Jon Jones barely survived the greatest challenge to his light heavyweight title in a reign that began nine years ago, in 2011.
Dominick Reyes was aggressive, pushed the pace and had Jones on his heels early in the fight. But much as he did at UFC 165 in 2013, Jones came on down the stretch and eked out a unanimous decision victory.
When the final bell sounded Saturday at UFC 247 in Houston, it wasn’t clear to either fighter, or the crowd, who had won the bout. Jones won by margin of 48-47 twice and 49-46, with the latter score by judge Joe Solis being utterly ridiculous. Reyes unquestionably won the first two rounds, and Jones unquestionably won the last two. The outcome of the fight clearly was determined by how the judges saw the third.
Yahoo Sports scored it 48-47 for Jones, giving him the last three rounds. While he won the fifth round convincingly, that was not the case in the third. It was splitting hairs to pick a winner in that round, but Jones got it and kept the belt that he won first on March 19, 2011, when he stopped Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the third round in Newark, New Jersey.
“Dominick did a tremendous job,” Jones said in the cage after the decision was announced. “Dominick certainly earned my respect. That was a great fight. I’ll tell you what: I think the difference in the fight was takedowns.”
According to FightMetric, Jones was 2 of 9 on takedowns and Reyes did not attempt one. Jones did nothing with either of the takedowns and Reyes popped back up, but in a fight which was otherwise a kickboxing match, that may have been the difference.
Reyes pressured Jones and was able to get a distance in which he controlled the action early. He was pushing a fast pace, throwing his hands, using his kicks and making Jones work.
But because he pushed the pace so much early, he didn’t have as much reserve and even by the middle part of the third round, it was obvious he wasn’t quite as quick and he was throwing punches one at a time rather than in combination.
Jones had run a buzzsaw the previous nine years through the greatest light heavyweights the sport had ever seen. He beat legends like Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Vitor Belfort, Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida in his early days as champion.
He developed a bitter rivalry with Daniel Cormier and beat him twice, though the second was changed to a no-contest when Jones failed an anti-doping test.
For his first fight with Alexander Gustafsson, he freely admitted he didn’t train and got way behind, but still came back to win.
None of those greats, though, came as close to beating him as Reyes.
“That’s the game we play,” Reyes said of the judging. “I took an L.”
He did, losing for the first time in 13 fights, but he greatly improved his reputation in defeat. He’d been criticized for lackluster opposition, but he went toe-to-toe with the greatest who ever lived and nearly pulled it off.
Jones, though, has proven his toughness and his ability to adapt and even on this night, when he was not nearly at his best, he found a way to get it done, as he has been doing for the better part of a decade.
This time, though, he had to sweat it out more than he ever had to do before.
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