I’m not sure who else you can name fighter of the year for 2011 besides UFC Lightheavyweight Champion Jon Jones. The man known as ‘Bones’ went 4-0 in 2011, and in March of 2011 he captured the title from Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua. He went on to defend the belt twice, and is 3-0 this year against former titleholders (Lyoto Machida, Quinton Jackson and Rua).
And it isn’t just the 4-0 record, nor the high level of competition that seals the deal. It also has to do with the sheer dominance of his performances.
Jones has been a juggernaut. In his latest outing, against Machida, Jones came out a little more cautious than usual, and he may even have let slip to Machida the first round of the fight.
It isn’t that Machida hurt Jones at all, or that Jones had any really bad moments, just that Machida, with his unorthodox style, seemed to frustrate the champion. So the only round he has ever lost is a big maybe, really. But if he did lose it, he lost it due to a slow start and a weird opponent, and not because he was ever hurt or ever in any danger.
So Jones’ dominance continues. Machida, for all his skill and talent, would not make it out of the second round. Jones broke through and hurt Machida with punches, and then he caught the Brazilian in a standing guillotine choke. Machida elected to go out rather than tap out, and when the match was stopped, Jones very definitively let Machida’s unconscious body slump to the octagon floor. Another top contender left on the floor as Jones stepped over his unconscious body – certainly a fitting topper to a great year for Jones.
My runner up for the award is also a Lightheavyweight, and that is Dan Henderson. Henderson is 3-0 in 2011, with a landmark win over Fedor Emelianenko.
Henderson and Rashad Evans are the two imminent challenges to Jones in the Lightheavyweight division as we roll into 2012.
After those two fights, the UFC will either have to import some talent (like King Mo Lawal or Gegard Moussasi) to challenge Jones, or we are in for a slew of rematches with the talent pool the UFC has now.