Finally, Jon Jones returned to his comfort zone. An eight-sided metal cage that houses a man trying to punch Jones in the face faster, harder and with more frequency than Jones can do to him.
Believe it or not, that’s a peaceful place for Jones. Certainly more serene than the places he’s been the past five months: under the influence when behind the wheel of a car after it crashed into a tree, a police car, a courthouse, a verbal squabble with his boss and in the crosshairs of MMA fans and fighters.
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Inside the cage, his body sweaty, his opponent’s bloodied and sweaty, Jones did what he always does: he wins.
Jones submitted Vitor Belfort by Americana 54 seconds into the fourth round of his light heavyweight championship defense at UFC 152 in Toronto on Saturday.
“I really like a stronger young man standing here before you guys today,” Jones said after the fight.
The win gives Jones his fourth consecutive title defense, one shy of Tito Ortiz’s record for the light heavyweight division.
“The actual record doesn’t mean that much to me,” Jones told Newsday a week before the fight. “Accomplishing a goal is what means a lot to me. Putting my mind to something and accomplishing it, it builds a personal strength. You put my mind to it and you do it.
“It empowers you to let you know that you need to start reaching higher for higher stars and reach even higher stars and climb even higher mountains.”
Jones (17-1, 11-1 UFC) nearly lost the fight early in the first round. Belfort, known for fast and powerful striking, surprised with his ground game strategy and work off his back. Jones took Belfort down early in the round, as expected. Then Belfort got an armbar and used all his strength to go for the submission.
“He got that armbar in every way shape and form,” Jones said. “I never had my arm pop like that before. I felt it, but I worked too hard to give up. I honestly was waiting for it to break. I was not going to tap out.”
How we arrived at this Jones-Belfort matchup has been well chronicled.
Jones drew the ire of his boss, UFC president Dana White, and had fans turn against him last month when he and his team declined to fight Chael Sonnen on nine days’ notice at UFC 151. Jones’ original opponent, Dan Henderson, withdrew from their Sept. 1 fight in Las Vegas with a knee injury. Zuffa subsequently canceled the entire UFC 151 card.
Lyoto Machida was then scheduled to fight Jones at Saturday’s UFC 152, but then he declined the fight. Belfort, a former champion at both light heavyweight and heavyweight, called Lorenzo Fertitta and said he’d move up from middleweight to challenge the champion Jones.
Belfort (21-10) showed he was up to the challenge of fighting Jones. But beating Jones right now is far different than just challenging.
After that armbar in the first round, Jones connected on a vicious left elbow that cut open Belfort above his right eye. Jones continued the attack through the round, but Belfort lasted to the bell.
Jones used a side kick to Belfort’s lead leg throughout the fight that kept him from getting inside.