While MMA fans continue to talk about UFC on Versus 2 main eventer Jon Jones as though he was always pegged as a can't miss prospect the truth is far different. At the time of Jones' first UFC fight at UFC 87 against Andre Gusmao he had racked up a 6-0 record over the course of only four months. Most fans and experts favored the more experienced Gusmao in the fight, making Jones a +190 underdog.
Throughout the Gusmao fight Jones was able to use his wrestling background (Jones was a former national junior college champion) to score takedowns as well as using unusual and diverse and unusual striking on the feet. The spinning back elbows and kicks that Jones threw made him an instant crowd favorite as he worked his way to a clear upset decision victory.
It would be another 5 months before Jones would be back in the Octagon, this time to take on Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94. Again Jones would enter the cage as an underdog coming in at around +140. Much as with the Gusmao fight it was Jones' ability to use unorthodox striking to keep his opponent off balance and control the clinch with his wrestling background that would decide the fight. The fight did expose some areas that Jones could improve in as he appeared tired in round three. Also, while his kicks were sharp it was clear that when he got into punching from a distance he was leaving openings for counters by dropping his hands. With his athleticism it was something he could get away with but against the top of the division he might not be so lucky.
Jon entered the cage as a very significant favorite (as high as -550) when he fought Jake O'Brien at UFC 100. O'Brien didn't possess much of a threat in the standing department and his wrestling, while effective, hadn't translated into a diverse game as Jones' had. Jon stood on the outside using his range to outstrike his opponent before hurting Jake with a spinning elbow and locking in a guillotine choke for the submission victory. It was a safe fight that really didn't provide a lot of insight into exactly how far Jones had progressed.
The big step-up in competition for Jones came when he fought Matt Hamill at the finale of The Ultimate Fighter 10. Jones would find success using his kicks to control distance before clinching and executing a beautiful throw to end up on top near the end of the first round. From there Jones quickly moved to mount and started landing big blows. Unfortunately, he also started landing illegal 12-to-6 elbows that resulted in a disqualification in the confusion that followed as Hamill, who is deaf, was unable to fully understand the referee when asked if he could continue. Hamill had suffered a shoulder injury on the takedown that was the actual reason for his inability to continue, but the communication issues resulted in a DQ on the illegal strikes. The loss was the first of Jones' career.
Jon would look to rebound in a big way taking on Brandon Vera in the main event of the first UFC on Versus. Jones came in as the favorite but Vera was the most complete fighter that "Bones" had competed against. Showing the kind of competitor he is, Jones stepped up his game to meet the competition he faced and destroyed Vera. After getting the fight to the ground Jones began dropping huge elbows (legal this time) and broke Vera's face in three places. It was a violent statement that Jones was ready for legitimate, well rounded competition.
Now as he readies to face Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC on Versus 2 we are hearing that Jones is still improving and growing in confidence. It is hard to see him getting outwrestled by Vlad and his length is going to make things very hard on the feet as well. If Jones wins this fight it will be time to face a top ten talent and groom him for a future title shot.