Amid reservations of reach, conditioning, and a homefield advantage, Anthony Johnson prevailed over fellow light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson in swift fashion at UFC on FOX 14.

Johnson’s underdog status was reflected by the legions of European MMA fans in attendance, who packed the 30,000 capacity Tele2 Arena until the early hours of Sunday morning to support his opponent; their darling; the Swedish sensation. A sudden barrage of head kicks, uppercuts, and overhand rights would soon silence them, as ‘Rumble’ stopped Gustafsson by TKO at 2:15 of round one.

In doing so, Johnson became the number one contender to Jon Jones’ championship. With a seventh straight win after moving up to light heavyweight and a third impressive victory since returning to the UFC in April 2014, Johnson represents the latest behemoth to challenge Jones for his throne at the top. To simply make that claim, however, would ignore the rich subtleties of this contest that are ripe to harvest for promotion.

That’s why this week, I explore the four intriguing narratives to Jon Jones vs. Anthony Johnson that make their clash truly unique.

 

Redemption On The Grandest Stage

 

For Jones and Johnson, success against the other would also represent a win over themselves. Irony at its finest. As both men carry their respective baggage from personal errors of judgement into this fight, the opportunity to walk away with a world title offers the sweetest of redemptions. Johnson’s issues with weight are well-known and widely publicized. The thought of him fighting at welterweight as he did for so many years is inconceivable, and I even attended one of those bouts in person. The three times he missed weight during his first spell in the UFC each represent a missed chance to fulfil potential. As Johnson has alluded to in several interviews, his errors were a product of stubbornness and failing to believe his confidantes.

After succumbing to Vitor Belfort at UFC 142 and being cut from the promotion, ‘Rumble’ received the reality check he needed, moving up to light heavyweight and enjoying great success. For Jones, a failed drug test for a cocaine metabolite overshadowed what was an awe-inspiring performance against Daniel Cormier at UFC 182.

The media space reserved for fresh claims of ‘Greatest of All Time’ status was now filled with inquiries into his personal life and maturity. A victory over Johnson will turn that attention back to his in-cage accolades and fulfil vows increased focus and dedication to the sport of MMA that Jones made at UFC 182’s entertaining post-fight press conference.

 

Finesse versus Fury

 

While Johnson showed improved conditioning at light heavyweight in his fight with Phil Davis, cutting off the cage and playing the aggressor for three whole rounds, it would not be unreasonable to speculate that Johnson’s greatest chance of success against Jones would come from trying to finish the fight early. Jones has fought five rounds in each of his last three title defences. In those outings, he has exhibited elite conditioning and fighter IQ – creativity and the ability to adapt game plan midway through the fight.

The results have seen Jones outperform his opponent in the fourth and fifth championship rounds on each occasion, from mounting a comeback against Gustafsson to mimicking his idols in the slugfest with Teixeira. Can Jones show the same resolve that made him the ‘King of the Grind’ against Daniel Cormier while weathering the explosive fury that is Anthony Johnson in round one?  

 

The Impossible Challenge

 

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Jones’ title reign as the UFC light heavyweight champion is his ability to win each fight in the most challenging way possible. In a sport where intelligent minds like Dominick Cruz speak of minimizing risk, Jones has defied such logic to show fans new wrinkles added to his game with every fight. By boxing with Rampage Jackson, submitting Lyoto Machida, standing with Alexander Gustafsson, fighting in the pocket with Glover Teixeira and outwrestling Daniel Cormier, Jones has embraced ‘the impossible challenge’ at every turn and done so successfully.

With the news that Jones is moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico to train full-time for the first time in his career, MMA enthusiasts are keen to see just how much better the champion can get. In Johnson, he faces a man whose specialties include explosive first rounds and knockout finishes. Can Jones KO the knockout artist and further develop his legacy? It is a tall and unnecessary order, but that has not stopped Jon Jones before.

 

A Final Test

 

The current landscape at 205 pounds is a testament to Jones’ dominance of the weight class. Previous victories over Gustafsson, Cormier, Teixeira, Rashad Evans, Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, and Ryan Bader leave Anthony Johnson as the only credible challenger left for the champion at this moment in time.

Phil Davis sits at number six, but decision losses to Ryan Bader and Rashad Evans – two fighters who were neutralized and dismantled by Jones – create a long road to title contention for Mr. Wonderful. Rounding out the top ten are Jimi Manuwa and Ovince Saint Preux, who were overwhelmed by Gustafsson and Bader respectively.

Jon Jones has sent mixed messages on what the future will hold beyond his fight with Anthony Johnson, speaking of his intent to continue ruling the roost at light heavyweight as well as a willingness to fight the UFC’s current heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. Regardless, Johnson is the only barrier between Jones and the undisputed accomplishment of cleaning out an entire division. For Johnson, Jones is the final obstacle standing between him and arguably the most remarkable comeback story in MMA history. It brings new depth to the term ‘saving the best for last’.

  • MMAfanatic

    This is a very intresting fight. Jones beats everyone at their own game but nobody can just gain knockout power, its just something you are born with, like anthony johnson was. Can Jones beat johnson at power, or will johnson do the impossible?