Young Jones quickly making history
TORONTO -- Jon Jones can take a punch.
He also can fight better than, quite possibly, any other athlete on the planet. He is everything everyone has been saying about him during the past several years. He fights intelligently and with passion. He doesn't fade in the face of adversity.
On Saturday, he overcame the most difficult round of his UFC career, during which he was rocked by multiple counter left hands from Lyoto Machida -- one of which had him visibly staggered. Jones went on to finish the fight via standing guillotine in the next frame.
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It seems repetitive to pile more hype onto Jones after every performance, but what he's doing at this early stage of his career goes beyond impressive. He's laying groundwork for what could become the most phenomenal MMA career ever.
"I just feel like I'm meant to do this," Jones said. "I know in my heart and soul there is really nothing left on this planet I was meant to do.
"I believe it's my destiny to be one of the best who ever lived."
Jones (15-1) had never really had anything go wrong in the cage until this weekend. His lone loss came via disqualification against Matt Hamill; it was a fight he dominated from start to finish, but he was called for throwing an illegal elbow.
There was no evidence to suggest he'd wilt against adversity, but there was no proof he wouldn't, either. Following the win over Machida, a fighter nine years his elder with five more years of professional experience, there is proof -- which he pointed out.
"I felt that was something definitely made up by the media -- that I couldn't take a punch," Jones said. "I just felt it was something I should address. I train with guys like Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne. These guys hit hard.
"But getting punched in practice and getting punched in the Octagon is different. I handled it as a champion. [Head trainer] Greg Jackson told me backstage, 'You kept your composure.'"
The only test Jones hasn't yet passed is one brought about by the enormity of his success. Following the win, UFC president Dana White repeated his concern of shoveling too much praise on an athlete just 24 years old.
Jones-Machida By The Numbers
|Total Strikes Landed/Att||24/53||13/38|
"I always don't like to pump it up," White said. "He's a young guy. There are a lot of things to learn in this sport more than just fighting.
"If he stays on the right track, this guy could go down as the greatest ever. I just don't see anyone beating this guy anytime soon."
Jones already is the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, according to the ESPN.com rankings, and it will be interesting to see where he sits Monday morning following yet another finish over a former champion.
What makes his success even more remarkable is that it comes so naturally. Despite the fact that Machida was the first southpaw Jones fought in the UFC, the champion admitted to not bringing in specific sparring partners to prepare for it.
Listening to him describe it, it's almost as if it took one five-minute round for him to figure out the differences in fighting a southpaw, something certain fighters seem to struggle to grasp over the course of entire careers.
"The truth was I've never fought a southpaw," Jones said. "[For] this fight, I focused on my pad work, wrestling, jiu-jitsu more than finding proper sparring partners. No one on my team fights anywhere near [in style] to Lyoto.
"I had to train my butt off for my third world title in one year. I had to beat a tricky southpaw. I had it that this fight would make me grow, and I did grow. I took a big hit, fought a southpaw and finished out this year."
Jones says he'd like to take about a four-month break from the Octagon, which seems short to him but is actually average for a UFC fighter. His next challenge likely will come either from the winner of a Jan. 28 fight between Rashad Evans and Phil Davis or against former Strikeforce champion Dan Henderson.
With the growth the UFC has seen in the past few years, MMA is producing more talented prospects than ever before in the sport's history.
But, as if we didn't know it already, there is something about Jones. Sports fans are treated only every now and then to seeing one athlete perform head and shoulders above everyone else. Make sure you're paying attention.
Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.
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