For Jon Jones, success at UFC 178 won’t be attained by merely winning and defending his light heavyweight title.
He has to dominate Alexander Gustafsson on September 27.
It’s hard to imagine that a year has almost passed since Jones and Gustafsson’s epic light heavyweight clash at UFC 165. Both men expended every ounce of fight in their bodies for 25 minutes in arguably the greatest title fight in UFC history.
When the battle smoke lifted, Jones was left standing with his hand raised, but Gustafsson had carved out a niche in the UFC that would grow over the next few months. The brazen challenger was ultimately treated as the victor for going toe-to-toe with such a dominant champ.
Despite wearing the UFC strap, Jones feels detached from the iconic plate of gold. For months, fans and pundits have attacked his courage for delaying facing Gustafsson again. It is almost as if the MMA world has forgotten Jones effortlessly dispatching MMA legends and a plethora of top contenders to surpass Tito Ortiz’s record for light heavyweight title defenses.
Backed into a corner, the sleeping giant that is tossing and turning inside of Jones is ready to roar back to life and make the world remember why he is the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He had this to say during an appearance on ESPN’s MMA Live:
My biggest takeaway is just to train harder than I did last time, give it my full undivided attention. I believe if I simply do that everything’s going to work out.
...A successful showing would be for me to go out there and dominate. I’ve been able to dominate pretty much everyone I’ve ever faced except for Gustafsson in that first fight, and success for me is to not only win this fight but to dominate it.
Like Gustafsson, Jones learned a lot about himself in the first bout. Along with the rest of the world, he got a glimpse of his own grit and determination to fan back the flames of adversity while reaching up and claiming the proverbial brass ring.
The bout with Gustafsson may be his most criticized performance, but in some ways, Jones looks back on it as quite possibly his best showing as a professional fighter.
“In some ways, that Gustafsson fight was the strongest showing (of my career), to finish that fight the way I finished it and to display the heart that I did to remain being the champion, to beat Tito Ortiz’s record that very same night. I would give that fight as one of my top showings,” Jones said.
Greatness will once again be within reach when the lights dim and the Octagon door closes on September 27.
Who will be the one to attain it?
Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon.