As far as title defenses go for light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Saturday's victory over upstart Anthony Smith was as one-sided as it was nondescript as he cruised to victory against a stubborn opponent he couldn't finish. But what will likely go down as a somewhat forgotten footnote in history was how close Jones came to losing the title in disastrous fashion at UFC 232 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Jones (24-1, 1 NC), who did nothing but cement his status as possibly the greatest fighter in the sport's history by how easily he dismantled a stubbornly-tough Smith, landed an illegal knee to the side of Smith's head in Round 4 that could've cost him the title had a beaten Smith told cage side doctors he couldn't continue.
Instead, Smith took time to recover from the knee delivered by a standing Jones that connected to the side of his ear as he sat, allowing Jones's title reign to continue after referee Herb Dean docked him two points. Jones went on to win a unanimous decision by identical scores of 48-44 on all three cards.
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"I said from the beginning I wanted to win the title, and I know as well as anyone that I could've sat there and taken the title win via DQ," Smith said. "But I want to win it, I don't want to steal it."
Although Jones didn't address the illegal strike or momentary lapse of judgement directly (nor was he asked about it by UFC's Joe Rogan), the champion had nothing but effusive praise for Smith after the fight.
"Hats off to Anthony Smith. His reputation is to be so durable. Now I see why they call him 'Lionheart,'" Jones said. "I have never had anyone talk to me while I'm hitting him. This guy is so durable. He's like the Terminator. You've done a great, great job. You're a gentleman, bro. It has been an honor to fight you and refreshing not to talk s--- back and forth."
It's becoming difficult to imagine a Jones fight without controversy, and along with the illegal knee strike in Round 4 (and the illegal kick one round earlier to a fallen Smith that was blocked), Jones was back in the headlines again for abnormal drug tests results when tiny metabolites of a banned oral steroid were once again found in his system. The Nevada State Athletic Commission ultimately ruled the trace amounts weren't of the performance-enhancing nature.
Yet Jones was his typically unflappable self when it came time to enter the Octagon. Making a quick turnaround from his Dec. 29 victory over Alexander Gustafsson in their UFC 232 rematch to regain the vacant 205-pound title, Jones was surgical in the manner in which he systematically broke Smith down with creative setups and debilitating strikes to the legs and body. Jones was so dominant, the fight could've been stopped anywhere past the second round with little to no complaints in return. Despite the dominant way in which he won, though, Jones audibly apologized to his team after for not finishing Smith and reiterated the thoughts during his post-fight interview.
"This MMA thing is really hard. Some days you are going to look amazing and some days you're not going to perform at the level you want to," Jones said.
"I'm getting familiar what it feels like to be a UFC fighter. I'm finally past the nerves and over-thinking and under-thinking things. I'm finally starting to feel like a veteran. I feel like I'm getting there. Tonight, for sure, was a real learning lesson. I felt like Randy Couture holding him against the cage and chipping away. It was a new style for me, but I thought it was necessary because my strikes weren't affecting him at all."
Smith (31-14) had a modicum of success early by trading relatively even with Jones in the opening round until a series of spinning back kicks to the body saw Jones begin the process of wearing him down. The final three rounds, however, saw Smith almost exclusively in survival mode covering up.
"This wasn't my night, I guess. I have to get better," Smith said. "He did a whole range of body attacks that would stop me on my way in. I didn't do the things I was supposed to do. I wasn't offensive and I let Jon Jones sit back and be Jon Jones, and that's my fault."
Some might argue Smith was only deserving of the title shot because of the alarming lack of depth that the division currently has. All of that begged an interesting question from Rogan as to whether Jones would move up to heavyweight sooner than later. It was a question that was left unanswered.
"Right now, I'm just going to enjoy this win and go back to the drawing board and figure out ways to get better," Jones said. "There is a lot of young talent in the UFC and so many guys who are looking unbelievable and that's going to be a challenge unto itself. Right now I'm not going to call anyone out."
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UFC 235 results
Jon Jones (c) def. Anthony Smith via unanimous decision (48-44, 48-44, 48-44)
(50-44, 50-44, 50-45)
Weili Zhang def. Tecia Torres via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Zabit Magomedsharipov def. Jeremy Stephens via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Johnny Walker def. Misha Ciruknov via first-round TKO (knee, punches)
Cody Stamann def. Alejandro Perez via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Diego Sanchez def. Mickey Gall via second-round TKO (strikes)
UFC 235 highlights
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