All that was missing were the tears, and perhaps they flowed en route to the hospital.
For the longest time, UFC president Dana White has talked about a super fight. On Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre, he got it.
American Jon ‘Bones’ Jones and Sweden’s Alexander ‘The Mauler’ Gustafsson, a pair of 26-year-olds with similar size and reach, put on a show for the ages. Both young warriors gave every ounce, shedding blood and sweat and suffering enough damage to require that hospital visit in a bout that went the full 25 minutes. Jones won by unanimous decision, breaking Tito Ortiz’s light heavyweight record with his sixth successful title defence — but Gustafsson accounted himself well in defeat. In the bigger picture, both men came away beaten and broken and at least somewhat triumphant.
“This is one of those fights that you remember why you’re a fight fan; why you love going to fights so much,” White said. “I love being a part of things like this.”
Too often White has become defensive when the crowd boos its displeasure or there is criticism on social media. For one night, that wasn’t a problem. He could bask in the glow of a card that grew in intensity as the night approach its climax. There have been other cards that have fizzled in the the main event. This one lived up to its billing.
Jones, a native of Endicott, New York, has called Toronto a home-field advantage for him, so he walked to the cage to the music of Diddy’s Coming Home. The last time he fought in Toronto, he walked out to Bob Marley’s Could You Be Loved, sending a subtle message to the crowd, some of whom came to boo him because of his polarizing personality. This was his other challenge on Saturday night: Could he make them love him once again?
Many cheered him en route to the cage Saturday night, but there were also boos when the decision was announced. Those weren’t personal, though-in the minds of many, Gustafsson had done enough to win, taking down Jones for the first time in his career and hitting him with enough significant strikes to be declared the victor.
“This is one of those fights where you’re going to have people divided,” said White, “(Some) saying Gustafsson got screwed and other people thinking Jones won and it was the right decision. But it was close.”
Close enough that neither man is feeling very good this morning. Jones suffered damage to his right eye in the first round, and blood started to flow like a stream in the fourth round as Gustafsson pounded away at the injury. According to White, the ringside physician seriously considering stopping the fight after the fourth but Jones pleaded to be allowed to continue. Jones ramped up his intensity in the fifth round, knowing he might be in danger of losing. Both fighters looked spent as the match ticked to a close.
“Both guys felt like they were going to die,” White said. “It’s why you’ve got to respect what happened here (Saturday) so much.”
In his last three fights, Jones has injured an elbow, broken a toe and the full extent of what happened to him Saturday night will be revealed over the next few days. Jones continues to impress with his resilience, absorbing increasingly severe beatings as the quality of his opponents increase.
Gustafsson, meanwhile, suffered damage to his nose and forehead, but his real scars may be below the surface-he is the face of Mixed Martial Arts in Sweden, and he came so close to claiming the belt he coveted for himself and his country. Gustafsson came into the fight confident he would win and-in a way-he did. There is already talk of a rematch. Gustafsson proved he could stand up to a truly elite fighter, made sure that more than just serious MMA fans will learn his name and has likely increased his earning potential significantly.
This is the real victory hidden in Gustafsson’s loss-the arrival of a new ‘elite’ fighter in the consciousness of the causal UFC fan. Jones came into the fight wearing black shorts with Nike and Gatorade logos, while Gustafsson’s shorts featured just an MMA gear manufacturer. It would not be unreasonable to think he’ll find himself with a bigger name on them soon.