Jon Jones stepped into the Octagon last night (Sat., Sept 21, 2013) at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to make his sixth consecutive Light Heavyweight title defense in little less than two years.
And it was a barn burner (watch full video highlights here).
Facing his stiffest test yet, Jones had serious problems finding his punching range against the lanky Alexander Gustafsson, getting picked apart in several rounds and even suffering the first takedown in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
There was a point at which it looked like the Swedish fighter might pull away about halfway through the fight, but then Jones proved the reason he's a candidate for the greatest 205-pound Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter to ever enter the Octagon. He faced the greatest challenge in his MMA career and persevered with skill, heart and courage.
It was reminiscent of Georges St. Pierre title defense against Carlos Condit, surviving the biggest scare of the past several years, but coming out with the belt around his waist. And doing it for 25 action-packed minutes.
That being said, let's take a closer look at the performers (and non-performers) with the UFC 165: "Jones vs. Gustafsson" report card.
Here we go:
UFC 165 Overall Report Card: You can't have a "Fight of the Year" candidate and not give the card an A. It also helped that there were some great knockouts and two surprising submissions.
My predictions: 10 for 13. I got every method wrong, but this card played out much the way I thought it would. Some big surprises, however, include how dominant Wilson Reis looked in his UFC debut, how terrible Constantinos Philippou fought and, of course, the Swedish Mauler's performance.
Biggest upset: Francis Carmont at +140 and being THAT dominant.
Worst judges' decision: I thought Myles Jury pretty much dominated Mike Ricci
Most boring fight: Daniel Omielanczuk versus Nandor Guelmino
Beatdown of the night: Francis Carmont versus Costa Philippou
* * *
Heavyweight : Daniel Omielańczuk (F) versus Nandor Guelmino (F)
Prediction: Omielanczuk via first round submission
Result: Omielanczuk via third round knockout
Although this knockout was probably the most legitimate of the evening, the fight was so horrible that to reward either fighter with extra money would be an injustice on par with Honey Boo Boo being on television. These two fighters lumbered and lurched at one another for nearly three rounds before the fat one that was getting his ass handed to him finally landed a punch while Nandor's chin was skyward.
I have to say, I think I've seen trans-Atlantic flights that are quicker than Nandor's overhand right. Even 265 pounds of Polish pudge was able to see those wiffle balls coming from the next country over. If Nandor's punches had a soundtrack they would be "I'll be home for Christmas."
Not that Nandor was alone in his ineptitude. Danny boy was losing two rounds to zero before the punch that put Josh Barnett's greatest Strikeforce challenge into a deep nap. Both guys had the sort of cardio you'd expect from unionized city workers and just like a union man it was Nandor who clocked out of work early.
Winner: Who should Daniel (hang on while I copy and past this name I'll never remember) Omielańczuk fight next? How about nobody? He was terrible and would make most people want to shut off their television set and ban immigration from Poland.
* * *
Bantamweight : Alex Cacares (B-) versus Roland Delorme (C)
Prediction: Cacares via unanimous decision
Result: Cacares via split decision
I gotta say, I don't really see what was so "split" about this fight. I guess it's because Cacares got dropped in the first round and was taken down in the second. Other than that he landed on Delorme at will and lit him up like a Chinese firecracker.
It's kind of a weird thing about MMA judging, in that it still doesn't seem to matter if one guy lands 30 more punches in a round if he gets taken down. I think Cacares has had this problem before, running into weird judging decisions that he clearly won, but losing points on the takedowns.
Winner: If you eliminate the silly groin kick fight where he beat Edwin Figueroa, but lost two points for fouls, then "Bruce Leeroy" is actually on a six-fight win streak in the UFC. He's also still only 25, which means there's plenty of time for improvement on that takedown defense. How about fellow UFC 165 card member Mitch Gagnon?
* * *
Lightweight : Michel Prazeres (B) versus Jesse Ronson (C)
Prediction: Prazeres via unanimous decision
Result: Prazeres via split decision
This was another fight where the judges were tasked with the choice of deciding whether the striking or the grappling was more important. Although Prazeres dominated the UFC newcomer, Ronson, on the mat all day long, he got the short end of the stick on the feet.
In the end I think the judges made the right call. Ronson was unable to handle the brute strength of Prazeres, who dropped down from 170 pounds after nearly defeating Paulo Thiago on short notice. I knew his significant strength advantage at Lightweight would do wonders for his chances.
I didn't get to see enough of Ronson to formulate an opinion as to his chances of surviving in the UFC because Prazeres was on him like stink on a monkey. But, it would be nice if he gets a chance to redeem himself, just like Prazeres did.
Winner: Man, that's a tough one. There's so many choices and I assume he's really near the bottom middle of the 155-pound pack. Abel Trujillo would seem to match up well against him.
* * *
Lightweight : John Makdessi (A) versus Renee Forte (D)
Prediction: Makdessi via unanimous decision
Result: Makdessi via first round knockout
It's difficult for me to cheer for Makdessi's spectacular dismantling of Forte since I was sort of rooting for the kid after failing as a Middleweight on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil," failing in his UFC debut as a Welterweight and then dropping down to 155 pounds and defeating Terry Etim.
It doesn't look like there are any more divisions for Forte to go.
Nevertheless, this was a pretty low intelligence fight for the Brazilian, who chose to stand and bang with one of the most technical stand up fighters in the division. It's difficult to say exactly what Forte should have done differently, but getting a takedown may have helped. Then again that's easier said than done.
By the way, did nobody from Zuffa notice these two looked like twin brothers about to do battle? Until I memorized who was wearing what colour fight trunks I have absolutely no idea who was who. Which means I'm sure some people were really happy to see Forte get a brutal knockout before they realized the opposite happened.
Winner: How about Piotr Hallman? He dismantled former TUF: "Brazil" 185-pound contender Francisco Trinaldo in his Octagon debut, which puts him somewhere around Makdessi's level.
* * *
Bantamweight : Mitch Gagnon (A+) versus Dustin Kimura (D)
Prediction: Kimura via submission in second round
Result: Gagnon via submission in first round
Chalk this one up under things I wouldn't have predicted in a million years. Dustin Kimura was the kid with a 10-0 record, seven by submission, including his UFC debut. He was fighting a tough kid from Sudbury, Ontario, however, known for those vicious guillotine chokes. Watch that neck, buddy!
I mean, c'mon! Dude has the name "Kimura." He's gotta win, right? Well, first things first. He got lit up on the feet, taken down, attempted a leg lock attempt, and then fell right into a tight guillotine choke. To defend his honour, however, he refused to tap, and would up taking a nap on the mat.
Winner: Gagnon is an overlooked talent from Canada, compiling a 10-2 MMA record with two wins in the UFC. His only recent loss came by way of a rear naked choke to the sticky grappling of Bryan Caraway, who is no scrub himself. How about Wilson Reis, who dominated Ivan Menjivar on this card?
* * *
Welterweight : Stephen Thompson (A-) versus Chris Clements (C-)
Prediction: Stephen Thompson via unanimous decision
Result: Stephen Thompson via second round knockout
I don't have a lot of respect for guys who don't come in with a gameplan. And I still don't know what Chris Clements' was supposed to be. Other than stand and bang with a guy who is very famous for knocking guys out. Clements came in and got tagged repeatedly, finding or offering no solutions to Thompson's bizarre sideways hands-down stance.
See, there is a gameplan to beat Thompson. You have to watch the tape on Matt Brown though. You bring it to him. You don't stand there and let him set up his shot. You don't watch his pretty kicks. You don't wait for him to rush in. You bring it and you go savage. Or you don't come at all.
As for "Wonderboy," he might have another knockout on his resume but it was another performance that leaves me wondering what's going to happen when he meets a guy who has brutal brutal? I mean, I could see a Johnny Hendricks jumping in and knocking Thompson's chin into the fourth row before he even realized he still had his hands at his sides, Anderson Silva-style.
Winner: This may sound crazy, but how about TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum? He showed he's more than just a wrestler in his last fight and Thompson might just be the guy to prove it.
* * *
Bantamweight : Wilson Reis (A) versus Ivan Menjivar (C-)
Prediction: Menjivar via unanimous decision
Result: Reis via unanimous decision
I'm not sure what to feel more sheepish about. The fact I didn't do the proper scouting report on Wilson Reis, a former Bellator veteran, or that I put too much confidence in the skills of old-timer Ivan Menjivar. I'm actually a little frustrated that 11 years after losing to Georges St-Pierre at a weight class 35 pounds heavier, he's still being manhandled.
Although Menjivar was game on the feet, using the Muay Thai clinch and landing some good standing strikes, he was dominated on the mat. A little surprising, given his absolutely gorgeous submission against Azamat Gashimov at UFC 154.
Menjivar didn't land a single submission attempt off his back and had his guard passed twice. Granted, Reis is a BJJ black belt and former world champion as a brown belt in 2004. Again, that whole scouting report I didn't bother to do because... Ivan Menjivar is gonna win, right?
Winner: Let's do Mitch Gagnon.
* * *
Lightweight : Myles Jury (C+) versus Mike Ricci (D)
Prediction: Myles Jury via first round submission
Result: Myles Jury via split decision
I gotta be honest with you guys. I may not have watch exactly every second of this one. I had the prelims PVR'd and my buddy and I were talking about something beer-related and the next thing we knew it was seven minutes past the start of the pay-per-view.
So, after watching Ricci win the first round I saw Jury basically take the second and then clearly dry hump his way to a third round victory. Easy 29-28 victory. Wasn't it? That's basically what I saw on fast-forward. If I'm wrong I'm wrong, but hey, I think I picked a good fight to hit the FF.
Although Ricci did much better than I expected (I actually really thought he'd be on his back for 15 minutes like he was for Colton Smith) I really don't have any patience for this Rory MacDonald wannabe. He's not UFC calibre material, he's got no takedown defense that anybody at 155 is going to have a problem with (except the Skelator lookalike from the United Kingdom), and he carries an undeserved sense of accomplishment with him. Including the above-mentioned stupid sword.
Winner: Jury Jiu-jitsu? Please. If you're going to name a technique after yourself you'd better be finishing guys on the ground. As Nick Diaz would say, I wasn't impressed with your performance. Especially by the fact you landed about two punches on the ground. I wonder what Gleison Tibau would have to say about that statistic?
* * *
Lightweight : Khabib Nurmagomedov (A) versus Pat Healy (B-)
Prediction: Nurmagomedov via second round submission
Result: Nurmagomedov via unanimous decision
I've got to make the case for it. He's 21-0. He's 5-0 in the UFC. He just dispatched Top 10-ranked Pat Healy easily. Yeah, I think he deserves a title shot. The only problem is it's now been promised to Josh Thomson (unfairly I think). Then there's T.J. Grant.
Nurmagomedov may have to wait a while.
No matter. The crazy thing is that Nurmagomedov is only 25. He's faced almost no adversity during his rise to the top, although Healy gave him a good little scrap. It's true that "Dagestan wrestling" and combat sambo wore down the durable Healy last night, but the American veteran kept coming forward.
Nurmagomedov has a really unpredictable style that's at once reckless and devastating. His jumping in at odd angles and styles leaves him open to elite strikers, but so far he's faced none. And those unorthodox uppercuts take their toll. when he's not flying in with knees and awkward strikes, Khabib is getting body locks and looking for the suplex. The fact he picked up Healy and carried him across the cage and slammed him, all while already being tired in the third round, really speaks to the level of wrestling possessed by the Russian.
Winner: Winner of Anthony Pettis versus Thomson if Grant is still hurt. Otherwise Rafael dos Anjos for No. 1 contender to fight winner of whoever Grant fights.
* * *
Middleweight : Francis Carmont (A-) versus Costa Philippou (F)
Prediction: Philippou via unanimous decision
Result: Carmont via unanimous decision
St. Pierre strikes again! If "GSP" were black and fought at Middleweight, he might look a lot like Carmont did last night. The "Rush" training partner absolutely shut down Philippou like nobody in the UFC has before. And he did it with seemingly no effort.
Philippou was supposed to win easily. He was coming off a beating of Tom Boetsch. He easily outboxed Riki Fukuda, Court McGee and knocked out Jared Hamman. He even took it to Jorge Rivera. His takedown defense looked impenetrable.
Carmont, meanwhile, was coming off a dubious judges' decision against Lorenz Larkin. Before that he squeaked by Tom Lawlor, which could easily have also been a loss. And in previous fights he'd demonstrated difficulty in getting his opponents to the mat, although he does great when he's there.
Not last night.
"Limitless" showed that if he can outwrestle a guy like Philippou who easily he's going to have a pretty good time against the top guys at 185. GSP might have something to do with that sudden increase in wrestling ability. His timing, his control, and his transitions were all on point.
Philippou, meanwhile, left team Serra-Longo after five consecutive wins because Chris Weidman is in his division and he got delusions of grandeur. Now he's one more loss away from being nobody again.
Winner: I think Ronaldo Souza is too high on the food chain (demanding title shots), but it would be an interesting test. If not him, I think Luke Rockhold needs a comeback fight. Also interesting is Thales Leites.
* * *
Heavyweight : Brendan Schaub (A) versus Matt Mitrione (D)
Prediction: Schaub via second round TKO
Result: Schaub via first round submission
A lot of people gave Schaub no chance in this one. And fair enough because he's been inconsistent in the UFC. People also figured Mitrione would walk through Schaub. Bzzzzzt. Nope.
Look, I know Mitrione is a pretty athletic guy considering he never fought prior to joining TUF 10; however, he doesn't really have much more than size and punching power. Schaub was always going to be the quicker, more talented, smarter fighter. I mean, Mitrione's nickname is "Meathead," for crying out loud, something made up by coach Rashad Evans on the "reality" show.
Mitrione chased Schaub around the cage a bunch in this fight, but like most of his fights he didn't really have a gameplan. Schaub did. He took the takedown when he got it, and worked a D'Arce choke. Night night.
Winner: Your guess is as good as mine. Is Todd Duffee still around? Maybe he can go knock out Daniel Omielanczuk after he gasses.
* * *
Interim Bantamweight Championship : Renan Barao (A+) versus Eddie Wineland (C+)
Prediction: Barao via submission in third round
Result: Barao via technical knockout in second round
It's hard to give Wineland a bad grade because he was such a huge underdog. Let's face it, he didn't belong in a title fight, let alone an interim one, while Barao does. In fact, I'd say he's the de facto champion at this point, and even if Dominck Cruz could come back soon, I doubt he's anywhere on Barao's level.
Barao isn't the "decisionator" like his predecessor. He finishes guys, as evidenced by his destruction of Wineland (watch video highlights here), Michael McDonald and Brad Pickett. He also defeated Urijah Faber 49-46 50-45 and 49-46, in a dominant performance. In short, he's beaten a "Who's Who" of the 135-pound division and there's nobody even really left to fight.
That's kind of a huge problem for the UFC, since Takeya Mizugaki and Bryan Caraway aren't anywhere close to being on Barao's level or ready for a title fight and they're the only guys who are really available. Then again, sometimes those long shots can prove to be the best tests (see title fight).
* * *
Light Heavyweight Championship : Jon Jones (B-) versus Alexander Gustafsson (A+)
Prediction: Jon Jones via unanimous decision
Result: Jon Jones via unanimous decision
For the record, I gave Jones one of the first three rounds (not sure which now) and the last two. After the first three rounds I thought Gustafsson was on his way to the biggest upset since Anderson Silva slipped and fell. But, Jones came back and nearly finished "The Mauler" in the fourth round, gutting out a huge fifth round for the tiebreaker.
Make no mistake, Gustafsson gave Jones his biggest test to date, but he also showed how drastically he's improved since getting submitted by Phil Davis way back at UFC 112. He found his range early and outclassed Jones on the feet early and often. In fact, if not for Jones devastating kicks (that left head kick was money), who knows how this fight would have gone?
This was an all-out war. Both guys landed huge blows, both guys were dead tired, and both left everything in the cage. When Jones walked out to his dressing room after the fight he looked like he needed a wheelchair. Gustafsson may have lost the fight, but he likely gained the respect and love of every single MMA fan on the planet.
Winner: Rematch! There's really only one fair thing to do with a fight that close (see FightMetric report here) and that's a rematch. Although the judges gave Jones four rounds (see the scorecards here), I actually thought it was 48-47 and could have gone either way if not for that late fourth round flurry. This was a title fight that screams immediate rematch.
For more on "Jones vs. Gustafsson" click here, and for complete UFC 165 results and blow-by-blow coverage of all the night's action click here.