- ESPN Sports Personality of the Year - No. 8
Jon Jones - Ultimate champion & protector of the people
The past 12 months of the sporting calendar have thrown up a plethora of memorable performances, including a near-invincible tennis star, a globally-loved golfing success story, and a footballing magician who seems only to need one foot. Leading up to Christmas, ESPN will name its top 10 sports personalities of the year in ascending order...
Jon "Bones" Jones, reigning UFC light-heavyweight champion and the only man in our Sports Personality of the Year list to have beaten three world champions in 12 months, and prevented an attempted robbery.
For those unfamiliar with the UFC, the promotion acts as the mixed martial arts equivalent of football's Champions League. It is the platform on which the best-of-the-best of the kickboxing, boxing, judo, karate, jiu-jitsu and wrestling worlds come together to establish the greatest fighter on the planet.
That man may well be Jon Jones.
Blessed with a 6ft 4in frame and an abnormal 84in reach, Jones used the year of 2011 to establish himself as the most dangerous 24-year-old on the planet. Bringing the spirit of Bruce Lee to life with spinning elbows and flying knees, Jones has even been labelled the Muhammad Ali of mixed martial arts.
His performances certainly carry the same swagger.
Jones' first true test of the year (after a February win over Ryan Bader) was to defeat the reigning light-heavyweight champion Mauricio Shogun Rua, a lethal Brazilian who had just ended "the era of Lyoto Machida" - a quote made by UFC co-commentator Joe Rogan in view of the fact nobody could get near Machida - until he got ambushed by Shogun.
Machida's era may not have lasted long but Shogun's previous decade of devastation was warning enough that Jones was walking into the lion's den. However, after a 12-minute clinic of utter excellence both when striking and wrestling, Jones walked away with UFC gold after leaving Shogun in a crumpled heap on the Octagon floor. "The best I've ever faced", commented Shogun.
Even more impressive was the fact that, just hours before the fight, Jones had helped apprehend a thief who had snatched a woman's handbag. All in day's work...
However, the saying goes that you're never a true champion until you defend your title, so Jones was thrown the brick-handed Rampage Jackson - his second champion of the year. Rampage had not been stopped in all nine of his UFC bouts, and the legendary names of Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva could both testify to his one-punch knockout power.
Once again the School of Jon Jones was in term-time though, this time dominating his rival for 16 minutes before locking on a choke that ended Rampage inside the distance. The sight of Jackson on his back, gasping for breath, was a "changing of the guard" moment according to Rampage himself.
With such superlatives being bestowed upon Jones, it seemed only right that he face Machida, the last man to walk the path of an "invincible" man. This was Jones' biggest conundrum yet, and he had to prove he had a chin on two occasions before once again laying down his marker, this time choking out Machida whilst he was still standing, dropping him to the floor as a warning to all future challengers.
Despite his phenomenal year, even Jones will admit Anderson Silva is currently the world's best, but the brilliant Brazilian didn't even arrive in the UFC until he was 31. By the time Jones reaches that age he may well have broken every record Silva has ever set, unless his crime-fighting tendencies overload his diary of course.