2012 fighter of the year: Jon Jones

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
6:41
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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JonesPaul Abell/US PresswireJon Jones defended his UFC light heavyweight title in victories over Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort.


No fighter directly impacted the sport of mixed martial arts, or the promotion under which he competed, in 2012 more than UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.

A handful of fighters might be able to argue that they had a better overall individual performance than Jones during the past 12 months -- Benson Henderson, Demetrious Johnson and Cain Velasquez immediately come to mind -- but none was more influential both inside and outside the cage.

Only Jones made a prefight decision that served his best interest -- despite possible repercussions from UFC officials. Jones’ refusals to defend his 205-pound title against former top middleweight contender Chael Sonnen on short notice directly led to the cancellation of UFC 151.

Never had a fighter put UFC in position to cancel an event, since it was purchased by Zuffa LLC in 2001. The decision made Jones a target of harsh criticism from UFC president Dana White, MMA fans and many fighters.

But the 25-year-old Jones never wavered in his position that protecting his brand was a top priority from a business standpoint. He stood firm and eventually returned to the cage at UFC 152 against former titleholder Vitor Belfort.

The criticism of Jones was short-lived, directly proving how much he is valued by the UFC -- personally and financially. Even pleading guilty to a DWI charge in May that led to his driver's license being revoked for six months could not slow Jones' rapidly rising value.

Jones retained his light heavyweight crown with a fourth-round submission of Belfort and maintained his position as arguably the most dominant champion in mixed martial arts. But Jones is more than a fast-rising corporate darling. He’s also a darn good fighter.

Before the UFC 151 standoff and his win over Belfort several weeks later, the champion garnered votes as the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound mixed martial artist with a lopsided win over former light heavyweight champion and ex-training partner Rashad Evans.

Jones was the lone titleholder in 2012 to impressively defeat two former UFC champions who are still regarded as top-level competitors.

His domination at 205 pounds has led to growing enthusiasm for a mega-bout with middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who's currently the No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter by ESPN.com.

Jones’ dominance in the cage against top-level opposition, combined with his strong principles and business savvy outside of it (he signed a marketing deal with sports apparel giant Nike) make him the 2012 fighter of the year.

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