Whilst MMA is still a fledgling sport, there are still a select few fighters that will stand the test of time. They will be forever remembered as legends of the sport.

Perhaps the most high profile of any of these is Fedor Emelianenko. For years, Fedor dominated in the Pride ring on the other side of the world while the UFC was growing its business and the sport in general. The UFC built a sustainable business model, whereas Pride ultimately did not. However, what Pride did manage to do, perhaps even better than the UFC ever has, is to build a mystique, or an aura of invincibility, around a select few fighters.

Throughout its divisions, Pride managed to make fans believe in the true greatness of fighters like Wanderlei Silva or Emelianenko. As a result, their legacy is etched into the minds of all those who watched them.

There has not been a fighter that has captured the fans’ attention and imagination within the UFC quite like Fedor or Wanderlei did within Pride. Chuck Liddell, B.J. Penn and Randy Couture are the closest the UFC has come to achieving this kind of status for its fighters. The difference, however, is that Fedor and Wanderlei are universally loved by MMA fans, whereas the UFC’s hype machine tends to thrive on conflict and playing fighters off against each other. This method of fight promotion, whilst generating “bums on seats,” tends to alienate fighters from the fans. Although the UFC brand grows stronger as a result, the individual brand of the fighter stagnates.

All of this is not to say that the UFC cannot produce a fighter or fighters that create the same mystique that came with Fedor from his Pride days. In fact, we may be looking at the beginning of this process with Jon Jones. Unlike any other fighter before him, Jones seems intent on not pandering to the UFC’s incessant demands and will instead carefully pick the opportunities that best serve his interests in the long term.

Jones burst onto the scene and has seemingly grown as a fighter before our very eyes into what he is today, which is most likely the best active fighter on the planet.

He entered the UFC with just a 6-0 record. Whilst impressive, it does not mean that much these days, given the sheer amount of fights happening globally every weekend and the watering down of the talent as a result.

It is only once a fighter gets to the UFC, or another major promotion, that you can truly see if he is a great fighter or an elite fighter. Most fighters might ease their way into the UFC, but not Jones. As soon as he stepped into the Octagon, it was clear to see that he was headed towards the top. He reeled off three wins against solid competition, including perennial UFC fighters Jake O’Brien and Stephan Bonnar.

Here is where Jones’ career takes an eerily familiar turn to that of the great Fedor Emelianenko. During Jones’ bout with Matt Hamill, Jones was disqualified for illegal 12-to-6 elbow strikes in a fight that he was definitely winning. This left a bad taste in the mouth given that Jones was winning the fight. It mirrors the feelings of MMA fans when they look back at Fedor’s initial loss, which came by way of a doctor’s stoppage, an unfortunate turn of events that would blemish the record of one the sport’s greats.

Now, just over four years after his fight with Hamill, Jones sits atop of the most revered division in all of MMA. As the cliché goes, he has gone through a “murderers’ row” on his way to assuming the throne at 205 pounds.

In his most recent fight, however, Jones was tested to his absolute limits and in a way that we have not seen before. The man to provide this test was an unheralded Swede by the name of Alexander Gustafsson. Prior to the fight, the consensus in the MMA world was that it would be a straightforward fight for Jones against a challenger whose sole basis of promotion was his size, which was comparable to that of Jones.

MMA fans tend to rally behind most fighters who come through an absolute battle with another member of the elite in their weight division. Jones, on the other hand, experienced pretty much the exact opposite. In the aftermath of the fight, not only were there fans arguing that Gustafsson should have become the new champion that night, but there were also cries of cowardice on Jones’ part for not taking the immediate rematch that so many desired.

Now, as we approach Jones’ next opponent, the fans seem to have made their feelings clear that from now on it will be Jones versus the world. Given this sense of abandonment, is it even possible for Jones to repair his image and attract the same kind of acclaim from the fans that Fedor has always received?

It is hard to pinpoint one particular reason why Fedor was seen as the greatest of all time for a number of years. Although this status has been questioned in recent years, he is undeniably a legend above all others from his generation. When fans think of Fedor, they think of an unassuming, pudgy fighter who certainly doesn’t appear to be up to the task of defeating the biggest and toughest men on the planet. However, once inside the ring, Emelianenko caused that perception to quickly dissipate. His ability to stay composed under pressure allowed him to control the pace and direction of the fight and allowed him to overcome even the most celebrated of heavyweights time and again.

Jones has a very different set of ingredients to work with, many of which don’t seem to translate into fan appreciation. All great athletes require a modicum of arrogance, but Jones’ arrogance seems to present itself in a way that irks the common fan. Added to the mix is the fact that Jones’ persona is consistently questioned and fans continually wonder whether he is trying too hard to be something that he simply isn’t.

When Jones first rose to prominence, he pushed himself as a very moral person with solid religious beliefs (which for the most part is endearing to a great many fans worldwide). However, his subsequent DUI shattered this image and left fans searching for a better understanding of the real Jon Jones. As time goes by, it is becoming more and more apparent that Jones himself may be asking the same questions. It should not be overlooked that despite his dominance, Jones is relatively new to the fame and the fortun. He needs to learn who he truly wants to be.

At the tender age of just 26, Jones still has many years left ahead of him with which to forge a lasting impression. It is entirely possible that by the time he retires from the sport, Jones will have made fans forget what he has done and said up until this point and simply remember him for his achievements inside the cage, the vast majority of which are still yet to be determined.

Most notably, over the next 10-plus years Jones has an opportunity that has not been afforded to any other MMA fighter in history. If he keeps winning in the fashion that he has up until this point, he could become seen as not just the greatest amongst MMA fans but could be one of the first to receive the acceptance of the wider world that, as of 2014, is just opening up to the sport of MMA.

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer
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Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.

  • FEDOR GOD OF MMA

    FEDOR EMILIANENKO -THE GREATEST MMA FIGHTER OF ALL TIME!

  • fnnxkss

    fedor is the man forever….

  • MR 007

    Jon Jones…..A peerless warrior