Jon Jones: chasing greatness - NBC Sports

Jon Jones: chasing greatness
The comparison of Jones to sporting legends has become more common of late
April 23, 2012, 2:04 pm

Years ago, when Michael Jordan was hitting his prime, Hall of Fame NBA coach Chuck Daly had seen enough to know what he was watching. Jordan was en route to winning his second career scoring title when Daley proclaimed he was so good he was "literally embarrassing the league."

At the time, Jordan was 24 years old, the same as current UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who it might be said is currently embarrassing his contemporaries in a similar way as Jordan once did.

The comparison of Jones to sporting legends has become more common of late. In the leadup to UFC 145, Jones received some backlash when he answered a question relating to Muhammad Ali by saying that he had ambitions that surpassed what Ali had done, as if he needs to apologize for his own personal aspirations.

It is obvious that Jones will have to find longevity before such grand equations can truly stick, but there is evidence he is on his way as an all-time talent. When he beat Rashad Evans last Saturday night at the Philips Arena in Atlanta, he became the first man in mixed martial arts history to beat four consecutive former UFC champions.

But it's not simply that he's won; he's done so with a level of absurd domination. According to stats provider FightMetric, in those four fights, he has out-struck his competition by a tally of 318-97. He's not only shut down their striking, he's shut down their wrestling as well, as not one of the four managed a single takedown against him. Combined knockdowns: Jones 2, opposition 0. Combined guard passes: Jones 7, opposition 0. Add in his February 2011 submission win over Ryan Bader, and that makes five top 10 wins in the last 14 months. The deeper in you go, the more impressive the numbers get. But the bottom line is this: he's murdered a murderer's row.

Yet Jones was still quite critical of his lopsided win over Rashad Evans on Saturday, saying he felt "gangly and uncoordinated at some points."

If that is the type of self-scrutiny reserved for superstars hellbent on at worst, domination, and at best, perfection, put Jones on the list. He has some years to go before we can truly place him on a list of sports' all-time greats, but he's certainly off and running.

He'll have the opportunity to bolster his resume in hurry. His next opponent is already lined up in Dan Henderson, the former Olympic wrestler and two-division champ who was won fights in divisions ranging from middleweight all the way up to heavyweight. Henderson is a no-doubt Hall of Fame caliber fighter, with notable career wins over some of MMA's best like Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, to name a few. Henderson was also Strikeforce's last light-heavyweight champion before he left to the join the UFC, so in a sense, Jones will be attempting to unify the sport's two most prestigious 205-pound belts.

If he does, that will be just another feather in his cap. At 24, he has already produced the most impressive start to an MMA career we have seen. Now the challenge is to guard against complacency. When you get to the top and there is nothing else to aim for except concepts and ideas, motivation can be compromised. For now, though, he is saying and doing all the right things.

Jon Jones isn't just winning, he's embarrassing his opposition. And like Jordan all those years ago, he's only about to hit his prime. Last week, Jones noted that one of his goals is to earn a Nike sponsorship, hoping to gain a stamp of approval from the athletic star-maker. Given his age, it's not surprising to hear that he wants to follow in Jordan's footsteps. Given his potential, it might be surprising if he didn't want to.