Jon Jones was determined to get a finish, and it almost cost him dearly.
The UFC light heavyweight champion’s first defense of his second reign was light on drama and Jones would go on to defeat Anthony Smith via a one-sided unanimous decision in the main event of UFC 235 in Las Vegas. However, an illegal blow landed by Jones in the closing seconds of round four resulted in him receiving a two-point penalty from Herb Dean and a rare trio of 48-44 scores at fight’s end.
It was almost a much worse scenario for Jones.
Smith insisted on continuing the contest, which saved Jones from an ignominious disqualification loss that would have cost him his belt. That decision was greatly appreciated by Jones and his team, with Jones praising Smith for not letting the fight end in that manner.
Jones’s coach Brandon Gibson appeared on The MMA Hour on Monday and he also credited Smith for his sportsmanship. He added that Jones was simply looking to finish the fight and if the bout had taken place in a state where the recently revised unified rules of MMA were fully implemented, we could be talking about a Jones knockout and not another Jones controversy.
“We wanted the finish,” Gibson told host Luke Thomas. “I thought Jon would put him away, I was thinking by the third round. The fourth round we really saw Jon turn it up and I feel bad about the knee. A split-second later or one state line over, that probably would have been a fight ender.
“I feel bad about it. I’m really, really happy that Anthony was able to get up and continue from that. I think it shows why he has that ‘Lionheart’ moniker.”
Under the current unified rules that have been adopted by the majority of states in the U.S., a fighter is considered grounded (and thus, not eligible to be struck by a kick or knee to the head) if they have two hands and/or a knee or other part of the body aside from the soles of the feet on the mat. In Smith’s case, he only had one hand on the mat when Jones’s knee landed.
However, the Nevada Athletic Commission recently agreed to adopt the new unified rules with the exception of the new grounded fighter definition. Under the older definition, any part of the body touching the mat besides the soles of the feet (even a single finger) makes one grounded, which means Smith having one hand down made Jones’s attack illegal.
It’s enough to make a fighter’s head spin, but Gibson thinks it was more a matter of Jones mistiming his strike than any bureaucratic issue.
“We try to be as [up-to-date as] we can and the referees usually do a pretty good job breaking it down in the locker room on where’s the hand and where does the weight need to be in this state? What is ‘three points’ in this state? Is it fingertips, is it palms, is it fists? I don’t know if we went over that in as detail as we should, I was under the understanding that Jon couldn’t knee,” Gibson said.
“I think Jon was just waiting for that millisecond, Anthony’s trying to play that up-and-down game right there, and Jon knew there was short time left in the round and I think he was just trying to time it for the second that Anthony lifted up that hand. And there’s some pictures where it looks really damn close. It was more of a timing thing than a state and commission thing.”
Gibson said that while Smith was visibly “pissed off” at Jones’s corner, he didn’t think Smith would want to see his world title opportunity end in a disqualification. His team has a good relationship with Smith’s head coach Marc Montoya and his Factory X team and the two parties were cordial and respectful with each other before and after the fight.
Even Jones’s celebration was somewhat subdued given the circumstances, though according to Gibson that’s because of the enormous expectations that the are set for Jones in every fight.
“We hold ourselves to very high expectations and very high standards, that’s what we train for,” Gibson said. “So when we won it wasn’t this big celebration, it was okay, what’s next? We’re very happy happy with the performance. If you take away the illegal knee, it would have been a 50-44 scorecard in a championship fight, which is dominant at that level. So we’re happy with it, but we always want more.”