Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Hunched over the shoulders of his corner men, Jon Jones grimaced with every step as if he was walking on a bed of nails and broken glass.
Alexander Gustafsson’s exit from the Air Canada Centre after UFC 165 early Sunday morning was just as graceless. Gustafsson's hobble made it look like each of his legs weighed 400 pounds, or roughly twice the light heavyweight limit.
The main-event opponents limped to the same destination, and not their scheduled appearance at the post-fight press conference. Both wound up in an ambulance instead, headed straight to a downtown hospital where they’ll spend the night.
“That’s how good that fight was,” UFC President Dana White opened his press conference comments. “I don’t think we’ve ever had that happen. We usually have one or the other go, but they’re both going.”
They needed the medical attention after 25 minutes of combat that White predicted made “both guys felt like they were going to die.” Jones came out of the two-way demolition derby with less emotional pain, taking the unanimous-decision victory (49-46, 48-47, 48-47) over the challenger to hold onto his championship belt.
But, as White shared with Gustafsson’s trainers in the octagon, there were no losers in the fight. The superlatives tossed around afterward hit as heavy as Jones’ fourth-round elbows or Gustafsson’s early stiff right hands.
Everyone called it the Fight of the Night. Most referred to it as the Fight of the Year. Some anointed it the best fight in UFC history.
White hinted at possibly the most meaningful moniker for Jones vs. Gustafsson — the start of a storied rivalry.
“I’d like to do the rematch,” White exclaimed. “It makes sense.”
“Who doesn’t want to see a rematch?”
It’s hard to imagine anyone expecting otherwise, including the fighters. Gustafsson won’t find it easy to accept coming away empty-handed despite challenging Jones in ways no one ever had before.
The boos and outpour of cries from those who thought Gustafsson won will only further fuel his quench for another opportunity. Based on his brief post-fight comments in the octagon, Jones will want another go-around too.
He expressed some disappointment with his overall performance, noting that he had a lot to fix.
“I’ve been asking for a dog fight for a long time,” Jones told announcer Joe Rogan. “I finally got that dog fight I’ve been looking for.”
Jones used the chance to prove his reputation as a prima donna couldn’t be further from the truth. In the first two rounds alone, Gustafsson forced Jones to bleed and bruise more than the rest of the champion’s opponents combined.
The cageside physician wanted to stop the fight in between the championship rounds, but Jones pleaded to let him continue. What Jones called his “warrior spirit” then took over, as he kicked and elbowed Gustafsson into near oblivion.
All of a sudden, Gustafsson was as disoriented as Jones. The fighters’ combined state of ill repair was the only thing that kept White from fully committing to the immediate rematch.
“Jon Jones doesn’t even want to hear the word fight for two or three weeks,” White said. “I can guarantee you that, so we wait and we see what happens.”
White hoped the prevailing thought that neither Jones nor Gustafsson sustained any serious injuries was correct, but it was too early to get an official report. The emergency-room doctors have their work cut out for them.
There was a surplus of maladies to check up on.
“This is one of those fights tonight where you remember why you’re a fight fan, why you love going to fights so much,” White said. “When a round ends and the whole place is on their feet with a stranding ovation, they did for all five rounds tonight. It was amazing. I love being a part of things like that.”