So, the task of decoding arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time fell to a high school IT support specialist.
Everyone else had tried and failed to overcome UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
Former 205 lbs titleholders Shogun Rua, Victor Belfort, Rashad Evans, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Lyoto Machida all failed – the latter lifelessly, involuntarily sliding down the Octagon cage and slinking to the mat as if every bone had been removed from his body after Jones choked him out in 2011.
Current two-weight Bellator world champion Ryan Bader failed. Former two-weight UFC world champion Daniel Cormier failed, twice.
Glover Teixeira, Ovince St. Preux and Chael Sonnen fell short (despite ‘The Bad Guy’ possessing the biggest arms in West Linn, Oregon). Thiago Santos and Alexander Gustafsson came the closest to beating Jones, but failed, and the Swede’s much anticipated rematch with ‘Bones’ ended as the light heavyweight champion pummelled the helpless ‘Mauler’ into the mat. Then there was Anthony Smith, who seemed almost petrified to even throw a strike at Jones.
Strictly speaking, there is one man who defeated Jones: Matt Hamill. But that disqualification victory came by way of Hamill happening to be on the wrong end of some slightly wonky (and thus illegal) elbows by Jones.
So on Saturday night, former IT engineer Dominick Reyes had the chance to inflict upon Jones a first genuine career defeat, and Jones had the opportunity to deal Reyes the same blow.
All fight week long, Jones’ most loyal supporters – those willing to overlook the failed (performance-enhancing and recreational) drugs tests and other run-ins with the law – derided Reyes, suggesting his greatest athletic accolade was being a former high school ‘baseball player’.
That is, of course, doing the Southern Californian a great disservice. Reyes, 30, who actually played college football and just missed the cut in an NFL draft, entered Houston, Texas undefeated and in his prime. In his last bout, the ‘Devastator’ knocked out former middleweight champion Chris Weidman in the first round.
But never mind the chiding from Jones’ fans; there were a few others in attendance at the Toyota Center at UFC 247 who played down Reyes’ achievements, and those were the ringside judges.
Reyes (12-1) pushed a punishing pace from the opening buzzer, tagging and troubling Jones with multiple left hands and sending ‘Bones’ running on numerous occasions, even dropping the champion early in the first round with a stern left hand to the chest. It was more about the timing than the damage, but the strike established the tone for the evening’s main event.
Jones did his best to stay calm and pick his shots, displaying some of that unrivalled ring IQ as he gradually came into the fight and varied his offence, but his buzzsaw southpaw challenger also mixed it up, working the body and legs of the champion to halt his momentum and – arguably – surge to a three-round lead after as many frames.
A late knee from Jones after the buzzer at the end of the third round may have been a sign of the champion’s frustration, and even in the final two rounds, when Jones was finally able to drag his challenger to the canvas, Reyes forced himself back up. Once upright, he kept shuffling those feet, never once pausing in 25 minutes despite having never previously fought beyond 15.
While Jones’ (26-1, 1 NC) freshness and skill may have trumped Reyes’ heart as the fight neared its end, many in the Toyota Center believed the final buzzer marked the end of the champion’s near decade-long run at the top of the division.
In the same building where Matt Serra defeated Georges St-Pierre in one of the biggest upsets in MMA history, the crowd prepared itself for a similarly stunning inauguration. And then came the scores: 48-47, 48-47, and a baffling 49-46, all in favour of Jones.
Perhaps he had edged a close second round to earn those 48-47s, but the suggestion that Jones had won four rounds was – like many of the scorecards throughout the evening – far from the mark. Beating Jones evidently requires an opponent to fight the best fight of their life, and for all of the judges to have the best night of theirs. It was as though Reyes had cracked the code, only for someone to reboot the wifi at the most inopportune moment.
Reyes will come again and one day live up to his surname by occupying the UFC’s light heavyweight throne, but for now, Jones remains the 205lbs king.
Those who don’t deem ‘Bones’ the greatest ever will likely favour St-Pierre, whose record for most title fight wins in UFC history was overtaken by Jones on Saturday. That should serve to further strengthen Jones’ legacy, but right now the champion is looking more vulnerable than venerable, his once awe-inspiring aura gradually dissipating.
Perhaps the time is nearly upon us. Jones’ next challenger may well be the next light heavyweight champion.