There has never been a mixed martial arts fighter like Jon Jones. His combination of intelligence, athleticism and skill set is unmatched in the sport's history.
Most fighters do one thing pretty well. They are specialists who get by with passable skills in other areas. The very best guys can do two or three things at a high level.
Jones is a different kind of athlete. You can't compare him to another fighter—no one has ever approached what he can do in the Octagon.
His ground-and-pound is brutal—sharp elbows and sharper angles. But he doesn't belong on the same evolutionary path as other great ground-and-pounders like Mark Coleman and Matt Hughes. His striking game is too sophisticated and slick for that. Sometimes, in fact, he doesn't even consider taking the fight to the ground. That would never have been the case with someone like Coleman.
Nor does Jones belong in the group of rangy strikers who like to keep their opponents at a distance. He may have beaten former champion Rashad Evans with that strategy, but when push comes to shove, his wrestling is good enough to thwart a former NCAA standout like Ryan Bader.
Jones simply does it all, and he does it better than the specialists who oppose him inside the cage.
In his title defense at UFC 159, the conventional wisdom was that Jones would avoid Chael Sonnen's strength—that he would keep the fight at a distance and prevent Sonnen from bringing his wrestling to bear. Jones slapped conventional wisdom in the face and sent it scurrying home to momma.
"It was a very surprising game plan: Jon Jones executing his own takedowns and put the wrestler Chael Sonnen on his back," Fuel TV analyst Brian Stann said after the fight. "As Jon Jones said, he wanted to ‘Chael Sonnen’ Chael Sonnen."
Before the fight, Jones' coach, Greg Jackson, hinted to me that Jones might try to break Sonnen mentally right off the bat and show him that he wasn't even better than the champion at the one thing he does really well.
Sometimes, Jackson said, the best way to demoralize an opponent is to give him exactly what he wants—and then crush his wildest fantasy by showing that path—the ideal one—will not work.
"I don't think I've been taken down three times in my whole career," Sonnen said after the fight. "He took me down three times in one round."
It was the kind of performance that led to much post-fight discussion of legacies and pound-for-pound greatness. There's little doubt Anderson Silva is the most accomplished fighter in UFC history. His track record is unmatched, and Jones, at age 25, hasn't had the time to match Silva's resume line for line.
But what about in the moment? Has Jones surpassed Silva as the best fighter in the world in the here and now? Opinions are varied, but Sonnen, one of just three men who have faced both fighters, shared his own thoughts at the post-fight press conference.
(Jon) is a lot better than I thought he was. To beat a guy is one thing. To beat a guy at his game is another. He’s the best fighter I’ve ever fought. He was stronger than Silva. The last thing I want to do is disparage Anderson Silva. It’s tough. I whipped him for 30 minutes. He whipped me for 30 seconds. I whipped Jon for zero seconds. He whipped me the entire fight. If you’re asking me for my opinion, Jon’s better.
We may get a definitive answer to this question soon enough.
"Anderson called me tonight and wants a fight," UFC president Dana White told the press. "I’m not going to tell you which fight he wants, but I’m going to get to work on it as soon as possible."
Does Silva want Jones, or did he call for a shot at welterweight Georges St-Pierre? The timing of the call strongly hints that Silva has his eye on Jones.
If it happens, it will be bigger than a superfight. We'll need to invent a new superlative just to discuss it.
Silva vs. Jones isn't just a dream fight. It would decide who is the very best fighter in the world.