Jones beginning to lap the UFC field

TORONTO – There are a lot of aspects to Jon Jones’ job that require quite a bit of work. He’s got the fighting part of the job pretty much figured out, though.

Jones completed what should be regarded as the finest year by a fighter in UFC history on Saturday by overcoming the first real adversity he has ever faced in the cage. The phenom submitted Lyoto Machida with a standing guillotine in the waning seconds of the second round to retain his light heavyweight championship in the main event of UFC 140.

A crowd of 18,303 at the Air Canada Centre watched in awe as Jones capped a remarkable year in which he went 4-0, won the light heavyweight title and reeled off three consecutive victories over current or former champions, making them look decidedly average in the process.

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is all smiles after his fourth victory of 2011.
(Getty Images)

He’s only 24, but talk has already begun, if only in whispers, about him one day becoming the greatest fighter ever.

There’s a long way to go between now and then, but Jones did nothing to discourage such talk after an astonishing second-round performance in which he took Machida down, opened a nasty cut on the ex-champion’s forehead and then put him to sleep.

When Machida lapsed into unconsciousness and referee John McCarthy stopped the match, Jones simply let go of Machida, who crumpled to the floor with a thud.

There have been a lot of great fighters who have competed in mixed martial arts, and a lot can go wrong between now and the end of Jones’ career. But Jones has a rare mix of size, athleticism and instinct that has never been seen before in the sport.

“I do believe that I can be one of the best on the planet,” Jones said. “I think it’s my destiny one day to be one of the best who ever lived.”

Jones began the day meditating near a waterfall at a local conservation area called Ball’s Falls. He only made it about 12 minutes before leaving, because he was so close to the water and it was bitterly cold.

“I didn’t want to get sick,” he said, very reasonably.

A day earlier, he was booed at the weigh-in and on Saturday, many in the crowd were backing his opponent, chanting repeatedly, “Machida! Machida! Machida!”

When UFC president Dana White was asked about Jones being booed, he sneered and said, “Who cares?” But as Jones heard White speak, he wrinkled his nose and grinned.

“Come on, Dana,” he said with a smile creasing his face. “I care.”

He cares about pretty much everything. He seems desperate to be loved and tries almost too hard because of that.

He may not be at the championship-level when it comes to dealing with the media and marketing himself, but he’s on a level all his own when it comes to the fighting part of it.

Machida won the first round by confusing Jones with his movement and landing a few good strikes. Machida circled for much of the round, darting in and out and throwing strikes that didn’t hurt Jones but which certainly got his attention.

“The first round was very, very confusing for me,” Jones conceded.

Things changed – in a big way – in the second round. Jones closed the distance on Machida and cut off his escape routes, backing him near the cage. Jones then took Machida down with an authority, gaining top position.

He is probably the best in the business firing elbows from the guard, and he blasted Machida with an elbow that opened a huge gash on the right side of the Brazilian’s forehead. McCarthy was so concerned about it that he stopped the fight to have the doctor look at it.

He was cleared to continue but, though nobody knew it, the fight was essentially over.

“The fight was going great until I got the cut on my forehead,” Machida said. “My vision was blurry and that was the beginning of the end.”

The fight moved across the cage when Jones once again pinned Machida. This time, he put on a standing guillotine that slowly sucked the life from the former champion. McCarthy recognized that Machida was out and ended it as Jones released the choke and walked calmly away, shaking his head.

He’s good. He knows it, White knows it and anybody who pays attention to mixed martial arts knows it. White put a damper on any speculation that he’d fight middleweight champion Anderson Silva, noting, “I don’t see that fight happening any time soon.”

[ Related: Frank Mir breaks Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s arm in UFC 140 win ]

Jones, though, is so gifted that he’s basically lapped the field. There are a lot of terrific 205-pounders, but there aren’t many, if any, with the tools to knock Jones off his pedestal.

If he loses, it’s likely going to be an out-of-the-ring issue that derails him and not because the opponent was better.

“He continues to prove his dominance and how amazingly talented he is,” White said. “The one thing about Jon Jones is, he’s a young guy. He’s a young guy who has a lot of things to learn in the sport still, but more than just fighting. But the potential? His potential is unbelievable. If he stays on the right track and does the right things, the sky is the limit. He could go down as the greatest ever.”

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Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Dec 11, 2011