It's difficult to comprehend just how dominant Jon Jones has been as a UFC light heavyweight.
There's only been a handful of fighters in combat sports history who could match Jones' record against elite opponents at such a tender age. It would take going back nearly 70 years to World War II to find a fighter who clearly exceeded him at a similar age.
Jones, 25, will defend his belt against Chael Sonnen on Saturday in the main event of UFC 159 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. If he wins, he'll be 6-0 in championship fights in the 25 months since he routed Mauricio "Shogun" Rua on March 19, 2011, to originally claim the title.
His bout at UFC 126 against Ryan Bader on Feb. 5, 2011, can be considered the start of his prime. Bader was 27 at the time of that bout and entered it with a 12-0 mark. There was plenty of debate in the MMA community at that point whether it was Bader or the then-23-year-old Jones who was the sport's top prospect.
Starting with that match, Jones in his next six bouts faced fighters with a winning percentage of 82.9, who had 78 finishes and a combined record at the time he met them of 118-24-1. All but Bader had held the UFC light heavyweight title. Rua also won the PRIDE Grand Prix and Vitor Belfort won the UFC heavyweight tournament title (though that is not recognized as an official championship by the UFC).
His performance against elite fighters at his early age more than favorably compares with the greatest fighters in either boxing or MMA.
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In boxing, Mike Tyson became, at 20, the youngest heavyweight champion ever. He knocked out Trevor Berbick in 1986 to win the belt, improving his record to 28-0 with 26 knockouts.
He was clearly extraordinarily dominant, but he didn't face the slew of highly ranked fighters in succession that Jones did. In addition, at 23 years old, he was knocked out by Buster Douglas, who had been a very average fighter both before and after meeting Tyson.
Muhammad Ali was 31-0 when he lost to Joe Frazier on March 8, 1971, in what is probably the most significant fight in history. Ali (then Cassius Clay) won the title at 22 years, one month and eight days in 1964, when he stopped Sonny Liston.
He won his next 12 bouts until the Frazier fight, at which point he was 29. But after beating Liston in a rematch, the only ex-champions he fought during his streak leading up to the first Frazier bout were Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell.
There could be debate whether Tyson or Ali – or MMA stars such as Rua, Fedor Emelianenko and others – were similarly dominant at the same age. But it would take going back to Sugar Ray Robinson, lauded by most as the greatest boxer who ever lived, to find a fighter who had accomplished more at a similar age than Jones.
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Jones was 23 years, 8 months old when he won the title from Rua. By the time Robinson was 23 years, 8 months, he was 54-1 and had wins over Hall of Famers Jake LaMotta (three), Fritzie Zivic (two), Henry Armstrong and Sammy Angott (one apiece). He continued his dominance for another seven or eight years.
What Jones has done has been so extraordinary it's difficult to put into words. Sonnen, who frequently dips into the professional wrestling shtick to mock his opponents and pump his fights, raved about Jones' talent.
"I'm the first one to say: Jones is the best fighter I've ever seen," Sonnen said. "Ever. I've never seen a guy with his skill set."
Jones is 17-1 and his only loss was via a disqualification against Matt "The Hammer" Hamill in 2009 that is widely regarded as unfair.
He's won his fights with a mixture of inventiveness, creativity and skills. He's got the most dangerous elbows in the game, and his spinning shots are difficult to plan for and tougher to avoid.
There's little he can't do, and he's only getting better.
"I don't think people give this guy nearly enough credit," White said. "People talk about his size and reach. Yeah, he's a big guy and he's got a great reach. True. But what these [expletive] stupid dorks on the Internet don't get is that he's got tons of talent to go with that size and reach.
"This kid has the size of a huge guy and he has the athleticism of a guy much smaller. He moves like a small guy. He throws elbows like punches. What he does in there is hard to believe."
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Jones has made his share of enemies as he's moved to the top. But even his harshest critics would have to concede that his likes have rarely been seen in MMA.
If he keeps up the pace he's at – and that's the toughest part – it's not going to be long before some will begin proclaiming him the greatest fighter ever.
Depending on the schedule he keeps, it could happen before his 30th birthday, a little more than four years from now.
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