USA TODAY: Quality of opponents insulting to UFC champ Jon Jones


jon-jones-55.jpg(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)

It’s fitting that in Jon Jones‘ 13 UFC fights and five successful title defenses, his worst injury should be one he inflicted upon himself.

It’s also fitting that Jones (18-1 MMA, 12-1 UFC) was too busy elbowing challenger Chael Sonnen (27-13-1 MMA, 6-6 UFC) in the face at UFC 159 in Newark, N.J., on Saturday to notice just how mangled his left big toe was until after his post-fight victory celebration.

That’s when the light heavyweight champ looked down and saw that one of his toes was no longer pointing in the same direction as the others.

“It didn’t hurt at all,” Jones said. “After the fight, I looked down and saw blood. I looked closer at the blood and saw my toe was pretty much upside down.”

Or, as UFC President Dana White put it, “His bone was sticking out of his toe.”

Jones, 25, who is rapidly cementing his position as the best 205-pounder in UFC history, seemed equally sickened and bemused by the discovery. A replay showed his toe giving out under his own weight as he pushed off his left foot to continue his assault on Sonnen. Considering the undersized, overmatched challengers the UFC has been providing him lately, it makes sense that the biggest threat to Jones’ health these days is Jones himself.

It’s been a year since Jones last defended his title against a true light heavyweight. After his decision win against former champ Rashad Evans a year ago, he submitted middleweight Vitor Belfort in September and nearly broke his arm in the process. Next, the UFC gave him Sonnen, whose last bout was a failed bid for Anderson Silva‘s UFC middleweight title but whose reputation as a relentless self-promoter promised a profitable outing on pay-per-view.

That’s fine for the organization’s bottom line, but it doesn’t do much for Jones’ legacy. He entered Saturday’s bout as a 10-1 favorite, according to oddsmakers. Sonnen vowed to plant him on his back and “beat a hole in his face,” but instead it was Jones who did the planting and the beating. The only thing Sonnen could do was lie there and bleed.

This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who has seen either man in action. Sonnen might be a workhorse of a middleweight, but Jones is a spectacular light heavyweight. He might be the best we’ve ever seen, though it’s hard to tell when the UFC puts him in barely competitive matchups for the sake of PPV sales. Now, according to White, Jones’ toe injury will likely delay a potential showdown with legitimate light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson (15-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC), who Jones has said he’d like to face next.

That’s the problem with wasting Jones’ talent on fighters such as Sonnen. Even if his opponents can’t hurt him, that’s no guarantee he’ll emerge unscathed and ready for a challenge that might actually tell us how great he can be.

For complete coverage of UFC 159, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.

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