Lost in the fact that Jon Jones recorded his 10th successful defense of the UFC light heavyweight title ( the second straight of his current reign) is that he actually did something he’d never done before in MMA competition: he won a split decision.
Two judges gave Jones 48-47 scores following five rounds in the UFC 239 main event Saturday opposite challenger Thiago Santos, enough to keep his lengthy unbeaten stretch alive and gold around his waist. It might be a somewhat dubious first for “Bones,” but nevertheless he was proud of his performance even if it wasn’t the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em affair that fans may have been hoping for after seeing several devastating knockouts earlier in the evening.
As the fight went on, segments of crowd turned on Jones and Santos, a reaction that Jones was able to tune out.
“It doesn’t feel good to be booed, but not many people know what it feels like to be in there,” Jones said at the evening’s post-fight press conference. “Not many people know what it feels like to be in there and I can’t allow them to make decisions for me. It would be disrespectful to my coaches. It would be disrespectful to my gift, to myself, no way. I feel like that’s a very rookie move to start switching up your strategy because someone’s booing you.”
The last thing Jones wanted to do was provide any window of opportunity for Santos to unleash his highly-vaunted striking arsenal. Fifteen of Santos’s 21 pro wins have come by way of knockout.
Jones avoided the worst of it, but he saw and felt enough from Santos to be able to call him “the most powerful guy I’ve ever fought.”
“He was extremely powerful,” Jones said. “His kicks were powerful, his punches were powerful, and I wanted to play a smart game. It probably would have been a lot smarter to get him to the ground and test him there, but I felt like I was winning at what he was absolutely best at. I feel like his team had him optimally prepared. His cardio was great, his punches and kicks were great, and I felt like that was his best and I found a way to win on the feet at what he’s absolute best at.
“In a rematch, if that were to happen, obviously I need to make some adjustments and make smarter choices, maybe attack him where he’s a little weaker, but I am proud because his kickboxing and his standup are what he’s known for. I faced it head on, 25 minutes, and I found a way to come out on top.”
Asked if he knew that Santos had suffered an apparent knee injury early in the fight, Jones said that he was aware that Santos might have hurt his foot, but didn’t suspect anything was seriously wrong. Indeed, it was clear that Jones was treating Santos as a legitimate threat for the duration of their five-round encounter.
Jones credits the focus on defense that was a major part of his training camp and may also have contributed to the somewhat safe approach that Jones employed on Saturday.
“Tonight I found myself out there playing this game that I’ve been doing all camp, which is just making sure I’m not getting hit instead of countering back right away or going to the offense,” Jones said. “So it was a lesson learned for me. I need to not only be sure to be just out of reach of punches and strikes, but I need to be retaliating. I got to get back to punching my teammates in the face.
“So yeah, defense did win a championship tonight, and some good offense too though.”
Jones doesn’t think he suffered any injuries himself, pointing only to pain in his feet and swelling in his shins. Battle wounds from what was essentially a Muay Thai kickboxing contest that just happened to take place in the Octagon.
What Jones is most concerned about was his mental state heading into this fight and how it might affect his performances in the future. That’s one reason why he’s not making any guarantees that he’ll fight again this year, though if he does it will be in December.
“It feels good. I need to talk to my coaches about just making sure that I stay fired up. Tonight I was just so relaxed,” Jones said. “I was talking and laughing and dancing and I wasn’t scared to come out here and work. And that could be a bad thing. You’ve got to be terrified a little bit to be sharp and I just felt so comfortable. It was working against me tonight. I had no sense of urgency to overdo anything, I was just out there cruising and winning the rounds and that’s not cool. People want to see me go out there and finish people and go hard, so I think that my comfort and familiarity with the Octagon kind of worked against me tonight.
“So I am willing to fight in December, I want to fight in December, but I’ve got to make sure that the fire is well-lit of that makes sense.”