Leading up to UFC 239, the consensus was that Jon Jones would cruise to a win over Thiago Santos. But, instead, Jones was significantly tested by the feared striker, and one judge scored the fight for the challenger. In fact, Santos won the bout according to one judge, despite fighting with a severely injured left knee. So, did Jones just have an off night? Or is there more to the story?
Well, since UFC 239 went down, Anthony Smith spoke with Sirius XM. Smith faced Jones back in March, and while the champ won that fight by unanimous decision, “Lionheart” was also a massive underdog and earned praise for his gritty performance. During the aforementioned interview, Smith was asked to weigh-in on what transpired in Jones – Santos, and the rugged vet said this (quotes via MMA Fighting):
“I’m not sure what’s happening,” Smith said. “I’m not sure if Jon was so ahead of the game early on in his career and he was kind of like a unicorn, he was just so much different, and as the game evolves, I don’t want to say everybody’s catching up but everybody’s catching up.
“I think that there’s enough tape out there on Jon that he’s running out of new things that people haven’t seen. . . I think that he leveled up the game as far as his ability to think on the fly and I think it opened up everyone’s eyes and everyone’s minds to new stuff, but eventually, you’re gonna run out of stuff. He’ll always change stuff a little bit, he’ll always tweak it a little bit but I think that we’ve gotten to who Jon Jones is and I think we’ve seen him run his course of what he’s doing. And I’m not saying he’s not gonna get better or be more dangerous. I think he can add more wrinkles. I just think he’s not evolving as fast as the game is anymore, and I think before, he was moving faster than the rest of the game. I don’t think that is the case anymore.”
Now, Jones’ and his supporters would likely note that he isn’t far removed from a stoppage win over Alexander Gustafsson, and prior to that, he took out Daniel Cormier, one of the greatest fighters of all time (the fight was overturned due to another USADA flag Jones’ received). Further, you have to wonder if the fight would have gone differently, if Jones had tried working his wrestling more (although, the early leg kicks Santos scored may have had an impact in that respect).
But, none of that means Smith’s comments here should be outright dismissed. Over the years, we’ve seen the competition catch-up with many of the sport’s greats, and not solely due to aging. There was a time when Anderson Silva was considered invincible. The same was thought of Jose Aldo, Ronda Rousey, and the list goes on.
All this said, don’t be surprised if we see Jones busting out more of his clinch game and wrestling in his next outing.