Jon Jones is the best ever. We know, because that’s how he makes us feel.
His dominance over the light heavyweight division seems unprecedented. Since winning the UFC Light Heavyweight title, Jones has emerged victorious in six straight defenses, almost all by stoppage. Look back at each of those opponents: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, and Chael Sonnen. How dominant has he been? He’s lost one round in that span. One round!
Yep, it’s an easy call. Jon Jones is the best ever at light heavyweight. His mix of technical acumen and physical gifts is a sight to behold. They call him the new prototype for the MMA fighter.
But then, maybe we felt some of the same when Frank Shamrock entered the Octagon. Except with Frank, we felt that way because of his mix of striking from training with Maurice Smith, and grappling with his brother Ken, along with the superior conditioning of the hard days at the Lion’s Den.
In 1997, one guy seemed to have all the elements, and that was Frank Shamrock.
He did the unheard of. Olympic wrestling gold medalist Kevin Jackson, who had finished a tough John Lober a few months prior, lasted just sixteen seconds against Shamrock. Igor Zinoviev, who had finished Mario Sperry and Enson Inoue by T/KO, did better: he lasted twenty-two seconds. In his grand finale, Shamrock forced Tito Ortiz, who had been running through his old teammates from the Lion’s Den, to tap out to strikes.
It seemed we couldn’t go any further. With Frank Shamrock, it felt like this sport had taken a leap forward. But as it turns out, our sport was still being created.
In 2000, Tito Ortiz rebounded to become the next champion, defeating Wanderlei Silva for the vacant title in Japan at UFC 25. Everyone seemed to fall to Ortiz’s vaunted ground-and-pound attack. He always seemed a weight class bigger too; a man among boys.
Evan Tanner was an excellent all-around fighter. Against Ortiz? He was demolished in thirty seconds.
Vladmir Matyushenko was a better wrestler than Ortiz, so he seemed like a great opponent. Against Ortiz, he was out-wrestled and pounded out through five grueling rounds.
Ortiz’s reign would be longest in UFC history.
Then? Well, he ran into some bad match-ups, got injured a few times, and… the game changed. His time came up.
Has Jones’ time come up, tomorrow night at UFC 165 in Toronto? He faces another skilled fighter of a new MMA generation in Alexander Gustafsson – and he won’t have his usual reach advantage.
Maybe. Or is this sport’s creation still ongoing?
I don’t know.
Regardless, as Bob Marley & the Wailers’ classic “Could You Be Loved” rings out in the Air Canada Centre and the champion begins his walk to the cage, you’ll feel like you’re watching the best ever enter the Octagon. And so will I. Whether it’s 1997 or 2013, that’s a moment to savor.