The UFC G.O.A.T Debate
I will be honest, I hate having to actually type out the word “debate” when referring to the greatest UFC fighter to ever walk inside the octagon. I don’t see much of a debate and to negate the recency bias that has struck the toxic universe that is MMA twitter, I am here to lay out unbiased accounts of facts, stats, and pure observations.
Jon Jones vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
For the purpose of the blog, we will just be evaluating the UFC careers of Jones and Khabib. I will pay my respect to GSP, Mighty Mouse, and Anderson Silva, who I think round out the top 5 (in no particular order).
Now, to focus on Jones and Khabib.
We will start by looking at both Jones’ and Khabib’s UFC tenure. Let me preface it by saying we will get into competition and opposition strength later, but for right now, lets look at tenure.
We will start with the incumbent, Jon Jones. Jones made his debut in August of 2008, a time ago when he was just 21 years of age. If you are having a hard time doing that simple subtraction problem, he made his debut over 12 years ago. To give you some context, “I Kissed A Girl” by Katy Perry was atop the Billboard Top 100 at that time.
Since making his debut, which was a successful one nonetheless, Jones has fought 22 times (and counting). In those 22 fights, the bell to mark the start of the round has rang 73 times.
Now, for Khabib’s UFC tenure. Khabib made his debut in January of 2012. He had 16 professional fights prior to his UFC debut, compared to Jones’ 6.
Since making his first walk, Khabib has spent 38 rounds in the UFC octagon.
Based on tenure and tenure alone, Jones has the significant advantage.
Well, this should be a fun one. We will start with Khabib here.
Throughout his 13-fight UFC career, Khabib has fought 2 UFC Hall of Famers in Conor McGregor and Rafael Dos Anjos. There is a debate to be had about if Edson Barboza and Dustin Poirier belong in that group as well.
Of Khabib’s opponents, McGregor and RDA are the only two opponents to ever hold an undisputed piece of UFC gold. Between the two, they have a combined 1 title defense.
In his two fights against former champions, Khabib went to decision with RDA and submitted McGregor in the 4th round.
Through Jones’ 22 UFC fights, he has fought up to 11 Hall of Famers. That is with counting both Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson twice, who are both first ballot Hall of Famers.
Not counted in that 11 is former Bellator two division champion Ryan Bader and newcomers like Thiago Santos and Dominick Reyes.
Of Jones’ opponents, Vitor Belfort, Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, Shogun Rua, and Daniel Cormier (in two divisions), have all held UFC undisputed gold. Jackson, Machida, and Cormier have all defended their belt successfully, combined to the tune of 6 times.
Jones has fought an undisputed champion 7 times in his career, finishing 5 of those fights.
The difference in opposition should end the argument in itself, but I will keep going for the fun of it.
Title reigns is basically a mixture of tenure and opposition. Again, we will start with Khabib.
Khabib won the vacant title against late replacement Al Iaquinta. Since winning it, he has made three successful title defenses, winning all three by stoppage. His title reign lasted 931 days.
Jones has had two separate title reigns. The first started with being the youngest person to ever hold a UFC title, at just over 23 years of age. Combined between the two, Jones successfully defended his title 11 times, which is tied for the UFC record. His total number of title reign days is 2,098.
Jones has the most wins in UFC title fight history with 14, along with the longest unbeaten streak in UFC history with 18. Matt Hamill is probably grinning ear to ear reading that.
Khabib fans probably see the subheading “Dominance” and think this is finally where they will prevail. However, I think there is a realistic argument against that.
Khabib has had 13 fights in the UFC and finished 7 of them, retiring with a finish rate of nearly 54%. As impressive as that is, let me tell you what Jon Jones did to his first 13 UFC opponents; finished 9 of them, which equivocates to a finish rate of over 69%.
I know what you’re thinking; “Jones did not fight anyone relevant in his first 13 UFC fights. Khabib fought McGregor, Poirier, Barboza, and more!”
After his 13th UFC fight, Jones had 5 title defenses, which is greater than Khabib’s 3, for those of you who aren’t the best at math.
Khabib did only lose 2 rounds on the scorecards, that I can not argue with.
He was dominant for sure, but notice how I am not comparing Khabib’s career to the entirety of Jones’. Many people believe Jones has tailed off, and it would not do either of them justice to focus on the backend of Jones’ career. I am doing this because who knows what would happen if Khabib spent 9+ more fights in the UFC. So, I compared equal career parts to judge dominance.
Khabib does maul people and I think there is a valid argument for him being the most dominant fighter of all time. But, the recency bias allows people to forget just how dominant Jones was in the same time frame. And yes, there is a HUGE difference between most dominant and greatest, but I don’t have the energy to decipher the two.
I don’t think I would be doing this masterpiece of a blog justice if I were not to mention Jones’ failed tests. Notice how I did not say “failed PED tests” because that in itself is a subject of debate.
In my humble opinion, I do not think Jones took anything knowingly that would have enhanced his performance. Now, I could be completely off on that, but that is my opinion.
I will be the first to admit Khabib is more of a professional than Jones (even though he did miss weight before). He has made far less mistakes outside of the octagon than Jones. But, I am not judging who the best man is. My job is to assess these guy’s performances when they step inside the octagon.
I think the blog speaks for itself. Jones has been in the UFC longer, has had more opportunities to fail, and has fought MUCH stiffer competition, yet he continues to prevail.
I will make a baseball analogy. Khabib has thrown a few complete game shutouts in the World Series. Jones has thrown 15, 1-run complete games in the World Series. I’ll take the guy who has been doing the damn thing for a long, long time and hasn’t showed any signs that he wants to stop.
When talking about the greatest, it is about longevity, tenure, and the quality opposition you face. Jon Jones is the greatest fighter to ever step foot in a UFC octagon.