-event ref. There have undeniably been times in recent years in which McCarthy has looked a step slow, but Saturday night was a vintage performance.
There was nothing egregious at UFC 152, but there's some nitpicky stuff: Like, the stoppage in Kyle Noke's win over Charlie Brenneman came a bit quick. And how did a judge see the flyweight title fight for Benavidez? But all in all, any night which doesn't end with everyone howling about the officials a good one.
Stock Up: Cub Swanson
So how do you think this works over at Jackson's MMA? Does Greg Jackson hold nightly "how to kill the sport" training sessions, but make attendance optional? Is there a line painted down the middle of the gym, like some sort of wacky ‘80s sitcom, leaving the exciting fighters to train on one side of the gym, and the boring ones on the other side? Either way, Swanson, a Jackson's product, doesn't seem to agree with White's "sport-killing" take on his coach. He's been one of 2012's most consistently exciting fighters, with three KO/TKO wins to his credit and back-to-back Fight of the Night awards. After his highlight-reel finish of Charles Oliveira on Saturday night, Swanson, the winner of four out of his past five fights, has earned the chance to test himself against an upper-echelon 145er.
Stock Down: Matt Hamill
I don't mean this to come off as disrespect to Hamill, because I'll always respect someone who overcame his disability and got as far as he did. But as I watched his fight with Roger Hollett, I couldn't shake the thought that Hamill might have best stayed retired. It's not that Hamill isn't a competent fighter, he is. But he's also one who had multiple chances against elite competition before he took time off, and he came up short in each fight. While Hamill got his hand raised at UFC 152, I saw nothing during Hamill's fight that suggested his game will evolve. And if that's the case, what's the point?
Fight I want to See Next: Michael Bisping vs. Chris Weidman. The UFC seems eager to push Bisping into an undeniably bankable title fight with Anderson Silva, even if White stopped just a bit short of saying so Saturday. Weidman's boosters put on blinders and act as though he's the only logical choice to fight Silva. But the truth is, neither guy has a clear-cut case for the next shot. At this point, only the most irrational Bisping hater won't give him his due as a much-improved fighter. But Bisping hasn't come close to cleaning out the pack. And Weidman, while clearly a star in the making, still only has one victory of note to his credit. I know I'm looking past Tim Boetsch, Weidman's next opponent, and that Boetsch seems to derive magic powers from being counted out. But Bisping vs. Weidman intrigues me. A victory over Weidman would give Bisping's credibility the final boost he needs for a title shot; a win over Bisping would give Weidman the big-name win he needs to bolster his profile. Whether you think Weidman is No. 1 contender and Bisping No. 2 or vice versa, there's only one way to settle it.