Through his extended absences, the creative violence of Jon Jones has never waned.
Jones regained the UFC’s light-heavyweight belt Saturday night at the Forum, knocking out Alexander Gustafsson in the third round after holding him from atop and crushing him with punches from both hands.
“Alexander Gustafsson is the type of guy that if he gets up quick he does well, but if you can keep him down for more than 30 seconds, he stays down,” Jones said.
After taking Sweden’s Gustafsson (18-5) down 30 seconds into the third, Jones (23-1) recorded his finish 2:02 into the round in front of an announced crowd of 15,862.
“Ground and pound, landing punches … and that’s what happened,” Jones said.
That conclusion closed a turbulent journey of more than 17 months for Jones.
Saturday’s entire UFC 232 card was shifted to the Forum from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas one week ago, after the Nevada State Athletic Commission declined to license Jones following a positive test for a trace amount of a steroid metabolite, the same one he tested positive and was suspended for last year.
That ban lasted a year and resulted in Jones’ stoppage of Daniel Cormier being overturned to a no-contest and his belt being stripped for the third time.
Jones’ latest comeback almost was derailed amid more controversy. But the California State Athletic Commission, assured by anti-doping experts that the metabolite traces were residual and buoyed by Jones passing a new drug test, licensed Jones and champion Cormier vacated the light-heavyweight belt Friday under protest.
Fighting for just the third time since January 2015, Jones spent the first round landing some kicks on Gustafsson, then reverted to the type of improvisational brilliance that allowed him to reign as champion for four years. That run included a classic 2013 bout against Gustafsson that Jones narrowly won by decision.
His unpredictable delivery of knees kept Gustasfsson cautious in the Swede’s third failed title shot, and a hard left elbow by Jones early in the third showed swelling at Gustafsson’s left eye.
Then Jones got atop Gustafsson before bringing the pain that convinced the referee to stop the fight.
“The first time I fought Alexander, I stayed within his punching range,” Jones said. “He landed very few punches on my face tonight, and that was with the greater understanding.”
Jones then turned his attention to his bitter rival Cormier, who held both the light-heavyweight and heavyweight belts in Jones’ absence.
“I know there’s a guy who says he’s the champ-champ … Daddy’s home, D.C. Prove you’re the champ-champ and come and get your belt back,” Jones said. “I’ll be waiting right here.”
In the co-main event, women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes stunningly knocked out women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg 51 seconds into the first round in a meeting of Brazilian belt-holders.
Nunes (17-4) crushed Cyborg with a devastating right hand to the left ear to finish off the barrage of heavy blows that knocked out Cyborg (20-2) for the first time and sent her to her first defeat since 2005, making Nunes the first two-division women’s champion in UFC history.
“My coach always tells me, ‘Keep calm, and when you land the hand, she’s going to go down,’” Nunes said in the octagon before riding out of it on her coach’s shoulders with her two belts strapped over her shoulders.
The knockout victory came two years after Nunes relied on her punching power to finish former champion Ronda Rousey in less than one minute, too.
“Incredible, oh my God!” Nunes said. “I told you I’m the greatest. Now, I have to be in the hall of fame.”
A mold of her right fist certainly should be after she first dropped Cyborg to one knee with a left to the head. As Cyborg struggled to find composure, Nunes blasted her with a right hand to the left jaw that sent Cyborg down again, this time on two knees.
When Cyborg got up, she was met by the hard right to the ear, turning as she fell head first to the canvas.
“My coach told me, ‘When she turns, use the overhand right, and you’ll knock her out,’” Nunes said.