For just the second time in Jon Jones’ illustrious career, the consensus greatest mixed martial artist of all time was taken into deep waters by a worthy challenger to his championship belt. Undefeated light-heavyweight Dominick Reyes outstruck the reigning champion in each of the first three rounds of their UFC 247 main event bout Saturday. He had Jones on his heels early and forced him to dig deep and take control of the fight in the championship rounds. In the end, Jones did just enough in the judges’ eyes to take the victory by unanimous decision.
Reyes challenged Jones in the early part of the fight, attacking the body and winning the circling exchanges. He looked every bit like a championship fighter as he used superior footwork and dictated the distance, bringing the fight to Jones and not waiting for him. Through three rounds against the most dominant light-heavyweight in UFC history, it seemed he was ready to end Jones’ reign as the 205-pound king. Reyes forced a stunned Jones to retreat and gather himself while surviving the challenger’s onslaught. At times, Jones was forced to rely on his chin to stay in the fight, something he hasn’t had to do often previously in his career.
Throughout the lead-up to UFC 247 and during the fight itself, the latest challenge for Jones seemed reminiscent of his first fight against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 in 2013. At the time, a sizable underdog in Gustafsson challenged Jones for the light-heavyweight championship with the expectation from many that the bout would be a walkover for Jones. For Jones also, it seemed, that fight would be nearly effortless, and his training regimen and lifestyle choices outside the Octagon showed as much. By not taking Gustafsson seriously in that fight, Jones looked vulnerable for the first time in his career and struggled to retain his championship belt. He was forced to rally and give a championship-winning performance to beat Gustafsson that night. He walked away with a unanimous decision victory.
It seemed history was repeating itself Saturday, as many were questioning whether Jones had been looking past Dominick Reyes. Although there were no issues outside the Octagon for Jones this time around, much of the conversation seemed to revolve around a possible next opponent for him to challenge after UFC 247. Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has been vocal about moving up a weight class to challenge Jones, and many are calling for Jones to move up to heavyweight and challenge that division’s champion, Stipe Miocic. With all the talk revolving around every other possible challenge except Dominick Reyes, Jones’ slim margin of victory at UFC 247 had many wondering whether the reigning light-heavyweight king had also overlooked Reyes.
As Jones managed to survive Reyes’ blitz, the challenger’s energy-intensive game plan began to backfire, and his gas tank was visibly waning. A patient Jones seemed fresher in the latter part of the fight, and he then began to take control by using his wrestling and clinch work. Although Jones only took Reyes down twice during the match, he believed his wrestling is what allowed him to retain his title. “I think the difference in the fight was the takedowns,” Jones said in his post-fight interview. “I couldn’t keep him down for too long, but I was taking him down. It was close in the kickboxing exchanges. But I believe my takedowns are what got me the edge.”
After all, was said and done Saturday, Jon Jones defended his title and broke a UFC record for championship wins with 14 straight. It wasn’t the prettiest win for the greatest MMA fighter of all time, but he got the job done. At the post-fight press conference, Jones said to himself, “‘Jon, you should want this fight to be miserable. You should want this fight to hurt.’ I had to be that guy tonight.”