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Jon Jones back on top as MMA's unquestioned greatest of all time

LAS VEGAS — In the last 15 months, Amanda Nunes, who was widely acclaimed as the greatest women’s mixed martial artist ever, lost her championship. On Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 285 at T-Mobile Arena, Valentina Shevchenko, who is clearly the greatest flyweight of all time, was submitted and lost her championship to Alexa Grasso.

In August, Kamaru Usman, who was the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, was knocked out in the waning seconds of his fight and lost his welterweight title.

The point is, in mixed martial arts, anything can happen at any time.

Except, that is, when Jon Jones is involved. The new UFC heavyweight champion is so great, so dominant and so invincible that he seems almost impervious to defeat.

He said before his bout for the vacant heavyweight title on Saturday against Ciryl Gane that he’d make it look easy. Fighters often talk that way, trying to promote with swagger and braggadocio. Jones is one of the few who make those boasts and then go out and back it up.

He submitted Gane on Saturday with a guillotine choke 37 months later and 44 pounds higher than he was the last time he fought in the UFC. Then, he looked human in a win over Dominick Reyes at UFC 247 on Feb. 8, 2020, but he did enough to retain his light heavyweight title.

He came back Saturday as a 248-pound heavyweight and looked better than ever. He made an outstanding fighter look ordinary and it was little more than a sparring session.

Gane tapped at 2:04 of the first to begin Jones’ latest championship reign, this time not only as the heavyweight champion but as his sport’s unquestioned greatest of all time.

He’s the GOAT, if you will.

“Let’s put it this way: There is no doubt that Jon Jones is special,” UFC president Dana White said. “He’s the greatest of all time. He’s undefeated. He’s never lost a fight, ever, in the UFC. He’s fought all the best competition out there.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 04: Jon Jones reacts to his win in the UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 285 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 04, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Jon Jones submitted Ciryl Gane in the first round Saturday to claim the vacant UFC heavyweight championship. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Jones is now 27-1, with his only loss being a disqualification against Matt Hamill in a fight he was on the verge of finishing. He landed a 12-6 elbow and instead of losing a point, he was disqualified.

No one, though, recognizes it and it’s a shame that the Nevada Athletic Commission lets that farce stand.

But it doesn’t take away from Jones’ legacy or greatness.

It’s clear at this point that the only one who can beat Jones is, well, Jones himself. Since debuting in the UFC in 2008, Jones’ only problems were ones he caused himself. He had a pair of DUIs, including one where he hit a pregnant woman and left the scene.

He’s had a slew of other issues and on the night of his induction into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2021, he was arrested after head butting a police car. He clearly has had issues with drugs and alcohol, but a reporter had the temerity and poor judgement at the pre-fight news conference to ask him how “lit” he planned to get if he won the fight.

Jones handled the low-brow question perfectly — “Believe me,” he said, “you do not want to see me lit.” — just like he did everything else leading up to the fight.

But where he shined was, as usual, in the Octagon. Only nine seconds into the fight, time was called as Gane kicked him low. Jones recovered and didn’t lose his focus. He stuck to his game plan and made short work of the former interim champion.

“He’s a real heavyweight, for sure,” Gane said in tribute.

Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in NFL history, sat ringside watching the fight. White said Brady flew from his Florida home on Saturday just to be there to see Jones.

He’s had that kind of impact. And because he appears to have committed to living a cleaner life, serving his community and putting his problems in the past, the fans have embraced him.

T-Mobile Arena was sold out on Saturday with 19,471 fans packed. The gate of $12.15 million was the fourth highest in UFC history and the largest for an event headlined by heavyweights.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 04: Jon Jones walks to the Octagon in the UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 285 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 04, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Fans watch as Jon Jones makes his first walk to the Octagon in over three years on Saturday. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

He received a hero’s welcome when he stepped into the Octagon on Saturday.

“When I first got to the UFC, I would talk about God a lot and trying to be a good person,” Jones said. “But then people got to see that my life wasn’t perfect. I made mistakes. I sinned and I fell down. I think a lot of people looked at me as a fake individual.

“As of right now, people can see I’m human and that I do love God. Christians aren’t perfect. I just think I’m more relatable to people than I’ve ever been.”

He said he’s going to donate his $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus to charities in his adopted hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He said he’s focused on personal development and doesn’t expect to get caught up in the hype praising him, as he did previously.

As a fighter, though, he may be better than ever. He ripped former UFC champion Francis Ngannou for leaving the UFC instead of fighting him.

“Francis is a big old p****,” Jones said.

And he offered some advice for Stipe Miocic, the former champion whom he’ll fight next later this year.

“My next fight is going to be awesome,” Jones said. “I say this respectfully to Stipe: I’d take time off from being a firefighter right now. I say that with all respect. My whole world is going to be focused on him. This is the biggest opportunity of my life, to beat the heavyweight GOAT, and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. Absolutely everything I’ve got.”