Today in MMA History: When Jon Jones lost after getting too creative with elbows

5 December 2017

It was early December 2009, and the MMA world was feeling pretty excited about this new kid from upstate New York.

Young guy, but tall and lanky with moves unlike any we’d ever seen. Crazy spinning stuff. Elbows from strange angles. What’s more, he’d only been fighting for a little over a year, and with minimal instruction beyond his background as a high school and community college wrestler. Asked about his unorthodox, but clearly very effective striking game, he claimed he learned it from watching YouTube videos.

Can you believe it? A real piece of work, this 22-year-old kid by the name of Jon Jones.

You know how this story ends. Or, at the very least, you know where it currently stands. How he went on to become the youngest UFC champion in history. How he cemented himself as one of the greatest fighters of all time – that is, when he wasn’t running headfirst into all manner of self-inflicted personal calamity, getting his title stripped for this vehicular offense or that drug test failure. How the only person who can beat him is himself, except for that one time, and that one unfortunate turn of events.

That’s what we know about him now. Back then, all we knew was that some young kid had emerged seemingly out of nowhere, equipped with the body and the tools and a seemingly boundless physical creativity, and after three straight wins he was about to get a marquee spot on a cable TV UFC fight card where all the world could see him.

The booking made sense. Jones (22-1-1 MMA, 16-1-1 UFC) had debuted in the UFC the previous year, beating former IFL standout Andre Gusmao via unanimous decision at UFC 87. Two things about that caught the eye of hardcore fans: 1) Jones’ unorthodox use of elbow strikes wherein the blows seemed to arc up and in and over from all possible angles, and 2) He’d had his first MMA fight just four months prior.

As Jones would later tell it, what prompted the move to MMA was that his girlfriend was pregnant. Since he’d wrestled in high school and at Iowa Central Community College, he figured he could do MMA to make some extra money. Within a month of his pro debut he had four victories in as many fights, with three of them coming by way of knockout.

After beating Gusmao in his first UFC fight, Jones went on to beat Stephan Bonnar (with help from more crazy elbows) at UFC 94, then Jake O’Brien at UFC 100. At the latter event, he’d also had a chance to talk to an increasingly well known trainer by the name of Greg Jackson, who would go on to become one of his main coaches.

That string of victories apparently convinced the UFC that Jones was ready to have more of the stage to himself. So for Dec. 5, 2009, it booked him to face former “Ultimate Fighter” contestant Matt Hamill at the TUF 10 Finale in Las Vegas.

Matt Hammill and Jon Jones face off before The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale.

With the reality season of heavyweights wrapping up, and famed internet brawler Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson on the undercard, it promised to be a highly rated event. Adding the rising Jones against the popular Hamill (13-8 MMA, 10-5 UFC), who was fresh off a head-kick knockout of Mark Munoz, seemed to make it must-see TV for fight fans.

Hamill had first gained notoriety on Season 3 of ‘TUF,’ where he was the first deaf competitor and a sort of accidental foil for eventual season winner and future UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping. After three straight wins to start his UFC run, the former college wrestling champion lost a controversial split decision to Bisping, but the effort helped solidify him as a serious player in the UFC light heavyweight division, and all before Jones had even had a single MMA fight.

If Jones was worried about the experience gap, you couldn’t tell. I visited him at his home in upstate New York that fall to write a Fight Magazine cover story on him prior to the Hamill bout. While he would one day wind up as the big fish in the famed Jackson-Wink MMA gym in Albuquerque, back then he was still mostly training at the Bombsquad Gym near his rented house in Ithaca.

Actually, calling it a gym might be overly generous. Really it was more like a barn, the single room of an otherwise empty outbuilding in the backyard of someone’s house on a rural two-lane road leading out of town. When he wasn’t in New Mexico with Jackson, that’s where you could find Jones, training with a ragtag group of amateur and pro fighters who were, for the most part, nowhere near his level.

When we first started talking about Hamill, I remember Jones was nothing but complimentary, albeit in a very general way. When I joined in, remarking on Hamill’s power, that’s when I got to glimpse Jones’ true feelings.

“Yeah, he’s strong,” Jones said in a tone of voice that was suddenly noticeably different. “Slow, though.”

The message came across very clear: While he was fine with being outwardly humble (at least when a reporter was around), Jones wasn’t going to pretend like he didn’t know how good he was.

They were the co-main event that night in Vegas, going on right before Roy Nelson knocked Brendan Schaub out cold to win the TUF 10 title. As the tale of the tape flashed across the screen on Spike TV, one couldn’t help but notice Jones’ 10-inch reach advantage over Hamill – or the more than 11-year difference in their ages.

As the fight began, UFC commentator Mike Goldberg remarked to his broadcast partner Joe Rogan on the subject of Jones’ creativity as a fighter.

“He’s very creative and very athletic,” Rogan said. “But I don’t think he’s ever faced a wrestler of Matt Hamill’s caliber.”

A couple minutes later, Jones would easily thwart one of Hamill’s takedown attempts, then slam him to the mat with a trip of his own before moving from side control to full mount.

Immediately, Jones postured up and began raining blows down on Hamill. The assault came first in the form of punches, and then, as Hamill covered his face with his forearms, in the form of destructive elbows that bashed their way through Hamill’s defenses.

“He’s taking some big elbows, Mike,” Rogan said as Jones alternated from battering Hamill with his right arm to hammering him with his left.

“Jonny ‘Bones’ Jones looking to finish this fight here in Round 1,” said Goldberg.

Jon Jones at The Ultimate Figher 10 Finale. (UFC Fight Pass)

Meanwhile, a cut had opened on the bridge of Hamill’s nose, with the blood leaking down both sides and into his eyes as he struggled to escape the strikes. Jones continued punching, pausing occasionally to look up at referee Steve Mazzagatti as if to check and make sure he hadn’t gone for a smoke break.

Mazzagatti, though, seemed to have no interest in stopping the fight, despite the overwhelming offense of Jones and the complete lack of response from Hamill. So Jones, having hit his foe with punches and elbows of nearly every type, went looking for something new with which to end the fight. That’s when his right elbow arced up and then straight down to the face of Hamill – one, two, three times.

“That’s an illegal elbow, Jon!” Mazzagatti shouted as the last of Jones’ elbows came hurtling down and Mazzagatti rushed in.

Finally, it seemed, Jones had done something that would convince the referee to get involved.

“You can’t do 12-to-six,” Rogan explained on the broadcast, attempting to shed some light on one of the least understood rules in MMA. “The up-down elbow from 12 o’clock to six o’clock is illegal.”

As Mazzagatti brought Jones to the center of the cage to inform the judges that he was deducting one point for the foul, Hamill lay prone on the mat, his nose smashed and his face covered in blood.

Matt Hammill at The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale. (UFC Fight Pass)

When Mazzagatti noticed this, he stood over Hamill and asked, “Matt, are you done?”

Of course, being deaf, Hamill couldn’t hear the question. And with his eyes shrouded in blood, he likely had a hard time reading Mazzagatti’s lips as he asked the question again while kneeling over Hamill, who was in obvious pain. As Hamill reached for his shoulder, Mazzagatti waved off the fight, signaling the end.

“It’s all over!” boomed Goldberg. “Matt Hamill has been defeated by Jon Jones.”

Jones celebrated with his arms in the air, spinning into a cartwheel as the small crowd cheered. On the broadcast, there was no indication that the result could possibly be anything other than a Jones victory. Not until UFC announcer Bruce Buffer got on the microphone and announced that, “due to intentional elbows,” Jones had been disqualified.

As the camera flashed to Jones’ face, the look was one of almost childlike shock. When it cut to the winner Hamill, he was busy having a giant cut on his nose attended to as he held his left arm gingerly against his body.

Jon Jones at The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale. (UFC Fight Pass)

Writing on his website after the fight, Hamill explained that he’d dislocated his shoulder earlier in the fight. As for the stoppage, he wrote, “Aside from making a mistake, (Jones) did his job and he did it well. He definitely didn’t lose this fight, and I definitely didn’t win, but I guess the rules are there for a reason. It is what it is. I went into this fight feeling like my record was actually 9-1, so with this so-called win, I will now consider my record 9-2.”

By the time it was his turn to be interviewed, Jones seemed to have recovered from the initial shock, though his voice still wavered as he explained that he would come back stronger after the disqualification loss.

“God is still really good to me, and life is so great,” Jones said, before adding, “Everything happens for a reason.”

It was Mazzagatti who would take the brunt of the criticism, and not for the first or the last time in his career as a referee. The man whose name would eventually become synonymous for bad calls and questionable stoppages was already on his way to being one of UFC President Dana White’s favorite targets, and his handling of this fight didn’t help matters.

“(Jones) is a young kid and if he goes to 30 years old, he could be 35-0 and it makes me sick that he has that ‘one’ on his record,” White said in a Q&A session years later, after Jones had become UFC light heavyweight champion. “Jon Jones is undefeated. That ‘one’ that is on his record is because of a moronic referee who had no idea what he was doing.”

As of this writing, it’s still the only loss on Jones’ record. It’s also maybe not the overpowering blemish that White had imagined, if only because Jones’ life outside the cage has provided it with such stiff competition.

“Today in MMA History” is an MMAjunkie series created in association with MMA History Today, the social media outlet dedicated to reliving “a daily journey through our sport’s history.”

Filed under: Featured, News, UFC

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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