INGLEWOOD, Calif. — For the first 10 minutes of his highly controversial return to the Octagon, Jon Jones looked nothing like the man who had been proclaimed the greatest fighter of all-time.
Oh, he looked plenty good, but something seemed off in the first two rounds of his light heavyweight championship bout with Alexander Gustafsson in the main event of UFC 232 at The Forum.
In the third round, Jonny Bones returned.
Jones took Gustafsson down early in the third round and for all intents and purposes, the bout was over. Jones grappled briefly with Gustafsson before he began to rain elbows and punches down on the Swede.
Referee Mike Beltran finally saw enough and stopped it at 2:02 of the third, giving Jones the TKO win in a rematch of one of the greatest bouts in UFC history that Jones barely squeaked out in 2013.
— UFC (@ufc) December 30, 2018
There was little doubt this time around. Jones mostly kicked at Gustafsson in the first two rounds, piling up points and setting things up later, but it was in the third where the G.O.A.T. reappeared.
When it ended, he called out his arch rival, heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, who surrendered the light heavyweight title on Friday so that Jones could fight Gustafsson to begin his third reign.
“I know there is a guy who has been calling himself Champ Champ,” Jones said.
As the crowd roared, Jones added with a grin, “Daddy’s home, D.C.”
The victory capped a tumultuous few weeks for Jones, who had tested positive for banned substances in 2016 and 2017 and had one of those substances reappear in his system in a minute amount on Dec. 9.
USADA decided it was not performance-enhancing and said there was no evidence of new usage. So it cleared Jones to fight, but officials in Nevada, where the bout was supposed to be held, didn’t have enough time to convene a hearing. Thus, the bout was moved to California, which had recently dealt with Jones’ 2017 case and was aware of the facts.
Gustafssson derided Jones as a cheater and said he’d beat him anyway, but Jones expertly controlled the distance and Gustafsson had little success with his strikes.
“In the first fight, I stayed in his punching range,” said Jones, who worked heavily on his boxing during his most recent suspension.
He showed the all-around game he’ll need if he does get another fight with Cormier, who remains his greatest rival.
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