There are events that happen in your life that you will forever remember where you were. As far as mixed martial arts is concerned, I will always remember sitting up past my bedtime in my bedroom as a middle-schooler watching Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar slug it out. Now I will always remember where I was the night that Alexander Gustafsson almost dethroned Jon Jones.
But the keyword there is almost, and there is very good reason for that.
Gustafsson was billed, and rightfully so, as the only man who has been able to physically match Jones in size. His height and reach were comparable to the seemingly inhuman Jones. Gustafsson stepped into the Octagon on Saturday night and showed the world why he deserved this title shot, and he did not disappoint.
Gustafsson battered and bruised the champion as he beat Jones around the cage for a solid two and a half rounds, even stuffing a litany of takedown attempts from the former collegiate wrestling champion. But around the midway point of round three, it was clear that even in this war, Gustafsson was slowing down. This was his undoing.
It had been pointed out several times during the evening by commentators Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg that Gustafsson was not accustomed to fighting into the fourth and fifth rounds. In fact, the Swede isn’t very familiar with even getting to the third round, as his average fight time only lasting a little over seven minutes. So when the latter half of the third round came about Alexander began to lose a step, and that’s all it took to lose the fight.
Gustafsson had done the unthinkable by beating up and bloodying Jones through the first two rounds, but he was gassed by the third, and although he kept throwing punches, he was steadily pedaling backwards. Jones was able to sit in the pocket and narrowly avoid the punches being hurled at him by Gustafsson, and it is noteworthy to mention the crowd reacted to more than one of Gustafsson’s near misses like they had actually made contact.
Then in the fourth round with a sense of urgency and desperation, Jones let loose. He landed a massive spinning back elbow that sent Gustafsson reeling and tagged the challenger with several big rights as Alexander struggled to remain in the fight. Somehow surviving the fourth round, Gustafsson wasn’t able to quite regain his wits about him when the bell rang for the fifth, and we saw him wobble about the Octagon.
In the fifth and final frame, Gustafsson was finally taken down by Jones, and although he almost immediately got back to his feet, the points were scored just the same. Add in the five head kicks that Jones hit cleanly in that round, and it’s a miracle Gustafsson was on his feet.
Gustafsson’s problem was that his opening two rounds were full of flash and substance, and his last two rounds were just flash — a few decent punches landed, but not near the number that Jones was returning. Gustafsson also spent the last three rounds avoiding Jones, allowing Jon to establish the pace. It’s a no-brainer that Gustafsson beat Jones around for the first 10 minutes of the fight, but Jones did a great job establishing the pace and landing more consistent shots for the last 15. Jones was never seriously hurt, nor was he backing away in those last three rounds like we saw from Gustafsson.
My own amateur scorecard had Jones winning three rounds to two and the champion keeping his belt. I was vindicated in my decision, but that does not mean the fight wasn’t close. It was thrilling from bell to bell and each man put their heart and soul into the cage, but in the end only on guy gets his hand raised — in this case, it was Jones.
It’s easy for us to be distracted by the prospect of an upset and blindly calling a close fight in favor of the underdog, but an objective rewatch should show that Jones deserved the win. Although Gustafsson nearly did the unthinkable, Jonny “Bones” Jones gets to go home with UFC gold around his waist, and rightly so.
James is a MMA Contributor for RantSports. Follow him on Twitter for more news and updates.