TORONTO – For the second time in less than three months, mixed martial arts’ pound-for-pound kingpin nearly suffered a shocking upset.
However, Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion Jon Jones (19-1 MMA, 13-1 UFC) avoided Anderson Silva’s recent fate and edged a resilient Alexander Gustafsson (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) via unanimous decision.
In the lead-up to Saturday’s UFC 165 pay-per-view headliner at Toronto’s Air Canada Center, UFC officials didn’t know exactly how to promote Gustafsson as a viable contender. They focused on the Swede’s height, of all things. Instead, it was his effective game planning, remarkable durability and pure moxie that nearly halted Jones’ new UFC record of six consecutive 205-pound title defenses.
“I’ve been asking for a dog fight for a long time, and I finally got that dog fight I’ve been asking for,” Jones said after the five-round fight.
The first round offered a little of everything, including some signs of hope for the challenger. While Jones, a 26-year-old fighting phenom who’s run through a who’s who of ex-champions, was his usually aggressive and effective self, Gustafasson slowed his attacks with nice counter-punches. He even surprised the champ with a late-round takedown, which marked the first time a fighter had scored one on Jones in 13 UFC fights.
Heading into the next frame, Gustafsson appeared to find confidence. After catching a leg and quickly sending the champ to the mat with a sweep kick, Gustafsson avoided a takedown and showed improved striking defense. He didn’t check every kick and elbow, and some pesky side and front kicks to the shins and thighs slowed his advances. But Gustafsson took Jones’ best shots and returned some solid blows of his own.
After the two close rounds and with Jones’ face showing some heavy swelling and bruising, Gustafsson immediately unloaded a nice combination to start the third round. Jones retaliated with a crisp kick to the face, but with the challenger’s effective takedown defense and increasingly accurate counter-strikes, Jones was forced to throw punches and kicks from distance, which made them easier to deflect. Body shots, though, continued to find their mark, and front kicks to the knee and shins presented problems for Gustafsson.
As the fight entered championship rounds, Jones fired off head kicks and some stiff elbows. Gustafsson, though, continued his surprising takedown defense. Jones’ leg kicks also landed flush, but even deep into the fight, they didn’t really slow the challenger. As Jones’ facial cut gushed blood, Gustafsson fired off smooth combinations as he easily darted in and out of range. But late in the round, Jones finally landed a spinning elbow flush to the forehead, and a follow-up knee had a quickly bloodied Gustafsson on wobbly legs. The bell saved the staggered Swede, but Jones had captured momentum for the final round.
In that decisive fifth round, with both fighters’ faces swollen and bloodied messes, Jones finally secured his first takedown. While such a development would usually mark a significant advantage in a Jones fight, Gustafsson quickly scooted to the fencing and returned to his feet. Both fighters looked for the finishing blow between heavy breaths in the final minutes. Each landed some violent strikes to close out a bout that received a raucous standing ovation.
After a night of questionable scoring, the headliner could have gone either way. Ultimately, though, the judges sided with the champ via 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 scores. Nearly all the cageside media agreed with the decision.
“He was just a tough fighter,” Jones said. “I spent a lot of time on my boxing in this camp. Maybe that wasn’t the best idea. I should have been like water and used more versatility. But hat’s off to Alexander. That was by far my toughest fight, and I really got to exercise my warrior spirit tonight. That makes me happier than getting the win.”
Gustafsson, who was as much as a 12-1 underdog with some sports books, presented the seemingly indestructible champ the biggest challenger of his career. It was enough to warrant a rematch, though the disappointed 26-year-old wasn’t in a mood to campaign for one.
“I will learn from this, and I’ll come back much stronger from this,” Gustafsson said. “I’m just starting my career, and I have lots of fights to do.”
Up-to-the-minute UFC 165 results include:
- Champ Jon Jones def. Alexander Gustafsson via unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46) – to retain light heavyweight title
- Champ Renan Barao def. Eddie Wineland via TKO (kick, punches) – Round 2, 0:35
- Brendan Schaub def. Matt Mitrione via submission (D’Arce choke) – Round 1, 4:06
- Francis Carmont def. Constantinos Philippou via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
- Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Pat Healy via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Myles Jury def. Mike Ricci via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Wilson Reis def. Ivan Menjivar via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28
- Stephen Thompson def. Chris Clements via KO (punches) – Round 2, 1:27
- Mitch Gagnon def. Dustin Kimura via submission (guillotine choke) – Round 1, 4:05
- John Makdessi def. Renee Forte via KO (punches) – Round 1, 2:01
- Michel Prazeres def. Jesse Ronson via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Alex Caceres def. Roland Delorme via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Daniel Omielanczuk def. Nandor Guelmino via KO (punches) – Round 3, 3:18
For complete coverage of UFC 165, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.
John Morgan, Ben Fowlkes and Mike Bohn contributed to this report on-site in Toronto.