INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Through it all, Jon Jones has always considered himself to be the UFC’s true light heavyweight champion.
Now it’s official again.
Jones (23-1, 1 NC) reclaimed his 205-pound title on Saturday in a dominant, third-round finish against Alexander Gustafsson (18-5). The title bout headlined UFC 232 at The Forum and was Jones’ first appearance in 17 months.
The end came at the 2:02 mark of the round, when Jones took Gustafsson’s back on the ground and hammered him with punches to the side of the head.
In his postfight interview in the Octagon, Jones was quick to address what was on the minds of many fans: a potential rematch with rival Daniel Cormier, who relinquished the light heavyweight title Friday and is the current UFC heavyweight champion.
“I know there’s a guy who’s been calling himself ‘champ champ,'” Jones said. “I mean, what guy just gives up his belt because somebody else made it home?
“Daddy’s home, DC. Prove to the fans that you’re a ‘champ champ.’ Come get a taste. I’m here. Get your belt back. It’ll be waiting right here.”
Cormier took to Twitter immediately after the fight to respond to Jones’ remarks. In an apparent reference to Jones’ doping history, Cormier wrote, “I mean s—, he should win! Dude starts with a head start every time.”
Saturday’s win over Gustafsson was a satisfying result for Jones, who went into the fight amid a swarm of controversy, which has become part of his legacy. The UFC uprooted the event from Nevada to California because the Nevada State Athletic Commission could not license Jones quickly enough after an atypical drug-testing result on Dec. 9.
It was also a decisive result for a rematch that was five years in the making. In September 2013, Gustafsson gave Jones the hardest five-round fight of his career but ultimately came up short by unanimous decision. In this highly anticipated second chapter, however, Gustafsson had nothing for him.
Jon Jones welcomes Daniel Cormier to challenge him a third time if he wants to prove he is light heavyweight champion.
Jones, 31, was brilliant defensively. The boxing combinations Gustafsson landed early and often in their first meeting repeatedly fell short of their target Saturday. Meanwhile, Jones laid the foundation for the finish with kicks to the body and lead elbows.
Gustafsson, of Stockholm, tried to establish his jab and managed to land several left hooks in the first round, but Jones’ defense essentially negated his offense. By the end of the second round, Gustafsson’s leg was clearly bothering him after he was on the receiving end of several Jones kicks.
Jones secured a double-leg takedown early in the third round and eventually moved from half guard to the back. Jones’ wrestling and physicality were simply too much for Gustafsson at that point. He turned his face to the middle of the canvas and covered up until referee Mike Beltran stopped the fight.
Jones said he learned from his first fight with Gustafsson and made several key adjustments.
“The first time I fought Alexander, I stayed in his punching range. And the main difference [Saturday] was, I was aware of how far away I was at all times,” Jones said. “Alexander threw some great combinations, but if you really go back and watch the fight, he landed very few punches at my face tonight, and that was just from a greater sense of understanding.
“Alex, he’s the type of guy where if he can get up quick, he does well. If you can hold him down past 30 seconds, you’re more than likely going to be keeping him down. We knew that, so the idea was to get back to wrestling. Getting that riding time, and then after you get that riding time, start looking for ground-and-pound and submissions. And everything worked out.”
Jones, who fights out of Jackson Wink MMA, is expected to appear before the Nevada commission early next year to address the licensing issue that prompted the UFC to move the championship fight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. He served a 15-month suspension last year after testing positive for a metabolite of a banned substance following a TKO win over Cormier at UFC 214.
The UFC has stripped Jones of a title three times because of various issues.