Not long after Jon “Bones” Jones’ 4-minute-and-33-second destruction of Chael Sonnen at UFC 159 – with a broken big toe unnoticed until the in-cage postfight interview – UFC president Dana White received a phone call from Anderson Silva.
Silva, the UFC middleweight champion regarded by many as the finest pound-for-pound mixed martial artist, called with a request to fight someone who White refused to unveil.
Put two and two together and you’ll figure out that someone is Jones, who is making a strong case as the best in the business. Although the brash Sonnen was convinced, Jones wouldn’t bite when asked if he considered himself better than anyone else in MMA. Even Silva, the middleweight champ for five-and-a-half years and UFC record holder with 17 straight wins and 10 title defenses.
“No, that would be disrespectful, a shame to disregard what Anderson has done,” Jones said. “I’ve now celebrated my two-year-anniversary of being a champion. Anderson has been doing it for around six. That’s phenomenal. I’m not going to disregard the things he’s done.”
So be it, but we retain the right to trumpet the accomplishments of “Bones” Jones after he beat up an alternate on the 2000 U.S. Olympic wrestling team by defeating him at his own game before 15,227 at the Prudential Center. More amazing was how he finished Sonnen despite a compound fracture of the toe that if not for the TKO would have cost him the light-heavyweight championship of the world.
Though Jones claimed he would have continued fighting, White said no way, for the doctor would have stopped the fight, and Sonnen would have claimed the title and made at least one defense during Jones’ indefinite recovery period.
“That would have been horrible,” White said.
That picture would have been the coup de grace of a strange evening that saw two fights prematurely ended by eye pokes, a third via a broken hand and ring announcer Bruce Buffer mistakenly announcing Jim Miller as a winner after he was submitted by Pat Healy in the main card opener. Instead, the lasting impressions are Jones’ greatness and Sonnen’s humility. One who pushed Sliva to the brink of a major upset in their first fight, Sonnen is convinced that nobody, not even Silva, is better than Jones.
“He was in on my leg before he knew it,” Sonnen said. “I don’t know how he set it up, if he threw a punch. I don’t know what happened. He was just on my leg. I’ve been in that spot my whole life. I got up and he hit it again, and I got up and he hit it again. I’ve only been taken down three times in my career. He took me down three times in one round.”
White gushed over Jones’ remarkable accomplishments in a short period of time. The win tied Tito Ortiz’s record of five straight light-heavyweight title defenses and moved Jones to 18-1, the lone blemish a disqualification loss for throwing illegal elbows.
“He did it in two years,” White said. “Two years … he does this and breaks this record of a guy who spent how long in the UFC? He was in the UFC before I was here and that was 13 years (15). He did it in two years. Pretty amazing.”
Because Jones is medically suspended indefinitely, and Silva has a title defense No. 1 middleweight contender and Bellmore, N.Y., resident Chris Weidman July 6 in Las Vegas, White held himself back on dreaming of a Jones-Silva superfight. That leaves Jones waiting to next defend against Alexander Gustafsson, a 6-foot-4 fighter No. 2 in the UFC’s rankings with the height and reach to match that of Jones.
“A lot of people believe that I’ve been successful because I appear to be larger than my opponent, and with Alexander Gustafsson that would be no more,” Jones said. “So fighting … Gustafsson, a guy who’s six-foot-six, six-five, pretty long arms himself, long legs would be a great thing and that’s who I would love to fight next.”
Ahead of Gustafsson is former champion Lyoto Machida, who wants a rematch with Jones after he was put to sleep in their first contest. Seeing how Jones, 25, still hasn’t yet reached his full potential is a scary thought. A win over Gustafsson, 26 years old with a 19-1 MMA record, would represent Jones’ next level of evolution and further his case as the best in the world.
“I’ve grown,” Jones said. “I’ve become (engaged), and I brought another child into this Earth. I purchased my first home. Life is good. Life is very good. I’m growing up. I’m becoming a man. My goatee is connected now. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m grateful.”
A showdown with Silva may never happen, but a defeated Sonnen left Newark with no doubt that nobody does MMA better than Jon Jones.