Don't believe the hype. UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones had nothing to prove Saturday night other than what a fighter always sets out to prove on fight nights - that he or she is better than their opponent.
And he did, against Vitor Belfort at UFC 152 in Toronto, dominating the legend, aside from an arm bar scare in the early moments of the first round, on the way to submitting him in the fourth round with an Americana shoulder lock.
That's all that fight was about - Jones vs. Belfort. Jones had no debt to pay back to fans for the UFC's decision to cancel UFC 151 a month ago when Dan Henderson pulled out of his scheduled title bout against Jones days before fight week.
Jones' responsibility was and is to the family he provides for and, if anything else, to respect the rules of the sport he competes in. Jones may still owe a debt to society for his driving while intoxicated conviction stemming from a car crash he was involved in last May, but that isn't paid in the Octagon.
Jones' reputation has suffered after his boss Dana White led a smear campaign against the fighter a month ago. Jones' offense was that he acted within his rights and refused a replacement fight for UFC 151 with Chael Sonnen on days' notice after Henderson revealed the injury that forced him out.
White evidently forgot how Jones not too long ago bailed the UFC out of a tough situation when he accepted a short-notice fight with then-champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the Octagon seconds after he had finished fighting Ryan Bader. In the heat and stress of the moment, White must have also forgotten that Jones has been the UFC's most active champion since beating Rua for the belt, fighting with exceptional frequency.
Fans shouldn't forget it, either. Paying to watch Jon Jones fight has always been money well-spent and it was once again on Saturday night.
No other peripheral issue really matters in the face of that. That goes for whatever the health of his relationship with Dana White and other UFC brass might be right now.
Jon Jones is one of the best fighters of all time. Dana White's job is to get him into fights that we can watch and Jones' job is to fight. So far they've both done that, and as long as they continue to, this writer couldn't care less if they are on one another's Christmas card list or not.
Spirit of The Law
I can't be the only one who enjoyed seeing Vitor Belfort swing a kick at Jon Jones' head at the opening bell when the champ came out in the loop-hole exploiting, crawling on all fours stance that he is unfortunately getting in the habit of doing. You may have noticed Jones doing so, Belfort kicking at him and missing, and then Jones complaining to the referee about it.
Under the unified rules of mixed martial arts, kicks and knees to the head of a downed opponent are illegal, and being "downed" is defined as having three or more points on the ground. So, a fighter standing on their own two feet can be kicked or kneed to the head but if they were on one or both knees, or also had one hand or both hands on the ground, they could not be. Not even if they are on top of their opponent.
It's a silly rule not backed up by any tangible empirical evidence showing those types of strikes as being more dangerous than, say, an uppercut in boxing. Be that as it may, they are the rules, but it is always annoying to see competitors be legalistic instead of pugilistic.
Surely Jones, who is already quite possibly the best 205 pound MMA fighter we've ever seen, was not planning on beating Belfort by disqualification in the opening seconds of their fight so he should be above this silly gamesmanship of adopting such a posture and then whining to the referee about blows that don't even land.
Reffing Ain't Easy
When Joseph Benavidez complained to referee Yves Lavigne about his eye bothering him as the result of what he probably thought was an illegal eye-poke of some sort from his opponent Demetrious Johnson during their 125-pound title fight, he most likely wanted the ref to step in, give him time to recover and warn Johnson or penalize him. Had Lavigne seen and ruled a foul, he surely would have been justified in stepping in calling a temporary halt to the action in order to give Benavidez time to recover.
Benavidez's eye was clearly bothering him but when he petitioned Lavigne, the official said, bluntly, "I didn't see it." At this moment in the telecast, analyst Joe Rogan exclaimed in disbelief at Lavigne's comment.
Perhaps he should have seen a foul, and perhaps he sounded callous but we have to applaud Lavigne for doing exactly as he should have. Referees are there to start fights and rounds, to call fouls, enforce penalties and end fights and rounds, that's basically it.
If a referee doesn't call a foul, there is no foul. And if there is no foul, the referee should only step in because a round has ended or because they are stopping the entire fight, permanently.
Instead, we often see fighters effectively calling time outs that they don't have a right to when they tell a referee, after the fact, that they are hurt as the result of something that they feel was illegal. One of the most famous examples of this was when, during their second fight, Matt Hughes asked referee Herb Dean to give him a time out because he claimed he had been hit low from Georges St-Pierre.
Herb Dean didn't call any low blows and so should not have given Hughes time to rest but he did. After the fight was over, Hughes admitted that he had just been pretending to have gotten hit low in a fight and was trying to get a breather in a fight that was not going his way.
There will always be fighters like Hughes, who are not above bending the rules to try and win.
Referees who take fighters at their word may be well intentioned, but they should not hand over the responsibility of officiating a fight to the fighters themselves. Kudos to Lavigne for having the guts to do the right, if not uncomfortable thing Saturday night.
Elias Cepeda has covered boxing and MMA since 2005 and is a voting member of the Yahoo! Sports MMA Pound for Pound Rankings panel. Follow Elias on Twitter @EliasCepeda
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Martial Arts
- Jon Jones
- Vitor Belfort
- Dana White