Fighter of the Year: Jon Jones

Jon "Bones" Jones. Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC.

There's no doubt about it. Jon Jones' year-long quest for the UFC light heavyweight title and subsequent title defenses may very well be the most dominant year that MMA has ever seen.

Mauricio "Shogun" Rua once captivated hardcore fans with a run through the top 205 lb fighters that PRIDE had to offer back in 2005, but "Bones" list of victims rivals Rua's to say the least, and includes the Brazilian as well.

Here's a look back at 2011 for Jones, a year the 24-year-old will never forget.

Jones kicked off the year with a February bout against fellow top prospect Ryan Bader at UFC 126. The bout was supposed to be the toughest of Jones' young career, going up against a wrestler with better credentials and heavier hands.

Instead, Jones walked through Bader just like he had done with every other one of his opponents to date. The Greg Jackson protege controlled Bader with ease in the first round, before submitting his foe with a guillotine choke just over two minutes into the second round.

Courtesy of a Rashad Evans injury, Jones found himself the receipient of a surprise title shot against the aforementioned Rua, while his training partner sat on the sidelines. Jones found himself at a disadvantage with only six weeks of preparation, but it was more than enough as Jones dismantled Rua over three rounds and finished him with a combination of knees and punches.

With the win, Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history. After a busy start to the year, the Endicott, New York native was given the summer off, but was thrown right into the light heavyweight gauntlet in the fall, his first title defense coming against former champion and longtime veteran Quinton "Rampage" Jackson after a planned showdown between Jones and his now bitter rival, Evans failed to materialize.

Jones once again lived up to his never-ending hype, battering "Rampage" with a mix of punches and kicks from a distance before eventually handing Jackson only his second-ever submission loss in the fourth round.

While three fights in a calendar year for a world-ranked fighter is considered plenty, Jones signed up for one more go of things this past month, inking a deal to face an elusive striker and another former title holder in Lyoto Machida after Evans' lingering injury problems kept him from another much-anticipated contest against his former ally.

UFC 140 in December marked the first time that the young Jones would have to deal with adversity in one of his fights, sans being disqualified for illegal elbows against Matt Hamill over two years ago. Machida matched his opponent with strikes, landing kicks and punches and even wobbling Jones at one point during the opening stanza.

Jones adjusted however and put the fight away with a unforgettable finish, choking Machida unconscious with a standing guillotine that had the Brazilian crumble to the mat once Jones let go of the hold. It was a true statement to the rest of the light heavyweight division and to any doubters that believed that "Bones" wasn't one of the world's top pound-for-pound fighters.


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