Jon Jones, 32 and UFC’s current light heavyweight champion, looked to continue his reign by putting an end to undefeated, hot–handed contender Dominick Reyes Feb. 8th, night in the main event of UFC 247 in Houston. This fight carried extra weight for Jones considering that he would be making UFC history for most victorious title fights if he were to win; fourteen wins would topple the great George-St. Pierre’s record of thirteen consecutive wins since 2013.
Jones, who has a troubling history of drug controversies and suspensions, accomplished what he promised to do after his third suspension issued by United States Anti-Doping Agency: concentrate on his legacy and only that.
“It’s difficult to express myself at this moment, but I can definitely say my heart is filled with gratitude and appreciation,” Jones said in a statement in 2018.
This experience humbled him and pushed him to concentrate on his legacy, shutting down his doubters. The year 2019 saw just that with impressive, albeit close, victories over Thiago Santos and Anthony Smith, both up and coming contenders who are looking to take over.
Reyes, recruited by the UFC in 2017 amassed an impressive resume by besting competitive opponents for a total of six consecutive fights. He looked to prove his skilled prowess not only by dethroning Jones, but doing so dominantly.
“That’s why he’s not ever going to be on the Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali level. No matter how many wins he gets, no matter how many titles he wins, he can’t get out of his own way. He’s just not a good person,” said Reyes speaking on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show about Jones.
It was transparent that Reyes had a firm opinion about Jones’ ambition to become an all time great, which Reyes believed was permanently shrouded in a cloud of doubt and deceit.
“Beating up on cans has got him convinced he’s a better athlete than most of the world. If he was so badass, he would’ve won the California state wrestling championships he would’ve went division one, he would have at least made a practice squad for the NFL. This man is delusional,” tweeted Jones leading up to the big night.
Fast forward to last week, and Jones kept his head low (literally, during face-offs) and secured a unanimous decision over Reyes. However, what was at stake that night was much more than another accolade or an impressive victory. It was his legacy and imprint on the people’s eyes. 2019 was a year that he kept a low profile and got the job done, but it also meant that he wasn’t making headlines or capturing the imagination of MMA fans around the world. Jones needed this fight to be dominant, and on that note, he failed to deliver.
The first round opened up with Reyes coming out as an active fighter, always on his toes and catching Jones early with a straight to the chest, knocking him to the ground. Jones quickly got up and Reyes followed up with a flurry of punches and pushed Jones against the cage. Momentarily, Jones looked hurt and strategically created distance using his long arms and low kick feints. Reyes outlanded Jones by cutting angles, outputting a fast pace, and timing his flurries.
In round two, we saw Jones getting more comfortable with the speed of Reyes and landed more counters than the first. Reyes cleverly sidesteped Jones’ pursuit and pressure by switching stances and getting inside the pocket to land close-range, booming punches. Jones began to land more straight punches and low leg kicks after Reyes cracked him with a clean uppercut.
In round three, Jones went on the offense and initiated his attacks with straight punches. Reyes continued his ongoing, active pace and landed a clean kick to the midsection on Jones. Jones attempted a takedown, which was the most successful attempt so far, but Reyes sprawled and remained upright and punched his way out to keep distance.
In round four, Reyes landed a flurry of hooks and Jones’ eye swelled. Jones also managed to successfully take Reyes to the ground, but Reyes immediately got up. Jones continued to inflict damage by chopping at Reye’s legs with low kicks. In the latter half of the round, Jones increased the pressure and landed body shots followed by a sharp elbow to the head. Jones closed the round with a three-punch combo.
In round five, Jones continued his pressure maintaining octagon control. Jones attempted another takedown, but ultimately failed and settled for smothering Reyes against the fence. Reyes escaped and fired another flurry. Reyes became noticeably exhausted at this point from the active pace he kept in the earlier rounds. Jones took notice and landed low kick after low kick, and got busier with combinations. Reyes became a reactionary fighter in this round using his jab to ward off Jones’ pressure and kicks, and occasionally landing a counter to Jones’ straight punches. Reyes got the last punch in as Jones attempted his signature spinning elbow.
Veteran combat sports judge Joe Solis made waves when he submitted his scorecard, sparking bedlam in MMA media outlets, fight forums, and even the commentators that night: Joe Rogan and Dominick Cruz. Solis scored it 49-46 in favor of Jones.
“They’re insane. Dominick Reyes put on a hell of a fight tonight. And to disrespect that performance by that kind of judging is insane,” Rogan criticized.
One fan commented, “Put me in the octagon with the 49-46 judge.”
Solis’ scorecard denotes that Jones won four of the last five rounds, which is decidedly far from the truth. At the very least, fight fans, pundits, the commentators, and even UFC president Dana White had the fight very close, many scoring the fight for Reyes. For fight fans and hard core veterans of the sport, it is difficult to take this kind of judging as acceptable.
There is an argument to be made that Reyes’ lack of octagon control may have swayed Solis’ view of the fight. Still, the unified rules of MMA prioritize other criteria in their 10 point system ahead of octagon control. Per UFC stats, we can see that Reyes outstruck Jones in the first three rounds 82-58, which qualifies under the criteria of “Effective Aggressiveness.”
Earlier in the night Solis submitted a similar scorecard that raised eyebrows among fight fans, where he gave Andrew Ewell a 30-27 in a split decision win. Almost none following the fight had a scorecard in that range.
Jones deserves credit for closing out the latter half of the fight the way he did. As a veteran of the sport, he kept a steady pace, composure, and strategically closed out the fight with an elevated constant pressure. Reyes was fatigued and unable to keep up with Jones’ pressure. However, Reyes, a knockout artist who looked to create perhaps the biggest upset in UFC history, wasn’t given his due.
Solis’ scorecard is only the tip of the iceberg; the UFC has a history of questionable scorecards, ultimately creating a catalog of poor decision making and paving the way for criticism on how future MMA fights should be judged and by who.