The line between sport and art is blurry at best. What exactly is the distinction? I’ve heard art defined as creative endeavours that create something, be it a picture, a song, or a film. The commonality seems to be that this perspective on art is defined as something that leaves behind a monument to itself. I can understand that, but that definition feels lacking. By that definition, art requires permanency, and I don’t think that’s the case. Tibetan Buddhist monks create sand art, Shā Tánchéng, which are complex and visually stunning pieces created using multi-coloured grains of sand. Once their work is done, after hours and hours of labour, the piece is immediately destroyed. It’s supposed to reflect Buddhist concepts on the transient nature of existence, a gentle reminder that permanence is a human construction that doesn’t really exist. If you consider that art, then you can abandon the preconceived notions of what exactly art is and begin to see it everywhere.
Through that lens, sport is an art that incorporates creativity through human movement, technique, strength, willpower, tactics & strategy, all in the relentless pursuit of perfection – another concept that may or may not exist, depending on who you ask, but that’s a topic for another day.
One fighter who embodies this artistic search for perfection is Jon ‘Bones’ Jones. The current UFC Light Heavyweight champion is the youngest person to capture UFC gold, and the most dominant fighter in the history of the Light Heavyweight division. At 26 years old, the young champion is well on his way to being included in the discussion for who is the pound for pound greatest of all time in MMA. He’s tapped into a magic that few other fighters ever have, the same one that allowed Fedor Emelianenko and Anderson Silva to do the things they did inside the ring. To understand we have to start at the beginning, not of his career, but after his only ‘loss’ - by disqualification - to Matt Hamill. Over his next 10 fights, Jon Jones cultivated the longest winning streak in the history of the light heavyweight division.
8 10/9/8. Brandon Vera, Vladimir Matyushenko & Ryan Bader
Jones bounced back with wins over Brandon Vera, Vladimir Matyushenko & Ryan Bader, all in dominating fashion. None of those fights lasted more than 2 rounds, and the combined fight time for all 3 is 9:31. He defeated Vera & Matyushenko by TKO and defeated Bader by submission using a modified guillotine choke. With these 3 wins, Jones set himself up for greatness in the UFC light heavyweight division, and put himself in prime position to take advantage of what would happen later that night.
7 Maurício Rua – March 19th, 2011
‘Shogun’ had just defeated Lyoto Machida by spectacular knockout to win the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. His first title defense was scheduled for UFC 128 against former champ Rashad Evans, but Evans had to withdraw from the bout due to injury. During UFC 126’s post-fight press conference, hours after Jones defeated Ryan Bader, Dana White announced Evans was pulling out of the main event of UFC 128, and offered the opportunity to Jon Jones. Jones accepted and began hastily preparing for his first championship fight that was now only 6 weeks away. Rua, the veteran, entered the fight as the favourite, but Jones paid no mind and focused on his training. On fight night, Jones shocked the world by ending the bout in the 3rd round via TKO to become the youngest UFC champion in history at just 23 years of age.
6 Quinton Jackson – September 24th, 2011
The real difficulty with world championships isn’t acquiring them – although it’s certainly a colossal feat. No, the real trouble lies in keeping them. As a contender who’s hungry for championship gold, you can wake up each morning and concentrate on your own training, all the while using the current champion as your target and benchmark. Once you become the champion, the dynamic is turned on its head. That belt might as well be a target, because there’s a division full of hungry killers who are putting up posters of you in their gym. The history of combat sports is riddled with great fighters who became champion, but couldn’t handle the pressure of staying on top. Heavy lies the crown, so to speak. MMA fans were about to find out what kind of champion ‘Bones’ was going to be.
5 Lyoto Machida – December 10th, 2011
Just a few months later Jones was tapped to defend his belt yet again, in what would be his 4th fight of 2011, this time against another former champion. Lyoto ‘The Dragon’ Machida, the man who ‘Shogun’ Rua defeated for the belt, was coming for Jones to take back what was once his. Machida presented a unique challenge; here was a fighter who received his Shotokan karate black belt at 13, and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt later on in life. His striking is some of the most devastating and unpredictable in all of MMA, which he demonstrated in his highlight-reel crane kick knockout of Randy Couture that earned him the championship opportunity. Jones neutralized Machida’s striking and got the technical submission victory. What is a technical submission victory, you ask? It’s when a fighter doesn’t tap out but loses consciousness. Jones managed to ensnare Machida in a standing guillotine choke – something I had never seen up until that point – and held on until Machida passed out. The image of Machida’s lifeless body falling to the ground once Jones let go of the choke is one that MMA fans everywhere won’t soon forget.
4 Rashad Evans – April 21st, 2012
If you recall, Jones was only in his title fight against Shogun as a replacement for Rashad Evans. Originally, Evans and Jones were good friends. They trained together at Jackson’s Submission Wrestling in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Evans reportedly took Jones under his wing as a mentor. When ‘Bones’ won the title in Rashad’s place (with his blessing), things changed. A private falling out led to Evans switching gyms, and their bitter feud became very public in the lead up to UFC 145. In the end, Evans couldn’t put away his former protégé. Jones won a unanimous decision for his 3rd consecutive title defense.
3 Vitor Belfort – September 22nd, 2012
Next, Jones had to contend with UFC veteran Vitor ‘The Phenom’ Belfort. Originally, Jones was scheduled to defend the belt against Dan Henderson at UFC 151. When Henderson pulled out days before the event with an injury, the UFC scrambled to find a replacement. Chael Sonnen offered to fight Jones on 8 days notice, with essentially no preparation. When the UFC told Jones that Sonnen would be replacing Henderson, he turned down the fight as he felt he didn’t have adequate time to prepare. As a result, UFC 151 was cancelled (the only time an event has been cancelled in UFC history), and Jones instead defended the belt against Vitor Belfort at UFC 152. Jones defeated Belfort in the 4th round via submission by keylock for his 4th consecutive title defense.
2 Chael Sonnen – April 27th, 2013
‘Bones’ had taken somewhat of a hit to his image after the turmoil surrounding the eventually cancelled UFC 151. A segment of the fanbase believed Jones should have accepted to fight Sonnen, and that his refusal to do so was indicative of a certain cowardice. This theory was, unsurprisingly, spearheaded by none other than Chael Sonnen himself. ‘The Gangster from West Lynn’ spent months trash talking Jones, and finally got his fight at UFC 159. The clash itself failed to live up to the hype. Jones decimated Sonnen and won in the 1st round via TKO for his 5th consecutive title defense. With this victory he was tied with Tito Ortiz for the most consecutive title defenses of the UFC Light Heavyweight championship.
1 Alexander Gustafsson – September 21st, 2013
Finally we come to Jones’ latest title defense, a fight that many – including myself – considered to be the best fight of 2013, and one of the best MMA fights in history. Jon Jones had defeated a murderer’s row of contenders, so much so that the UFC was struggling to find suitable candidates for their star champion to fight. Who do you pair with a man who has defeated 4 former champions with relative ease? No one knew, but in the meantime, Alexander Gustafsson would have to do. Gustafsson was coming off a win against Maurício Rua – the man who Jones had defeated for the championship – and was ready to go against the seemingly unstoppable Jones.
On fight night, Gustafsson shocked the world by dominating Jon Jones in the 1st round, and then doing it again in the 2nd. As the 3rd round started, ‘Bones’ was in real danger for the first time in his career. The rest of the fight was an exciting, gruelling, back and forth affair. In the end, Jones edged out a highly controversial split decision that left many calling for an immediate rematch. This was Jones’ 6th consecutive title defense, breaking Tito Ortiz’s record and officially making him the most dominant champion in the history of the light heavyweight division, all at the age of 26.
MMA fans might get their rematch wish. With Gustafsson’s win over Jimi Manuwa on March 8th, he has earned himself another shot at the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. If Jones can defeat Glover Texeira at UFC 172 in April, then Jones vs Gustafsson 2 is set in stone. Jon ‘Bones’ Jones may have a difficult road to get where he is today, but his future looks equally daunting .