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Why Jon Jones isn't getting the credit he deserves

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
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There's no shortage of opponents gunning for Jon Jones these days. (USA Today)

Sports fans tend to expect the most out of the most gifted. When a star is on the rise, he or she can do no wrong.

But once that athlete has reached the top of the heap, the critics come out in full force and pick apart everything the star does.

Jon Jones, the UFC's extraordinarily gifted light heavyweight champion, now finds himself in the crosshairs of critics in the media, in the fan base and, startlingly, among his fellow fighters.

There likely has never been a fighter in mixed martial arts history with the physical gifts Jones possesses. He's 6-feet, 4-inches tall with an 84-inch reach and the ability to make moves in the cage that men significantly smaller can't pull off.

He'll face Glover Teixeira, who has won 20 consecutive fights and hasn't lost since 2005, on Saturday at Baltimore Arena in the main event of UFC 172.

Yet, Jones came under heavy criticism in many quarters, including from Gustafsson, for choosing to fight Teixeira and not doing an immediate rematch. Others have blasted him for not pursuing Daniel Cormier.

But this is putting an apparent dislike for Jones in front of the facts.

Media, in an attempt to create controversy and generate clicks on their websites, berated Jones as afraid for choosing to fight Teixeira instead of Gustafsson.

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Jon Jones (R) is interviewed UFC personality Mike Goldberg. (USA Today)

Jones can be stubborn and surly, and he likes to control the narrative in a way that the media doesn't like and shouldn't accept. He frequently seems to not understand that the media is supposed to be independent and report the truth and that it doesn't serve as an extension of his public relations arm.

He's been referred to as a phony, and he is occasionally heavy handed in the way he attempts to control his image.

That, though, is simply allowing personal feelings to overshadow accomplishment.

This is a guy who has fought every top fighter in his division since he's been in the UFC and who rallied to win over Gustafsson after getting steamrolled in the early rounds.

Had it been Chuck Liddell who had come roaring back to win in the championship rounds to defeat Gustafsson, the back slapping would have been extraordinary.

But because Jones isn't who some want him to be, he faced criticism rather than being applauded for pulling off a remarkable comeback.

MMA fighters are known for their willingness to accept big challenges, but even within that fraternity, few have faced top opposition as repeatedly as Jones. The UFC would be far better off if all of its fighters were as willing as Jones to fight the best each time out.

"There was a time that kind of stuff would have bothered me, but I understand it now and it has no impact," Jones said of the criticism. "I'm the guy with the target on my back. They need me to accomplish their goals."

That said, if Jones were ever going to pack it in, he would have done so in that Gustafsson fight last year.

He was taking a beating in the first half of that fight and there were plenty of opportunities for a guy looking to quit to give up his back and get out of there without taking any more punishment.

Jones, though, didn't choose that route. He rallied in Rounds 4 and 5 to narrowly win the title, putting himself at even further risk by opening up to go after Gustafsson.

Jones admitted to Yahoo Sports that he would watch fighters such as Clay Guida and Diego Sanchez get in wars and wonder if he would be able to answer the call when adversity presented itself and his back was against the wall.

"A lot of times, these fighters who are in these wars aren't the most skilled guys," Jones said. "Take a guy like Clay Guida. He's not a freak athlete and he doesn't win by having this tremendous athleticism that's so much greater than his opponents. He has a massive heart and he wins because he wants it so badly and he refuses in the 15 or the 25 minutes he's out there to lose. He's trying to win every second he's in the cage.

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Jon Jones has one career loss and that was due to disqualification. (USAT)

"I've been blessed with a lot of athleticism and a large array of technique and skills. I have a lot of ways to win: Wrestling, stand-up, ground. I have a lot of different ways of winning. But I've always wondered, 'Do I have the heart of a Clay Guida, or a Diego Sanchez?' I don't want to be in a dog fight war. I like dominating my opponents."

He laughed when he realized what he was saying.

"I like making it look easy and getting out of there without taking a lot of damage," Jones said. "Who wants to get beat up and wind up in the hospital? But I got put into that position where I found myself in a dog fight with Gustafsson. He pushed and he pushed hard. What I learned in that fight was that in order to beat me, not only will you have to have a far better skill set and not only will you need to have far better cardio, but you're simply going to want to be champion way, way, way more than I do.

"You're going to have be a really special individual, because I learned how much this means to me and I am not giving this belt up. It didn't become as apparent to me in other fights before I fought Gustafsson, but when I look back on, say, the Chael Sonnen fight, I showed how much I wanted to be the champion. My toe was literally hanging off and I still fought and went on and did what I needed to do. I think I answered any questions I had about myself in my last few fights."

The strange thing about the criticisms of Jones skipping a Gustafsson rematch is that it's not like he's taken on an easy opponent. Teixeira is extremely talented and there are some experts who are choosing Teixeira to score the upset.

If Jones beats Teixeira, he'll get around to title defenses against guys like Daniel Cormier, Phil Davis and a rematch with Gustafsson.

But those who choose to criticize him are doing so simply because they don't care for him personally, or by choosing to ignore the facts.

Gustafsson deserves a rematch, and he should get one later this year assuming Jones defeats Teixeira.

The names on paper are proof of what Jones has done. He's done enough that he doesn't have to prove a thing to critics who are simply looking to gain attention.

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