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A year into the decade, Jon Jones established himself as the best light heavyweight in the world. A year, no more than two later, he established himself as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. And no more than four years in, he established himself as the greatest fighter in MMA history.
Jones won the UFC light heavyweight championship on March 19, 2011, when he obliterated Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. He’s held it ever since, except for the times it was stripped from him for his out-of-the-cage conduct.
He won’t win Man of the Decade because of that, but his 16 wins and nine finishes, without a loss certainly make him an easy choice as the MMA Male Fighter of the Decade.
He fought a who’s who of the greatest fighters of the 21st century and defeated them handily. The only fights he had that were even moderately close were his first fight with Alexander Gustafsson, a bout for which he admitted he partied and failed to train, and his most recent bout with Thiago Santos.
But Jones beat six current or former UFC champions (Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort and Daniel Cormier) and had a second win over Cormier changed to a no-contest because of an issue with a drug test. He finished four of them, all in one-sided manner.
He proved to be an exceptionally well-rounded fighter. His height and reach made him a matchup nightmare but his ability to adapt his game and fight whatever style he wanted is what makes him so great. He’s got elite MMA wrestling, terrific submissions and, as he showed against Santos, a kickboxer, he can fight stand up well if he needs to do so.
Jones was so good that he ran away from all other contenders. Former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, now the ONE flyweight champ, is the runner-up. But though Johnson was dominant, he lost twice in the decade and didn’t face the level of opposition that Jones did. Johnson would have won were it not for Jones, but one mistake was enough to eliminate him from this field.
Cormier, Jones’ bitter rival, is the other runner-up. He won the light heavyweight title in Jones’ absence, then moved up a division to knock out Stipe Miocic to claim the heavyweight belt.
Honorable mentions go to UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, lightweight contender Tony Ferguson, former welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre and former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
Each of them had a great decade, and Nurmagomedov remains unbeaten, though he hasn’t had the quality of opposition that Jones did. Ferguson went 17-1 in the decade and is on a 12-fight winning streak. St-Pierre went 7-0, all in title fights. After winning six title fights at welterweight, St-Pierre retired. Four years later, he came back and defeated Michael Bisping to win the middleweight belt.
Cruz was often injured during the decade, but he was 8-1 in the decade and had wins over Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez (twice each), Johnson and T.J. Dillashaw.
None were as dominant as Jones, though, and did it against the kind of opposition Jones faced.
That’s why Jon Jones is the obvious selection as the Yahoo Sports Male MMA Fighter of the Decade.