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UFC 247, The Morning After: Jon Jones may be declining, but his championship mettle remains

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Here’s what you may have missed from last night!

A lot of people, including myself, believed that Dominick Reyes deserved to walk away from his five-round battle with Jon Jones as champion (watch highlights). A slight majority of fans and media alike scored the bout for “The Devastator,” per MMADecisions.com.

However, I have no interest in re-watching the fight in slow-motion to write a punch-by-punch breakdown of why Reyes deserved to win the first three rounds. That sounds miserable and boring, and the result is set in stone. If you’re upset about the outcome, go tweet about it and demand a rematch.

Until then, let’s talk about Jon Jones.

The long-time Light Heavyweight kingpin is no longer at his best. That shouldn’t be a surprise, as Jones is in his 13th year as a professional fighter. More than that, he’s been fighting 25-minute fights and — worse still — doing camps to prepare his body for five rounds of combat.

Frankly, it’s amazing his body and performances have held up so well.

Still, the decline has been noticeable. The word creative no longer really applies to Jones. He’s still a man with a much bigger arsenal than most of his peers, but when is the last time Jones really demonstrated something new? At this point, his opponents can expect Jones to throw 800 kicks per round (mostly aimed at the leg and body), try some elbows in tight, and shoot for double leg takedowns along the fence.

It’s a combination which still makes for a remarkably skilled fighter and excellent champion, but we’re a long way removed from lateral drops and different gameplans. For a while, the division was unable to catch up with Jones largely because he changed so rapidly, constantly offering up different looks. The first comparison that comes to mind was Jose Aldo’s transition, as the Brazilian moved away from power low kicks and flashy flying strikes to meat-and-potatoes combinations and defensive head movement not long after the WEC was absorbed.

However, it’s become equally impossible to deny that Jones’ mental game is still ridiculously strong. He has all the intrinsic values required of a dominant champion, and last night proved that once again. “Bones” is patient and calculated, still able to endure a rough storm without straying from his strategy. He has complete faith that he’ll pull out the victory, a firm belief that his pressure and chopping kicks will turn the tide.

Twice in a row now, we’ve seen Jones forced into difficult positions while attempting to defend his title. Each time, Jones showed real grit and mental toughness to pull through, which serves as clear evidence that Jones is putting in the work in his training camps as well.

Thirteen years deep, that’s not easy. In fact, it’s remarkable. Jones’ skill and athleticism may be starting to fade — and remember, fading from an insanely high bar to start — but he’s still able to win championship fights against hungry contenders via his mindset. Reyes and Santos looked ready to die in the ring, but still Jones was able to edge them without faltering.

The strength of Jones’ mentality was so noticeable in the later half of the fight with Reyes, in which he maintained an unreadable poker face. His calm mask fooled most and kept the focus on Reyes, who was noticeably losing the bounce in his step. Close attention, however, did show fatigue from Jones, who occasionally mis-stepped while chasing or threw a combination a touch sloppily.

In a close fight, the appearance of strength can be the difference in defeat or victory, same as any punch scored or takedown landed. Jones will remain an incredibly difficult challenge for as long as he’s able to remain this mentally sharp, even as challengers eventually overtake him on the skill front.

For complete UFC 247: “Jones vs. Reyes” results and play-by-play, click HERE!