Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the greatest player in NBA history. Jordan, though, had those nights, few though they were, in which he was just another guy on the court filling a uniform.
In a May 7, 1995, playoff game at Orlando, Jordan shot just 8-of-22 from the field and 3-of-5 from the line. He had only five rebounds, three assists and one steal, and turned the ball over eight times.
And in Game 4 of the NBA Finals at Utah on June 8, 1997, Jordan played 42 minutes but went 11-of-27 from the field. He didn’t get to the free-throw line, had four rebounds, four assists and turned it over three times.
It happens. These are games played by humans, and they’re competing against the very best in the world.
It has happened to all of them.
Or, perhaps it would be better to say, it has happened to just about all of them, because it has yet to happen to UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in what can only be described as a remarkable nearly 12-year MMA career.
His only loss was by a disqualification that was a mistake by the referee and should have been a knockout victory. He only lost as much as a round in two of his 26 fights, and nearly a third of his 25 wins (seven) have come in the first round.
This has all come when facing the greatest collection of champions any UFC fighter of his era has met.
On Saturday in the main event of UFC 247 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Jones will defend his title against unbeaten Dominick Reyes. Reyes, who is 12-0 and ranked fourth in the division, is an elite athlete who was a two-time all-conference football player in college at Stony Brook.
Jones is far and away the greatest challenge that Reyes has faced, but Jones has been fighting the best 205-pounders in the world since the second week of the first Obama Administration.
Reyes is the fourth undefeated fighter Jones has fought in the UFC, following Andre Gusmao (4-0 at the time), Ryan Bader (12-0) and Daniel Cormier (15-0).
But Jones has shown few signs of decline. The only drop he’s had in his game has been in comparison to his income with his younger brother, Chandler, a star defensive end for the Arizona Cardinals who led the NFL in sacks in 2018 and was second this past season.
Jones, at the ripe old age of 32, still gives advice to his younger brother, and probably could whip him if they got into it even given his brother’s powerful 6-foot-5, 265-pound frame.
But Jones, who is a ferocious competitor and rarely concedes a point to anyone, had to admit that Chandler has him and their oldest brother, retired NFL player Arthur Jones, beat in one aspect.
“He signed a $90 million contract and me and Arthur are far behind him financially,” Jones said, chuckling. “He teases us about that. But other than joking, we don’t compete at all with each other. We’re incredibly supportive and happy for each other.”
Jones on Reyes: ‘He’s a pretty simple man’
Jones finally seems to have turned something of a corner in his life. His UFC career has been marked by two things: His greatness in the Octagon and his myriad issues outside of it.
It’s never a good thing for a public figure when there is a section of his or her Wikipedia page headlined “Controversies,” with a long list of subsections. Jones has had more than his share of controversies during an otherwise flawless career. He’s been castigated plenty for his miscues and has paid a significant price.
Now, his voice and effect seem decidedly different. He doesn’t seem like he’s trying to say what people want to hear. He thinks about questions and answers them honestly. He isn’t trying to be all things to all people, which in a strange way pushed him into disfavor with a lot of folks he was trying to please.
When he speaks confidently about his fight, it doesn’t come off at all as boastful or arrogant, but rather as an elite athlete prepared to continue to set the standard for his sport.
Asked the challenge that the 6-foot-4 Reyes presents, Jones drew a deep breath before delivering his answer.
“Honestly, at this point before the fight, nothing,” Jones said. “Absolutely nothing. Even on the mental level, he just doesn’t feel equipped. I know the mental aspect is only one side of it, but it’s something I take seriously, and this dude doesn’t seem very strong between the ears, honestly. It doesn’t necessarily mean that much going into the fight. You don’t have to be the most clever or have the best one-liners or the strongest sports psychology to perform well, but this far, it seems he’s a pretty simple man.”
Jones was 2-0 in 2019, beating both Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos by decision. He was happy with his performance against Santos, but said he wasn’t as thrilled with how he did against Smith.
But he threw himself into this camp for the fight against Reyes even though the two don’t have a history. It was easy for him to get motivated to fight guys like Rashad Evans, whom he’d had a bad falling out with, and Cormier, whom he hated. Jones said he has no bad feelings toward Reyes.
“I think the worst thing I’ve said about him is that he has bad breath,” Jones said.
Jones targeting Miocic after Reyes
Jones said he trained for 13 weeks for the fight because he wants to get back to where he was at the end of 2018, when he submitted Alexander Gustafsson in a performance that pleased him immensely.
He’s almost serene as he talks about the Reyes fight and his thought that if he wins, he may go to heavyweight to challenge Stipe Miocic for the belt.
“If I were to go to heavyweight, I would want to go straight to the king,” Jones said. “I would have no interest in busting down the front gates and fighting the knights. My job would be to sneak in like a thief in the night, assassinate the king and get out of the village before people even knew I was there.”
There’s no secret why that serenity has come upon him. He has no drama in his personal life and he has no doubts about what he’s done in camp. When he fought Gustafsson the first time, he hadn’t trained and he knew he was ill-equipped for the battle.
This is a much different Jones than that one.
“The calmness I have comes from the preparation I’ve obtained,” Jones said. “Sometimes, my confidence comes across as being overconfident and arrogant and can come across as if you’re not taking someone seriously. But the truth is, I know what I have done and what I’ve put myself through these last 13 weeks. The calm you see, the attitude I have, is the reward of my extreme focus.”
The reward from that extreme focus has been win after win after win, and burgeoning paychecks, even if they pale in comparison to what his baby brother earns.
“It’s all good, man,” Jones said. “Chandler’s doing his thing and I’m out here doing mine. I just want to get back to what got me here, putting in the time and getting better every day.”
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