One of the most highly-anticipated light heavyweight match-ups so far this year will take place on Saturday night at UFC 126 as the youthful rising star Jon Jones (11-1, 5-1 UFC) squares off with The Ultimate Fighter season 8 winner Ryan Bader (12-0, 5-0 UFC). The intrigue surrounding the fight is heavily focused on both the style match-up and the eventual winner. As most fans have noted, this is significant fight in determining a potential contender to the crown down the road. Dana White has stated in the past that if Jones can finish in his next two performances, he'd likely gain a shot, and Bader defeating one of the UFC's fastest rising stars would certainly put him on the map as well.
Impressively, both fighters have torn through the division's lower ranks. Jones is considered the alpha male in the discussion as he's surprised everyone in how effective he's been in his last four fights. He crushed the durable Belarussian Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC on Versus 2 in August, cracked Brandon Vera's face at UFC on Versus 1, submitted Jake O'Brien at UFC 100, and obliterated Matt Hamill at The Ultimate Fighter 10 finale until an illegal elbow landed that disqualified him. Quite the impressive resumé for a man who is only 23 years old.
Bader may not have the destructive history that Jones has created for himself, but he has been just as effective. Since his victory over Vinny Magalhaes at The Ultimate Fighter 8 Finale, he's won decisions over Carmelo Marrero, Eric Schafer, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. He did manage to finish off Keith Jardine in the third round of their match-up at UFC 110, but it's obvious he doesn't have as impressive of a track record.
That historical precedence along with the actual performances we've seen from both fighters has created quite the gap in how fans are predicting this outcome. Most fans are predicting a Jones' murder in this fight, which is a bit over-the-top for my liking. But it isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility considering Jones' track record of shocking fans.
For all the great things Bader has done, his stand-up game is his greatest weakness, and he tends to limit his movement as a fight goes deeper. Jones is much more dynamic. My only concern is his gas tank, but Bader isn't exactly high on the charts in that department either. In the end, I have to go with Jones as I think he'll use his reach to pepper Bader. I'm not sure how the wrestling match will turn out, but I think Jones wins it if it is prolonged on the floor. Either way, Jones is victorious and moves one step closer to contention.