A bloody Jon (Bones) Jones defended his light-heavyweight title but was pushed to the limit by a hard-charging Alexander (The Mauler) Gustafsson before winning a memorable five-round decision at UFC 165 on Saturday night.
The judges scored it 48-47, 48-47, 49-46 for Jones (19-1). It was the champion’s closest call.
Despite the loss, it was a remarkable show by the confident Swedish challenger, who had the best of the early rounds and then hung on in the fourth and fifth. And it will likely be remembered as one of the best title fights in UFC history.
“Who doesn’t want a rematch,” said UFC president Dana White. Jones and Gustafsson both earned US$50,000 bonuses for the fight of the night.
Still, White refused to say a rematch would be next.
Gustafsson (15-2) made the champion look human, cutting him and taking him down for the first time in his UFC career. As he promised, the Swede’s hands were faster.
It wasn’t until the end of the fourth round that a bloody Jones finally did damage, setting the stage for a dramatic fifth.
Both men were bleeding. Jones took Gustafsson down but the Swede fought his way back to his feet. Gustafsson looked exhausted and Jones threw everything at him, mixing elbows and kicks. Both fighters were taken to hospital after the main event.
“Thank you for everyone support,” Jones tweeted after the fight. “I felt a little off my game tonight but I learned alot about myself and I promise to come back better.”
In the co-main event at the Air Canada Centre, interim bantamweight title-holder Renan Barao stopped former WEC champion Eddie Wineland in spectacular fashion, finishing him with a spinning back kick to the face in the second round.
Gustafsson, wearing trunks in the blue-and-yellow colours of Sweden, walked in to Avicii’s “Wake Me Up.” The champion, wearing a “Not Quite Human” T-shirt, followed to the sounds of “Coming Home” by Diddy and Dirty Money as the noise level escalated in the arena.
At six foot five, the Swede had a one-inch height advantage on Jones. The champ still had a reach advantage thanks to his UFC-leading 84.5-inch wingspan, but it was only a three-inch edge this time.
Gustafsson cooly stuffed an early takedown and came at Jones, who fought back with kicks. The Swede cut the champion at the right eye midway through the first round. And with one minute left, he took Jones down for the first time in the champion’s UFC career.
Jones just missed with a spinning elbow in a first round that was good for Gustafsson.
The Swede tripped Jones as he attempted a kick early in the second, only to have the champion get back up and charge at him. Jones stalked Gustafsson, who stuffed another takedown.
The crowd roared as the round ended.
Gustafsson looked to stick and move in the third while Jones looked for answers. In the fourth, Gustafsson continued to move in and out, with Jones’ face showing more damage from strikes. The Swede’s jab was laying waste to Jones’ right eye.
A bloody Jones stunned Gustafsson with a spinning elbow and followed with a string of knees as the round counted down, leaving the Swede dazed and bloodied.
“I finally got the dogfight I was looking for,” said Jones, adding he needed more work in the gym.
The win — his 10th straight — gives Jones the record for most consecutive title defences (six) in UFC light-heavyweight history. He already holds the mark for most submissions (five) by a light-heavyweight and is tied for most finishes (nine).
“He’s the champ for a reason,” said Gustafsson.
Wineland (20-9-1) had had a good first round but was put away soon after with Barao following the kick with several punches before referee Yves Lavigne stepped in after 35 seconds. The UFC said it was the first such spinning back kick KO in its history, earning Barao a $50,000 bonus for knockout of the night.
Barao, who has won 21 straight and not lost since April 2005 in his pro debut, danced with his cornermen in the cage after the win. The flashy Brazilian, a 7-2 favourite Saturday, may upgrade the interim belt to the real thing if champion Dominick Cruz, sidelined since October 2011 by two knee surgeries, cannot return to action come 2014.
It was a tough card for Canadian fighters, who went 2-5 on the night. Bantamweight Mitch Gagnon of Sudbury, Ont., and Montreal lightweight John (The Bull) Makdessi were the lone Canadian winners.