TORONTO – Jon Jones had to work like never before to keep his light heavyweight title, but a strong finish led him to a unanimous decision in the main event of UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre.
Jones won by scores of 48-47 twice and 49-46 in the toughest fight of his title reign. Yahoo Sports scored it 48-47 for Jones, giving Jones rounds 2, 4 and 5 and Gustafsson rounds 1 and 3.
Jones' title defense was his sixth, setting a division record for most successful title defenses at light heavyweight.
"Alexander was the best I've fought, by far," Jones said.
Gustafsson took the fight to Jones, using his boxing and, stunningly, his wrestling to get out to an early lead. He cut Jones over the right eye and by the fourth round, Jones was a mess, with blood streaming down his face and chest.
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Like a champion, though, Jones rallied when it mattered most. In the fourth with the fight in the balance, Jones landed a move he had been trying a lot throughout the fight, connecting with a massive spinning elbow.
For the first time, Gustafsson seemed impacted by the blow and staggered back against the cage. Jones landed another and then flurried on Gustafsson, but he didn't have time to finish.
The fifth round went Jones' way, as he landed several kicks and finally got a takedown. Earlier in the fight, Gustafsson became the first man to take Jones down in the UFC.
Jones, who has dominated his fights in the past by taking opponents down and blasting them with razor-sharp elbows on the ground, had that taken away from him for the most part on Saturday. Gustafsson also neutralized Jones' clinch game.
But Jones' arsenal of strikes was so big, and he found a way to get the elbows and kicks in late in the fight that scored points and helped him retain his title.
Renan Barao def. Eddie Wineland by KO in R2
Renan Barao has wanted to prove he is the best bantamweight in the world for a long time. He took a big step toward that by knocking out Eddie Wineland with a spinning back kick to the face, leading to a second-round finish in their interim bantamweight title fight.
Barao's kick landed on the face, and knocked Wineland to the center of the ring. Barao pounced and connected with two or three hard blows before referee Yves Lavigne stopped it at 39 seconds.
Barao retained the interim title, but the real prize is to come. He will fight regular champion Dominick Cruz early next year for the belt, assuming Cruz is healthy. Cruz has had several knee injuries and hasn't fought since Oct. 1, 2011.
UFC president Dana White has said if Cruz can't fight by early 2014, he'll be stripped of his belt and Barao will be the outright champion.
Barao looked like a champion Saturday with that fast finish, even if he wasn't great in a feeling-out first round. Nothing of significance landed from either man in the opening round, but Barao changed that in a big way early in the second.
Brendan Schaub def. Matt Mitrione by submission in R1
Brendan Schaub's chin was questioned by virtually every analyst who looked at his bout with Matt Mitrione. But it was Schaub who landed the biggest punches and got the last laugh.
Schaub caught Mitrione with a barrage of punches, pushing the ex-New York Giants' defensive lineman back toward the cage. They hit the mat and Schaub caught Mitrione in a D'Arce choke.
Mitrione tapped and the finish came at 4:06 of the first round.
"I'm the happiest I've ever been," Schaub said.
He had reason to be, as the men traded trash talk and Schaub had to fend off talk that his chin couldn't stand up to Mitrione's power. Most of the round was spent on the feet, but Schaub landed nearly all of the significant blows.
Francis Carmont def. Costa Philippou by unanimous decision
Francis Carmont trains with UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and fought remarkably like him in his middleweight bout with Costa Philippou.
Carmont took the heavy-handed Philippou down in every round and didn't do a lot of damage, but he did keep Philippou on his back. That kept Philippou from landing anything of signficance and led Carmont to a unanimous decision.
Judges had it 30-27 twice and 30-26 for Carmont. Yahoo Sports had it 30-27 for Carmont.
Philippou had no offense and no answer for Carmont's takedowns. But Carmont angered the crowd once the fight got to the ground, content to hold his position and not looking for a finish.
"After my last fight, I worked with my coach to see what I had done wrong and what needed the most improvement," Carmont said. "My wrestling was something we decided I really needed to work on. I didn’t stop working on it until I got here, and I showed I came to do my job. When a guy is in the top five, it's not easy to finish a fight. I tried to finish Costa twice, but he's a tough guy."
Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Pat Healy by unanimous decision
In the pay-per-view opener, Khabib Nurmagomedov put on a great performance and rolled to an impressive unanimous decision victory over Pat Healy in a three-round lightweight bout. All three judges had it 30-27. Yahoo Sports scored it 29-28 for Nurmagomedov.
Nurmagomedov punctuated his win with a mega-slam in the third round, carrying Healy across the cage and slamming him violently to the mat. That took much of the energy out of Healy for the remaining two minutes or so of the bout.
The move was reminiscent of Matt Hughes' slam of Frank Trigg in a welterweight title fight at UFC 52.
Nurmagomedov's combinations were also hard and accurate and he was able to neutralize Healy's wrestling. Nurmagomedov cut Healy under the eye early in the fight and landed enough hard shots to make it easy for the judges.
"When I picked him up and carried him across the cage, it crossed my mind that I should do it, slam him down for the fans," Nurmagomedov said. "It's something I loved doing growing up with my brothers. Quite honestly, I didn't expect to dominate him like that because everyone was saying he's such a great grappler. When I realized my level was higher than his and I could out-grapple him, I felt very comfortable."