Last week we published an opinion piece from Sean Covington arguing that Jon Jones cannot claim to be the greatest of all time (GOAT) as his wins aren’t as impressive as they are made out to be. While I agree with my colleague that Jones is not the GOAT, I don’t agree that Jones’ wins aren’t impressive. In fact, Jones’ hit list is as strong as anyone in UFC history.
It’s easy to re-write history in MMA, and downgrade a fighter’s legacy, especially when they start losing. Notably, it happened to Brock Lesnar, and Ronda Rousey once they lost a fight or two and left the cage for WWE. Many others have been a victim of this as their careers wound down as well.
I would argue that the only thing keeping Jones from being recognized as the GOAT is his two drug test failures. Covington argued that Anderson Silva should have this status, but one must remember that Silva has also failed drug tests, and even did so before USADA came in to play.
Let’s look at the fights
Looking at the list of fighters Jones has defeated, you have to consider where that fighter was in that moment, not what he became years later. Let’s look at some examples:
Stephan Bonnar was Jones’ second UFC opponent. Bonnar was never a world beater and no one has ever really claimed he was. This fight was valuable for Jones’ progression as a young fighter in only his eighth professional bout. It offered Jones a fighter with a name that fans would recognize that he could defeat on his way up the ranks.
Jones’ win over Ryan Bader only looks that much more impressive as the years go on. Jones made easy work of Bader to secure a title shot. Since then, Bader has gone on to be one of the top light heavyweights in the sport and is set to compete for Bellator’s heavyweight championship early next year.
At the time Jon Jones fought Shogun Rua for the light heavyweight championship, Rua had only lost a handful of fights and was a very credible champion. He had just solved the Lyoto Machida puzzle (arguably twice) and could have seen a lengthy reign had Jones not come along.
Covington is right that Machida was never the same after the loss to Shogun, but it is also worth mentioning that Machida gave Jones his toughest test up to that point.
Alexander Gustafsson truly gave Jones the toughest test of his career. Granted, this was a fight Jones was expected to walk through but Jones showed that he can weather a storm and come back to win after losing some of the early rounds. Jones claimed he didn’t sufficiently prepare for this fight, but nonetheless, he persevered and showed championship grit.
But it’s the two wins (let’s pretend the second fight is a win) over Daniel Cormier that really show Jones’ mettle. All one has to do is look at what Cormier has accomplished after each Jones fight to show how strong those wins are for Jones. Cormier has dominated everyone he’s faced outside of Jon Jones (save for a tough fight with Gustafsson). Jones made it look pretty easy in dispatching Cormier, yes he tested positive after the second fight, but if Jones-Cormier 3 was booked today, Jones would still be the betting favorite.
Jon Jones is undoubtedly one of the most talented mixed martial artists to ever compete. The men he has made look boys are a who’s who of the history of modern MMA. The only thing that can take away from Jones’ legacy is his own behavior, but certainly not his fights.