COMMENTARY | Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will defend more than the belt when he faces Alexander Gustafsson on Sept. 21 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada, at UFC 165. He'll also make his first defense of the title pound-for-pound best.
During his career, Jones has won 18 of 19 fights, become the youngest champion in UFC history, headlined eight events, and ascended to the top of the promotion's pound-for-pound rankings.
Not bad for a 26-year-old…
Here are five defining moments from Jones' journey to the top of the world's elite promotion.
People knew the young fighter from Endicott, New York was talented, but on Aug. 9, 2008, UFC fans saw the budding star firsthand. Jones was 6-0 when he made his UFC debut against jiu-jitsu ace Andre Gusmao at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
"Bones" used his combination of wrestling and striking skills to claim the unanimous decision victory (30-27, 29-28, 30-27). It wasn't long before those skills made a painful emergence...
Striking on full display (UFC on Versus 1, March 21, 2010)
Jones was coming off his first professional loss -- a disqualification against Matt Hamill for illegal elbows -- when he met former contender Brandon Vera. Until the disqualification, Jones was clearly in control and on pace to beat, likely finish, Hamill. He took his frustrations out on Vera.
"Bones" quickly took down "The Truth" and applied a brutal elbows. Vera reacted in pain, and after the dust cleared from Jones' first-round stoppage, it was revealed that Vera suffered three facial fractures.
World, meet elbows. Elbows, world.
The fight was over in minutes and sparked rumblings about his title potential. Those questions were soon answered...
Jones claims light heavyweight gold (UFC 128, March 19, 2011)
Following an emotional win over Ryan Bader, Jones stepped into the cage with new champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, a man molded in the PRIDE ring and coming off a convincing victory over Lyoto Machida.
It wasn't even close.
Jones connected on 72 percent of his strikes (outstriking Rua 102-11) en route to a third-round technical knockout. At only 23, Jones was the youngest champion in UFC history.
"It feels so good," Jones said after the fight. "It's a testament that dreams do come true. Believe in yourself, and once you get there, don't slow down. It comes true, everybody."
[Watch: UFC 165 extended preview]The win was the first of five straight victories over former UFC champions, a list that includes a former friend...
Jones wins vicious grudge match (UFC 145, April 21, 2012)
The build-up was intense as Jones and former friend and Jackson's MMA teammate Rashad Evans prepared for their bout at UFC 145. Evans launched verbal haymakers at the champ, feeling betrayed that "Bones" accepted the title fight with "Shogun," a bout initially granted to "Suga" before an injury forced him to pull out.
There was no love lost. Despite the personal attacks and extreme emotional investment, Jones displayed poise amid the pressure.
"Suga" was by far the best wrestler he'd faced, yet Jones remained composed. At the end of the day, the champ controlled the bout and won by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 50-45).
The victory was a testament to his resolve and it demonstrated a calm, focused persona consistent among the sport's elite. However, he'd soon be tested in other ways...
Out of the lion's mouth (UFC 152, Sept. 22, 2012)
Jones faced many dangerous opponents, but against Belfort, he found himself in the most danger. In a clash between the original young lion and the new breed of mixed martial artists, Belfort secured an armbar early in the fight.
Jones was in trouble.
But as soon as "The Phenom" loosened his grip, "Bones" shook off the attempt and began landing elbow after elbow. Jones suffered a strained ligament as a result of Belfort's hold, but he battled through adversity and wound up winning with a submission of his own in the fourth round.
Jones has shown fans something new in every fight and has developed into a one-of-a-kind talent. His combination of skill, motivation, and physical gifts, which include a staggering 84.5-inch reach, make him a matchup nightmare.
Of his 19 career fights, only three have gone the distance.
Jones is now tied with UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz for the most light heavyweight title defenses in the promotion's history. He also holds the record for the division's longest win streak with nine.
He's expecting Gustafsson to be No. 10. And when the two square off at UFC 165, one can't help but wonder one thing.
What will Jones do next?
Paul Putignano lives in Southern California, where he has covered mixed martial arts and a wide array of sports across the Greater Los Angeles area. His work has been published in a variety of newspapers and online publications.
- Sports & Recreation
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Jon Jones