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Jon Jones rallies as Dominick Reyes fumbles title away in championship rounds

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
(L-R) Dominick Reyes punches Jon Jones in their light heavyweight championship bout during UFC 247 at Toyota Center on Feb. 8, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Sometime over the next few days, Dominick Reyes is going to watch the main event of UFC 247 and be sick to his stomach.

He’s going to see a fight that fell through his grasp, that he had firmly within his control and let get away. Jon Jones managed to come back after falling in a big hole to nip Reyes and retain his light heavyweight title by scores of 48-47 twice and 49-46 on Saturday in the main event of UFC 247 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Some will, as they always do, blame the judges, and let’s be honest: Judge Joe Solis’ 49-46 score is laughably inept. Jones did not win four of the five rounds in this fight. But Reyes can’t blame Solis for his loss, as incompetent as he proved himself to be, because even if he’d scored it 49-46 for Reyes, Jones would still have taken a split decision.

Reyes won the first two rounds by pushing the pace, cutting the distance and staying active. He punched in combination and forced Jones to constantly reset in order to find his distance.

That pace was going to be impossible to keep for five rounds. But with the title on the line, with one of the biggest upsets in UFC history within his grasp, he needed to push the pace in the final 15 minutes, and the final 10 for sure, a bit more than he did.

In the deciding fifth round, Jones was backing Reyes up and landed more than three quarters of his significant strikes (26 of 34). It was as if Jones couldn’t miss in the championship rounds. When he needed to do something dramatic, he was able to do it.

In Rounds 4-5, which he needed to win to retain the championship he’d first won by slaying Mauricio “Shogun” Rua on March 19, 2011, he connected on a combined total of 46 of the 68 significant strikes he threw, an astonishing 67.7 percent in crunch time.

That’s what a champion does.

Reyes was every bit the fighter that Jones was on this night. He had a brilliant game plan that he more or less executed perfectly. His takedown defense was excellent, as Jones hit on just 2 of 9 takedowns and Reyes popped up quickly from each one, meaning Jones did nothing with them.

But when you’re getting hit by better than two of every three punches thrown when it matters most, which is what happened to Reyes, something is wrong.

Part of that, of course, is Jones, who remains the greatest fighter in the sport’s history, though he’s slipped to No. 2 on my pound-for-pound list based on current form. Jones’ long history of success against the greatest light heavyweights of his generation cinches him as the sport’s GOAT, but Khabib Nurmagomedov’s current run at lightweight makes him the active pound-for-pound best.

Reyes was trying to take the title from a guy who has not legitimately lost, as Jones’ only loss came when he was disqualified in what was a mistake by the referee. Most of those wins were by rout, so Reyes had a monumental task ahead of him.

He had a perfect game plan, though, but he just couldn’t finish it off as effectively as he started it.

Dominick Reyes reacts after the conclusion of his light heavyweight championship bout against Jon Jones during UFC 247 at Toyota Center on Feb. 8, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

When the scores were announced, Reyes circled the cage with his arms on top of his head. He shouldn’t have had the energy to do that. He should have pushed the pace just a bit harder in Rounds 3, 4 and 5 and it might have been the difference.

He’ll be heartbroken, because while the gas tank was low, it wasn’t empty, and in a situation like that, that remaining energy does no good. 

A win in this situation would have changed his life forever. If he doesn’t believe that, all he has to do is call Holly Holm, who pulled a 2015 upset of Ronda Rousey, a similarly dominant champion.

Jones credited his win to his wrestling, though with two takedowns, it’s not like it made much of an impact. Reyes was up before Jones could do any damage, so it would seem the wrestling didn’t really make much of a difference.

When he was behind, when he knew it was do-or-die, Jones was at his best. He moved forward relentlessly and was landing the sharper punches and controlling the way the bout was fought in the last two rounds.

The rounds weren’t blowouts by any means, but even a judge like Solis, who struggled terribly throughout the card on Saturday, could see that Jones won them.

Little things like that are what make champions and leave others wondering what might have been.

Like him or not, one has to respect Jones for responding the way he did.

Reyes is going to watch the replay and wish he’d done the same. If he had, the belt would be in Hesperia, California, and Reyes would be the toast of the town, as well as his sport.

This will gnaw at him, particularly if Jones leaves the division and makes a run at heavyweight.

It’s going to be a long few days for a guy who did just about everything right.

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