Jon Jones is the greatest fighter of all time (right now)


The drama dissipated in the fourth round. Jon Jones’ investment in body shots in the first three frames began paying their dividends. Daniel Cormier tired, allowing Jones to stick him against the fence and keep him there. Need a finish in the fifth, Cormier couldn’t find the energy burst necessary until dwindling seconds of the fight when Jones – in the middle of a clinch – raised his hands in victory, took careful notice of the time remaining, and landing a punch. That set off Cormier, who threw a flurry that did more damage to referee Herb Dean than Jones as the final horn blared.

Jones told media at the post-fight press conference that his plan is to become the greatest fighter of all time. The only problem with that plan is that he may already be.

Jones victory over Cormier is his 12th straight since the “bogus” loss to Matt Hamill. It’s his eighth defense of the UFC light heavyweight title since he won it in March 2011. His run includes four consecutive victories over former UFC champions, and you can count his “rounds lost” without your toes. Jon Jones doesn’t turn 28 until next year.

On record, the usual suspects – Fedor Emelianenko, Georges St-Pierre, and Anderson Silva – all have their faults.

Emelianenko fought during an era with talent split between two promotions. Yes, he beat top guys during his run, but there is a long list of contemporaries he never fought Randy Couture, Frank Mir, Brock Lesnar. He never fought Josh Barnett. And while losses at the end of a career should be somewhat discounted, it’s fair to note the loss to Fabricio Werdum (or the fact that he never beat Werdum), if not the losses to Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson. It’s not entirely his fault, but between the big fights, Fedor’s resume includes names like Naoya Ogawa, Zuluzinho, and Hong Man Choi.

St-Pierre, who has the best resume of the three strictly on quality wins, also has the most high-profile and embarrassing loss of the three. It’s still a shock watching UFC 69. You know the outcome, but your brain won’t accept it, so you think “MAYBE GEORGES WINS THIS TIME.” But he doesn’t.

And Silva, the most dominant and spectacular UFC champion up until Jon Jones, has a little of column A and a little of column B. Silva beat Franklin and Henderson and Franklin and Sonnen and Belfort and Okami and Sonnen and Franklin and Sonnen. His title run also includes a weird Cote-Leites-Maia run. Silva would have the best argument against Jones if we considered just his UFC run, but Silva fought in Pride. And in Pride, Silva lost not only to Ryo Chonan by flying heel hook, but also Daiju Takase by triangle choke. Unlike the loss to Luiz Azeredo in his third pro fight, the losses to Chonan and Takase came in his 13th and 17th pro fights. Silva was 28 and 6 years into his MMA career when he fought Takase. The Chonan fight has often been chalked up to injury (although I’m not sure I’ve ever seen confirmation), but what of this loss to Takase? The man beat Emmanuel Yarborough, drew Daisuke Ishii, and never again had a winning record in MMA. Another injury? Yakuza pressure? I don’t know, but it don’t look good any way you cut it.

Dressing down the resumes of Emelianenko, St-Pierre, and Silva isn’t meant to discredit their careers. These men and their accomplishments are important to the annals of the sport’s history. You can make an argument for any of the three men as greatest fighter in the sport’s short history without being laughed at.

But when we make those arguments, you’ve got to get granular. It’s easy to say things like “Anderson Silva was a better UFC middleweight champion than Rich Franklin” because the evidence is so overwhelming. That’s not the case when discussing the sport’s all-time elite.

Jones doesn’t (yet) have those faults. In fact, he takes the best cases from each man and makes them his own. He has Emelianenko’s undefeated mystique, complete with a bogus, controversial loss. He has St-Pierre’s high level of competition. He has Silva’s flash and creativity. He even took from Mauricio Rua – who once crept into these discussions – the most dominant calendar year in the sport’s history.

Of course, Jones’ story isn’t over. At 28, he appears on top of his game, and he claims his upcoming move to Albuquerque to train full time will take him to another level still. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t have to. But maybe he burns out or loses motivation and goes on an embarrassing string of performances. That’s unlikely, but did we expect ‘Shogun’s’ career arc to play out as he has when he first entered the Octagon in 2007?

There is another, though. Jose Aldo is often left off these discussion, perhaps due to an underwhelming performance against Mark Hominick or perhaps because he’s not American or perhaps because he doesn’t run cars into poles. Aldo is undefeated outside a forgivable loss to Luciano Azevedo less than two-years into his career. He has one more title defense than Jones. He’s beaten everyone of note in the featherweight division and often in spectacular fashion. He’s just under a year older than Jones; the window of his reign isn’t facing any immediate threat of closing due to physical deterioration. Aldo has, on merit, a case worthy of the discussion.

One of these two will end their career as the greatest fighter in the sport’s history. Jones is ahead now – his resume, his mystique, his domination of the sport’s long-time marquee division give him an edge, but these next five years will cement their legacies. Does Jones move up to fight for the heavyweight crown? Does he – insanely – drop down to take the middleweight title? Will Aldo move up to 155? Could he hold two belts simultaneously? Can Jones? Can they stay healthy? Keep their motivation high? We’ll find out in due time.

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