Jon Jones seemingly did the impossible on Saturday at UFC 128.
No, the impossible task wasn’t simply defeating Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to win the light heavyweight championship. That we sort of expected, with Jones heading into the fight as the betting favorite and a few high-profile MMA writers essentially planning Jones’ coronation in the days and weeks leading up to the fight. It wasn’t just becoming the youngest champion in UFC history after dominating the No.1-ranked 205-pounder in the world with moves that made Jones look like a real life “Street Fighter” character, either.
Nope, the impossible mission Jones accomplished over the weekend was simply living up to his own hype.
Exceeding it even.
Mixed martial arts has perhaps never seen a natural talent like Jones and in accordance, the amount of excitement built up around him is also unprecedented. Yet somehow, after all the breathless articles and half-hour cable specials that puffed him up during fight week, he still came better than advertised on the only night that mattered.
The first clue we were about to see something special was when Jones opened the biggest fight of his life by essentially throwing a flying knee-high kick-spinning back kick combo. By the midway point of the first round – after Jones wobbled Rua with a kick to the face as the champion worked back to his feet from a takedown – the outcome seemed academic. It took Jones another couple of rounds to polish off Shogun, not to mention another couple of flying knees, a torrent of unorthodox kicks and one of his patented spinning elbows, but there was never a moment when it seemed victory might elude him.
It was a masterful performance from the new king of the light heavyweight division. It was better than we ever expected and seemed to set the tone for Jones’ title reign, which many expect to bring the glamour back to the UFC’s slumping light heavyweight division.
Things are already off to a raucous (and uncomfortable) start, as matchmakers had selected friend and former training partner Rashad Evans for Jones’ first defense before he’d even won the title. Saturday night was originally supposed to be Evans’ night, until a minor knee injury prompted the UFC to pull the carpet out from under him and award the title shot to Jones.
At first the two fighters said their friendship would not allow them to face off in the cage, but after being goaded by everyone from UFC President Dana White to Evans trainer Trevor Wittman, they’ve since changed their tune. Perhaps they’ve tabled their friendship altogether too, as both appeared grim and discomfited as Evans took the cage to challenge Jones after the win over Shogun. While it will be a bittersweet matchup for the fighters, it could be a boon to the UFC, which will no doubt play-up the brother-against-brother aspect to great promotional effect.
It’ll also be a good test for Jones. So much is still unknown about the young champion. We have no idea how he’ll mentally respond to fighting a man he once considered a close friend and something of a mentor. We have no idea how he’ll respond if Evans can put pressure on him during the fight, take him down or even land a clean shot on his chin – both things Rua failed miserably to do.
In a weird way, Evans seems like the perfect first opponent for Jones as champion, one that could tell us a lot about how long, how far and how fast the new champion’s hype will take him.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.