Jones showed heart against Gustafsson

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
4:15
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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TORONTO -- Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones asked for an opponent who could push him to the limit. Jones got what he asked for Saturday night at UFC 165 in Alexander Gustafsson.

And it was exactly the type of fight Jones needed.

The Swedish contender, who very few thought had a chance against the world’s most dominant mixed martial arts champion, gave Jones all he could handle and more. Gustafsson punched Jones in the face, he kicked him in the stomach, hit him with reverse elbows and uppercuts and even tossed him to the ground. No one had done that before.

By the time they had concluded their five-round title affair, Jones looked like the character from the old Jim Croce’s song, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." He looked like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces missing. He left the Octagon with a bloodied, swollen right eye, a swollen lip and could barely walk on his own.

Jones was so badly beaten that he could not attend the postfight news conference. He was immediately taken to a local hospital for evaluation, according to UFC president Dana White. Matter-of-factly, neither did Gustafsson -- he too was taken to a local hospital.

But despite the beating he took, Jones refused to let Gustafsson take his light heavyweight title belt. While Jones was brutally punished, he dished it out just the same. And that says more about who the champion Jones is than any of his previous title defense walkovers.

“I know there are a lot of people who don’t like Jones and boo him for whatever the reason is," White said. "Everybody has a different reason for why they are not a fan of Jones, but I don’t care if you like him or don’t like him. You’ve got to respect him, man. Even today with breaking the record [most successful light heavyweight title defense, his sixth] … he went through murderers’ row, Jon did.

“The guy’s got heart, a chin. To get busted up in those first two rounds and to come on the way he did at the end of the fight, he’s a special fighter. He’s a special fighter.”

Alexander Gustafsson
Ed Mulholland for ESPNGustafsson, right, gave Jones one of the most difficult fights of his career.
Jones surely can dish it out, but we knew that before he faced Gustafsson. What we didn’t know is just how much Jones can or is willing to take. We now know that it will take a whole lot to lift the 205-pound belt from him.

Of course, some will say that the fight with Gustafsson proves Jones has benefited from being taller, longer and stronger than the average 205-pound fighter. And because Gustafsson is slightly taller than Jones and equally as strong, that's the reason he came so close to taking his title.

But a less biased observer is likely to conclude that a major part of Jones’ success is that he utilizes his advantages better than everyone else. The difference Saturday night between Jones and Gustafsson is that the champ refused to lose. When he realized his title was slipping away, he dug deep and willed himself to victory.

Before the fight, Gustafsson said he would win because he was hungrier than Jones. That proved not to be the case.

Jones fought for his legacy Saturday night. He also fought to maintain his quest to become the greatest mixed martial artist ever.

We all knew he was a exceptionally gifted fighter. But he taught everyone that he also possesses the will and heart of a champion.

Gustafsson gave Jones everything he could handle, plus some. And it is very likely they will meet again in the not-too-distant future. But after this close call, expect Jones to be a much better champion the next time around.

It’s going to get a lot harder to take that belt from Jones. Every light heavyweight hopeful can thank Gustafsson for that.

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