(Jones is looking down on most of the Light Heavyweight division right now.)
Jon “Bones” Jones came into his main event fight on the UFC’s inaugural card on Versus TV with something to prove. His last fight was a controversial DQ loss to Matt Hamill due to illegal 12-to-6 elbows. The 22-year old with 42-year-old maturity took it in stride. “Everything happens for a reason,” he said. Then there’s the issue of the high expectations that virtually the entire MMA world has for the rising superstar. Would he be able to add the higher profile name of Brandon Vera to his list of victims since he exploded onto the UFC landscape? How would he respond to the pressure? And, for the first time, he would be facing an opponent in the Octagon that he truly didn’t like. “I just really don’t like Brandon as a person,” said Jones. “I just think he’s disrespectful. I think he’s arrogant. He talks a lot of trash. I’m not big on trash talk so I’m going to really do all my talking in the Octagon.”
Brandon Vera is known as a top-notch Muay Thai specialist with solid submissions. However, one highly underrated aspect of Brandon’s game is his wrestling. Ask Randy Couture, who trained with Brandon at the Olympic Training Center and had fits taking him down in a full fifteen minutes when the two fought at UFC 105. What the legendary Couture struggled to do over three rounds, Jones did in 15 seconds with relative ease. After Brandon scrambled to get back to his feet, Jones easily took him down again, maintained top control, recuperated from an illegal up-kick and then finished Vera with a huge elbow that saw Brandon all but roll over and quit right then and there.
Yes, “The Truth” was exposed on Sunday night. And the truth is that Jones is ready to leap into the upper echelon of the UFC Light Heavyweight division. And after consecutive fights against excellent wrestlers it’s become apparent that If Jones wants to take you down and you fight at 205 pounds you’re probably getting planted. Call it an inconvenient truth.
No disrespect to Vera, but I’ve long felt that he looked more impressive as a fast, brash undersized heavyweight than he has in his 3-3 tenure at 205. His wins in his new home…Reese Andy, Mike Patt, Krzysztof Soszynski…don’t scream upper echelon but he is a very tough, well-rounded fighter whose three legitimate losses coming into Sunday night were all by decision. The other loss came courtesy of a premature Dan Miragliotta stoppage against Werdum at UFC 85. Jones not only stopped him, he dominated him.
It will be interesting to see what the UFC brass decides to do with their evolving superstar. Do they match him with one of the top guys in the division once they get free from fighting each other in May? Machida, Shogun, Rampage, Rashad, Forrest or Little Nog come to mind. Or do they put him in with a big name in the division like Rich Franklin, Randy, Tito or Chuck? Time will tell, but his unique combination of freaky length, dynamic striking and elite, seemingly unstoppable takedowns is going to be a tall order to prepare for.
Jones wasn’t the only young superstar who passed the stiffest test of his fast-rising career on Sunday night. Junior Dos Santos moved to a perfect 5-0 in the UFC with a first round knockout of former heavyweight contender Gabriel Gonzaga. “Napao” joins Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve and Gilbert Yvel on Junior’s hit parade of first round finishes while Mirko Cro-Cop holds on to the distinction of being the only fighter to pass the five-minute mark against the young Brazilian until he submitted to strikes in the third. We knew that Dos Santos had KO power coming into the fight, but we got a quick peek into his ground defense when Gonzaga got a takedown and Junior got back to his feet in seconds against the talented Brazilian grappler. Will he be able to do the same thing against the likes of Cain Velasquez? Don’t know, but I’d love to see it.
• The UFC awarded three Knockout of the Night bonuses of $50,000 to Jones along with John Howard and Junior Dos Santos who both left their opponents unconscious. Another 50 large went to Clay Guida for Submission of the Night. No Fight of the Night bonuses were awarded. Props to the UFC for going outside the box and rewarding great performances that deserved the dough rather than struggle to find a Fight of the Night that wasn’t there.
• Who would have thought that top notch striker Cheick Kongo would want no part of Paul Buentello on the feet and take him down every chance he got? Apparently Buentello didn’t work too much takedown defense as Kongo’s gameplan was successful, finally causing The Headhunter to tap to elbows to the hip…that’s a first…in the third round. That’s two losses in a row for Buentello, both on televised portions of events. Look for a trip to an undercard where his next UFC outing will be a “win or go home” proposition.
• On paper, Alessio Sakara vs. James Irvin looked like guaranteed fireworks., two former Light Heavyweights banging it out at 185. James’ ring rust and first cut to the new weight left him looking a bit lethargic and a left hand that buried a knuckle into his eye ended the fight somewhat anti-climactically in round one. Irvin’s reaction suggested a fight-postponing eye poke but referee Josh Rosenthal caught that it was a legit punch, which was clear with the benefit of slow-motion replay.
• Last but not least, props to the two best referees in the business right now, Herb Dean and Josh Rosenthal. Both did superb jobs in some tough spots that required excellence to not negatively affect the outcome of the fights. In my MMA fantasy, Big John returns and these three ref every fight for the rest of eternity. OK, there are other aspects of that fantasy that involve really hot women and triangle chokes, but that’s a story for another day!