BALTIMORE – A huge grin creased Jon Jones' face as he entered the post-fight news conference following his impressive unanimous decision victory over Glover Teixeira in their UFC 172 light heavyweight title fight Saturday at Baltimore Arena.
Jones had plenty of reason to smile.
He performed brilliantly, battering Teixeira from start to finish and leaving no doubt who was the better man. Unlike his bout against Alexander Gustafsson last year, when many fans believed Jones was given a gift, there was no doubt about this outcome.
All three judges gave all five rounds to Jones, who opened a massive cut over Teixeira's right eye and also sent him to the hospital with rib and shoulder injuries.
Jones came out of the fight with no known injuries, unlike his last three outings.
He wore a sling to the post-fight news conference after UFC 152, courtesy of a Vitor Belfort arm bar. His big toe was dangling after his victory over Chael Sonnen at UFC 159 and he was so beaten up following his win over Gustafsson last year at UFC 165 that he collapsed onto a stretcher after exiting the cage and had to be taken to the hospital.
Courtesy of his victory, he'll rematch with Gustafsson later this year. The Swede defeated Jimi Manuwa in March to do his part to put the rematch together.
The two may be intertwined for a long time, because they're beginning to separate themselves from the pack.
Gustafsson's teammate, Phil Davis, has long been considered a threat to Jones because of his wrestling ability, but Davis was listless and did little in a loss to Anthony Johnson on Saturday.
Daniel Cormier, of course, remains an elite potential opponent, but after what Jones has done over the last three-plus years, those are falling by the wayside quickly.
Saturday's win was his eighth in as many world title fights and he's now made a division-record seven consecutive title defenses.
He's not showing the look of losing any time soon, though UFC president Dana White was quick to point out that he's still not close to former middleweight champion Anderson Silva's record for most consecutive title defenses. Silva successfully defended his belt 10 consecutive times before losing to Chris Weidman last year.
But Jones is nothing short of magnificent and he's only now rounding into his prime fighting years. There are going to be many beatings yet to come.
"I thought this was the best performance of his career," White said in tribute. " … The light heavyweight division has always been the nastiest in the sport and he went through a Murderer's Row to get the title."
He was pretty impressive in his title-winning effort over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in 2011, but he's been so good for so long that it's splitting hairs to argue which was the best.
Jones said leading up to Saturday's bout that he had taken Gustafsson lightly last year and had only given 80 percent of himself.
Gustafsson's performance in that loss gave him a sort of cult hero status. There is a portion of the fan base which hasn't embraced Jones, whether because of his occasionally prickly personality or they just can't accept someone so much better than the rest of the field.
But Jones-Gustafsson has the makings one of the sport's elite rivalries. Much like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were defined by their boxing rivalry, that may be how it turns out for Jones and Gustafsson.
Gustafsson was brilliant last year in bringing the fight to Jones. He hit Jones with a lot of his strikes and became the first man to ever take Jones' down.
But Gustafsson had never previously looked quite that good. He'd been impressive in a number of matches, but he raised his game several levels against Jones.
If Jones did indeed take him lightly, that makes his win all the more impressive.
Teixeira, a knockout puncher with either hand and a submisison expert, fought valiantly and never stopped coming. But he did little to make an impact.
"He's an extreme beast," Jones said of Teixeira. "I respect him so much and I'm glad to have fought him."
If Jones remains on the pace he's on, he'll soon be regarded as the greatest mixed martial artist ever. No fighter has ever gone through the series of elite opponents the way he has done.
And given that none of his bouts were close other than the fight with Gustafsson, he may be in for a long and historic run at the top.
The UFC will market the rematch like crazy and you can be sure there will be plenty of pictures of the lumped up Jones, with a bloodied lip and a swollen eye, gingerly getting onto the stretcher.
Before the last fight with Gustafsson, the marketing hook was that Jones was for the first time facing a man his size.
The next time around, it will push the controversy and the fact that Jones nearly lost his belt.
But there is no controversy. Jones is the best fighter in the world by a long shot and expect him to make that point emphatically to Gustafsson when they meet again.