Is Jon Jones beginning to stake his claim as the greatest UFC champion of all-time?
At least one well-respected member of the mixed martial arts community believes so.
Brian Stann is a retired fighter, a former WEC light heavyweight champion, and a current FOX UFC studio analyst.
After Jones dominated Glover Teixeira on Saturday night to defend his UFC light heavyweight title for a record seventh time and end Teixiera's 20-fight win streak, Stann declared he is on board with the notion that Jones has surpassed the two fighters generally considered the UFC's greatest champs: Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre.
"He doesn't have the win streak the others have," Stann said on Saturday night after UFC 172. "But the quality of opposition and the margin by which he's beaten them puts him there."
Silva has generally been considered to have the strongest claim to the mythical title. He held the UFC's middleweight championship for a record six years, nine months. He won the title from Rich Franklin at UFC 64 in Oct. 2006 and lost it to Chris Weidman at UFC 162 last summer.
Along the way, Silva set all sorts of UFC records, from his record title reign length, to most finishes in title fights (9), to most finishes overall (14), to most knockdowns (17) to longest win streak (16).
Then there are the things you can't quantify with numbers. Some of the things Silva accomplished were works of art, from his knockout jab finish of Forrest Griffin, to his front-kick knockout of Vitor Belfort, to rallying for a submission finish of Chael Sonnen after Sonnen dominated the first four rounds of their initial fight.
St-Pierre, meanwhile was the two-time welterweight champion. The Montreal-area native's second reign, from April 2008 through November of last year, was the second-longest reign in history, behind Silva's. St-Pierre never lost his title during that second title run, but instead relinquished it in order to take a break from the sport.
GSP's dominance was of a different sort than Silva's. St-Pierre was often criticized for his lack of finishes to his fights – his last seven title defenses all went the distance – but he was a cardio machine. At one point in that stretch, St-Pierre won an amazing 33 consecutive rounds, a UFC record not likely duplicated any time soon. He's spent more time in the Octagon than any fighter in UFC history (five hours, 28 minutes, 12 seconds) and has the most wins in UFC history (19).
In terms of intangibles for St-Pierre, it's telling that he was often the face of the company's biggest events: The promotion's first event in Canada (UFC 83); co-featured on the biggest money event in UFC history (UFC 100); performing in front of a North American MMA record crowd of 55,724 (UFC 129); and headlining the company's 20th anniversary card (UFC 167).
Silva and St-Pierre are tied for the most victories in title fights in UFC history at 11 (St-Pierre has an additional victory in an interim title fight). Which brings us back to Jones, who has held the light heavyweight title since his mauling of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in March 2011.
As Stann noted, Jones doesn't yet have Silva and St-Pierre's body of championship work. But Jones is only 26, and the victory over Teixeira was his eighth in a UFC title fight, which places him behind only GSP, Silva, Matt Hughes (nine) and Randy Couture (eight).
Jones' victory was his 11th in a row. The one blemish on his 20-1 record comes with a major asterisk. Jones was disqualified in a 2009 bout against Matt Hamill for illegal downward elbows. There's little doubt the elbows, thrown in a 12-6 o'clock motion, were outside the rulebook. But Jones completely dominated the fight, and it's highly arguable that referee Steve Mazzagatti should have stopped the one-sided beatdown well before it got to the point Jones began throwing the elbows.
If not for that debatable call, Jones would be at 21-0, with 14 wins in the UFC, two behind Silva's UFC record for consecutive victories.
So, we've established Jones is well on his way to matching or surpassing Silva or St-Pierre's marks, but doesn't yet have the longevity. Which leaves us with Stann's contention that Jones' quality of opposition and margin of victory makes up the difference.
Beginning with the victory over Rua, Jones had five wins over men who held the UFC light heavyweight title: Rua, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, and Vitor Belfort.
Neither St-Pierre nor Silva boast anything remotely close to Jones' remarkable reign-starting run.
Silva's resume includes a pair of wins over Franklin, a win over former PRIDE dual weight-class champion Dan Henderson, the win over Belfort, and the non-title victory over Griffin. St-Pierre's wins over former champs are his victories over Hughes, Serra, and two over B.J. Penn. But unlike the others, he also lost to Hughes and Serra, avenging the wins in rematches.
Silva also went through an undeniable soft patch in his stretch of title defenses unlike either other champion: he had consecutive title victories over Patrick Cote (who had been cut from the UFC and returned), Thales Leites (who was cut from the UFC six months after losing to Silva), and Demian Maia (who later went down to welterweight). You're not going to get Jones to weigh in on where he considers himself in the grand scheme of things at this point in his career. White, for his part, took a crack at it at Saturday night's post-fight press conference in Baltimore.
"I don't know if he's the greatest fighter ever, but he's becoming a man in front of everybody, in and outside of the Octagon. I thought he never looked better than he did [Saturday]. ... The light heavyweight division has always been the nastiest division in the sport. I say it all the time. He went through murderer's row to get that title and defend that title, and again tonight."
At the same time, White continued, "For Jones to beat Anderson Silva's record, that's four more fights. It's easy to look at a division like Anderson's or [current bantamweight champion Renan] Barao's and say they don't have a tough division. Yeah, they don't have a tough division because they're annihilating people and they keep winning so they make it look like its a weak division."
Maybe Stann was jumping the gun a little bit in declaring Jones to be ahead of Silva and St-Pierre. Maybe he was right. Regardless of your take, one thing's for sure: Jones belongs in the conversation, and each successive victory is only going to strengthen his case.
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter @DaveDoylemma.
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- Georges St-Pierre