(Photo via Sherdog)
Ultimate Fighter Finale cards weren’t always so garbage-ass. On December 5th, 2009 — four years ago today — the TUF 10 Finale went down in Las Vegas, with a lineup featuring Jon Jones (before he became light-heavyweight champion), Frankie Edgar (before he became lightweight champion), Kimbo Slice (who was one of the most popular figures in the sport at the time), as well as Roy Nelson, Brendan Schaub, and Matt Mitrione. Today, a UFC card with those names would be sold as a pay-per-view, and it would probably do pretty damn well*. In 2009, this was just another free show on Spike TV, a cable channel that everybody knew how to find. Damn…we just didn’t know how good we had it back then.
Maybe you remember Nelson’s nasty one-shot KO of Schaub at the event, and maybe you remember the 15-minute wheezefest that was Kimbo vs. Houston Alexander. But the reason that the TUF 10 Finale remains infamous four years later is because of a bullshit little rule known as “no 12-to-6 elbows,” which may very well be the most arbitrary and baseless rule in MMA history. Essentially, MMA fighters are allowed to crack each other’s skulls wide open with their ‘bows, either standing or on the ground, but if your elbow is moving vertically downward, you might as well be a villain in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. My goodness, somebody could actually get injured with those things.
Jon Jones, who was 22 years old at the time, had earned a prime spot on the TUF 10 Finale main card thanks to his 3-0 run in the UFC light-heavyweight division, which included a hilariously madcap decision win against Stephan Bonnar, and a second-round submission of fan-unfavorite Jake O’Brien. This was the pre-backlash Jon Jones, a guy who was universally beloved for his dynamic wrestling ability and his improvisational striking, which he picked up (as the legend goes) from watching YouTube videos. Matt Hamill was supposed to be just another stepping-stone in Jones’s quick rise to the top — a recognizable TUF-guy for him to squash. And that’s exactly what happened, even though Hamill wound up winning the fight on a technicality.
For four minutes, Jones out-struck, out-worked, and out-shined Hamill, at one point rag-dolling him to the mat in the slickest foot-sweep takedown outside of a Lyoto Machida fight. From there, Bones engaged the Finishing Sequence, launching punches and elbows at his near-helpless opponent. The fight was effectively over by then, but Hamill continued to defend himself, desperately covering his face with his arms. Slightly frustrated, Jones tried a different angle, blasting his elbows straight down into Hamill’s face. It was then that Steve Mazzagatti jumped in — but it wasn’t to award Jones the TKO victory.
Noticing that Jones had begun throwing the dreaded 12-to-6 elbows, Mazzagatti paused the action and pulled Jones off of Hamill, who made no attempt to get off his back. (As we later learned, Hamill suffered a broken shoulder when he was tossed to the mat.) Mazzagatti asked Hamill if he could continue. Hamill, who has been deaf since birth and was momentarily blinded by his own blood, was unresponsive. Instead of bringing in a doctor and sign-language interpreter to clear Hamill’s vision and communicate with him, Mazzagatti immediately stopped the fight, and handed Jones a loss by disqualification.
Jones’s attempt to appeal the loss was shot down, as these things usually are. Luckily, the shoddy enforcement of a shoddy rule didn’t slow down his momentum. The UFC moved forward with Jones’s career like the “loss” never happened, building him up in main-event fights on their UFC on Versus series — where he smashed Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko, both in the first round, both with legal elbows. Jones has been a pay-per-view poster boy ever since.
If not for Jon Jones’s disqualification loss at the TUF 10 Finale, he’d be 20-0 overall and 14-0 in the UFC — an unbeaten run that would give him the second-longest win streak in UFC history, behind only Anderson Silva (16). Instead, he’s riding a 10-fight win streak and is still stuck in 3rd place behind Georges St. Pierre (12). But keep in mind that Jones is still only 26 years old and has only been fighting professionally since April 2008. Seven more wins? As long as he doesn’t jinx himself, that’s totally doable.
* Jones’s last PPV outing didn’t exactly blow the doors off, but Kimbo Slice could probably outdraw half of the UFC’s champions to this day.