Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sometimes it's not about who won or lost

Going into Saturday night's light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) championship fight between challenger Alexander Gustafsson and champion Jon 'Bones' Jones, not many people gave too much credence to the thought that the slightly taller product of Stockholm, Sweden could actually give Jones a fight. I myself, though not totally dismissive, wasn't yet convinced he was on Jones's level as can be witnessed by my piece entitled, 'Could this be the next Jon Jones' written back in April, 2012. Click on the link below to check it out:

However, some of the best things in life come when you least expect them and that is just what we got as mixed martial arts fans on Saturday night. Some have already begun to call it 'Fight of the Year', while UFC analyst Joe Rogan stated on air, "We have just seen the greatest light-heavyweight championship fight in UFC history." That is saying a lot considering the now world renowned Ultimate Fighting Championship is closing in on its 20th anniversary.

Even though Gustafsson (15-2, 9 KO's 3 subs) was coming into this fight riding a six fight win streak, including a win in his last fight against former champion Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, everybody just figured that there was no particular area he was actually better at than Jones (19-1, 9 KO's 6 subs). While he's a great kickboxer, Jones's striking was evolving to the point where it was being referred to as next generation; and as for grappling, Jones, who is a wrestler by origin, had showed that his take down skills were good enough to manhandle such great wrestlers as Rashad Evans, Vladimir Matyushenko and Matt Hamill. Thus, he should have no problem taking down a 6'4" lanky Swedish kickboxer right?

Wrong is the answer as Gustafsson displayed fantastic take down defense, no doubt from training side by side with fellow UFC light-heavyweight contender Phil Davis. However, beyond that it was the damage he was actually able to inflict on the champion while doing so. Before Saturday night, the only fighter to even come close to touching Jones in any serious fashion was Lyoto Machida and that was in a back pedaling defense first approach that lasted one and a half rounds. Gustafsson actually took the fight to Jones and was connecting as can be witnessed by Jones face after the fight aptly shown in the photo above.

For three rounds the Swedish challenger was actually winning and doing so in a fashion no one could believe. Though Jones had moments throughout those first three rounds, there was no arguing he was behind at that point. However, in MMA rounds four and five are "championship rounds" and it takes a champion who's been there to understand what it takes to get through those extra 10 minutes.

Gustafsson's lack of experience clearly showed in those next two rounds as he started to slow down while Jones, admitting afterwards he was fighting with a little desperation, began to turn it up. The result was the champ connecting with punches, knees, elbows and kicks while also finally getting the take down he wasn't getting in the first three rounds. How Gustafsson didn't go down from some of those strikes is a testament not only to his chin, but his heart.

Yet, respect, including my own, has to be given to Jon Jones as well. I've admitted on numerous occasions openly and in print I'm not a Jones fan, for various reasons. However, I am a fan of combat sports and when a fighter displays as he stated after the fight, "A warrior spirit," you have to respect him for that. Jones ended up winning a unanimous decision, though not without debate which is to be expected in a close fight; but I think in the end Jones won a lot more in his performance. I believe he actually gained some respect from fans and his peers alike and in that sense, sometimes it's not about who won or lost.

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