As Jon Jones awaited treatment following his UFC 165 lightweight title defense, Alexander Gustafsson sat in the same Toronto-area hospital, steps away from the man he nearly dethroned. At some point the two posed for a picture. That, ultimately, would be the last friendly exchange between the two.
To call Jones and Gustafsson’s war of words “heated” is an understatement. Since Jones’ title defense, the fighters continuously jab at one another through various media and social media platforms, the most recent coming in Jones’ interview with FOX Sports.
Earlier this week, the light heavyweight champ called Gustafsson “delusional” for his incessant trash talking, saying outside influences have given the Swede an unearned sense of superiority. “I respected him a lot more before we fought,” Jones said. “I’ll tell you what, he has so much arrogance for someone who didn’t win.”
Gustafsson’s earned his No. 1 contender status, but is Jones wrong for thinking less of him for comments made outside the Octagon? Gustafsson has given multiple theories as to why Jones declined an immediate rematch following their title bout last September – one being that Jones is playing coy – and has gone the record as stating that the champ is a bad matchup stylistically.
On the other hand, Jones has a few reasons of his own, validating his belief that Gustafsson should let actions speak louder than words.
Jones won the first match
Before delving too much into Jones’ comment, one has to remember that three judges ruled in his favor last September. It was a controversial ending to 2013’s fight of the year and the most entertaining title bout in recent memory.
“I find it funny, because Gustafsson lost the fight fair and square,” Jones said. “I will admit he won Round 1 and Round 3, but that’s it. I won the fight. I’ve never heard someone chirp so much who lost.” There is no question Gustafsson showed a tremendous amount of heart. He took Jones down, picked apart his fight plan, and wounded him more than any of his predecessors.
Call it favoritism, but Jones still won the fight. The two went back-and-forth before he won via unanimous decision, passing Tito Ortiz for consecutive title defenses of the UFC Light Heavyweight championship. When it comes to title fights, “almost” doesn’t count.
Gustafsson’s previous opponents
The No. 13 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC didn’t scrape by to get there. A 16-2 MMA record – eight victories in the UFC – will attest to Gustafsson’s all-around skills set; four wins have come by submission, eight by knockout.
Still, his opponents aren’t near the level of Jones’. Aside from defeating former PRIDE middleweight champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Gustafsson hasn’t faced title-caliber talent. Last March, he knocked former UCMMA light heavyweight champion Jimi Manuwa out in the second round of their UFC Fight Night 37 headlining bout. It got “Fight of the Night” honors and he was named performer of the night, but Gustafsson was never in any real danger.
One can’t downplay Gustafsson’s accomplishments but until he beats the likes of Jones, he isn’t in the same ballpark as the champ.
Reaction to Jones’ title defense was sharp and skeptical; never more apparent than on Twitter. A lot of credit was given to Jones, but many cited a “champion’s advantage” when it came down to the judges’ scorecards. Jones references social media’s support of Gustafsson for talking trash, and Jones may have a point.
Look no further than Nate Diaz’s Twitter post requesting his UFC release as proof of how social media can impact a fighter. He eliminated the middle man, understanding that a tweet could change the course of his career. Likewise, Gustafsson may be playing off the fuel given by his online followers.
This is where the delusion Jones refers to sets in. There are so many people telling him that he should have won the UFC 165 title fight that he may think there is no other way to see it.
It doesn’t take much to light a fire under a fighter and social media may be the reassurance Gustafsson needs. Come their highly anticipated rematch, Gustafsson will give Twitter another reason be up in arms, one way or the other.