Sports and superstition go hand in hand, and the UFC is no exception. The "Jon Jones curse" has recently emerged as an infamous urban legend in the UFC light heavyweight division.
The "Jon Jones curse" is founded upon the belief that contenders who put on impressive five-round performances against 'Bones' suffer a stretch of bad luck after challenging for the title.
For context, no challenger in the UFC's 205-pound division ever even got close to dethroning Jon Jones for a long time. But as of late, a few title contenders rose to the occasion and gave Jon Jones a run for his money.
Unfortunately, the few individuals who performed well against Jon Jones never looked the same after their encounter with the light heavyweight GOAT. The bizarre phenomenon is what fight fans have come to refer to as the "Jon Jones curse."
Who are the victims of the Jon Jones curse?
Swedish star Alexander Gustaffson was the first victim of the "Jon Jones curse." That's because he was also the first fighter to truly push the former longtime light heavyweight king to the limit.
In 2013, Jones looked invincible after stringing together five consecutive title defenses against a murderers' row of challengers. Gustaffson, on the other hand, was a virtual unknown even after collecting six straight wins in the UFC at the time.
Fight fans expected Jones to steamroll Gustafsson just like any other fighter he faced in the octagon. But Gustafsson shocked the world by putting on a star-making performance. In the end, Jones retained the UFC light heavyweight title in a much-disputed split decision win.
After UFC 165, Gustaffson emphatically bounced back against Jimi Manuwa but he would feel the effects of the "Jon Jones curse" after that. 'The Mauler' dropped two straight against Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson in a title eliminator bout, then against Daniel Cormier in a championship bout for the vacant 205-pound title.
At the tail end of his career, Gustafsson lost to Jones in a rematch and suffered back-to-back defeats against Anthony Smith and Fabricio Werdum before he decided to retire.
Anthony 'Lionheart' Smith came close to stealing a decision win from Jon Jones in the main event of UFC 235.
Jones dominated for five rounds but an illegal knee strike to the head of the downed Smith resulted in a two-point deduction for 'Bones'. Jones ultimately pulled off a unanimous decision win, but Smith put on a respectable performance – one that was enough to give Jones a scare in the moments leading up to the announcement of the judges' decision.
Like Gustaffson, Smith was able to bounce back after losing a decision to the UFC's top pound-for-pound fighter. But the "Jon Jones curse" took effect as Smith went on to lose back-to-back against Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic in 2020.
Smith appears to have shaken off the "Jon Jones curse" as of late. He is enjoying a stretch of success after scoring consecutive wins against Devin Clarke and up-and-coming star Jimmy Crute.
Prior to his matchup with Jones, Thiago Santos was on his way to UFC superstardom. He won four straight with notable victories against Kevin Holland and Jan Blachowicz – who went on to become the new light heavyweight champion in September 2020.
But that all changed after Santos fought Jones for the light heavyweight title at UFC 239. Santos came out firing on all cylinders as he clearly outworked a hesitant Jones to win the first round. But disaster struck in round two when Santos tore the ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus in his left knee in the process of throwing a leg kick.
Jones showed no sympathy for his injured opponent as he mercilessly targeted the injured leg during the championship rounds. Santos put his fortitude on display as he soldiered on and survived the entire five rounds.
A huge segment of critics believe Santos did enough to secure the upset win. However, the heavy-hitting Brazilian fell on the wrong side of a close split decision.
After spending over a year away from the octagon to recover, Santos returned to action at UFC on ESPN 17 against Glover Teixeira. The "Jon Jones curse" claimed another victim as Santos lost to his fellow Brazilian via submission. More recently, Santos faced Aleksandar Rakic at UFC 259, suffering his third consecutive defeat.
Once regarded as the future of the light heavyweight division, Dominick Reyes is the latest victim of the "Jon Jones curse."
Jones defeated Reyes to become the UFC's all-time record holder for title fight wins. As impressive as the achievement was, Jones's title defense against Reyes did not end without controversy.
Reyes pushed Jones to the limit as the champion and challenger engaged in a back-and-forth brawl for five full rounds. In the end, all three judges gave Jones the nod.
Losing to an all-time great appeared to be a minor setback for Reyes, who still seemed destined to do great things inside the octagon. Unfortunately, the effects of his two most recent losses are anything but minor.
The "Jon Jones curse" started to take effect when Reyes fought Blachowicz for the vacant 205-pound division title. The Polish star emerged as the new champion after knocking Reyes out in round two.
In the main event of the recently-concluded UFC Vegas 25, Reyes tried to return to relevance against surging star Jiří Procházka.
But redemption was out of reach for the former light heavyweight title challenger. Instead of earning a much-needed win, Reyes suffered the most devastating knockout loss of his career, owing to a move that's associated with Jon Jones – the spinning back elbow.