FightLines: UFC Light Heavyweights

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Big, manly image here.

RUA <> MACHIDA
BONNAR <> SOSZYNSKI
JACKSON > MACHIDA > EVANS > JACKSON

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Jon Jones is making a big leap at UFC 128. A 6-1 record in the UFC (and that "one" is muffled by a loud cough) is not something to dismiss, nor is the manner in which he handled the likes of Ryan Bader, Vladimir Matyushenko, and Brandon Vera. Jones, at 23, made each of these men look like children pinned down and tickled by a sadistic uncle.

I don't doubt that Jones has the talent to compete with Mauricio Rua. A good indication of skill level is the ability to handle lesser competition with an air of pitying contempt. And while I understand the UFC's decision to hand him a title shot -- with Rashad Evans injured and Quinton Jackson unable or unwilling, they had no other choice -- part of me still feels that this is not the optimal career path for Jones.

The UFC has performed an admirable job in its pacing of Jones' career. Jones entered the organization two months shy of his 21st birthday and only four months from his pro debut. Instead of rushing into the temptation of throwing Jones to the wolves, the UFC showed considerable restraint in offering him fights that built upon the last. Each fight represents a step forward. Not a crawl and not a jump, but a solid step forward.

"Shogun" Rua, however, is a leap ahead of Bader or Matyushenko or Vera. He's not a 27-year-old Ultimate Fighter prospect. He's not an aging gatekeeper. Nor is he a symbol of wasted potential. He's the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix champion. He's the 2005 Fighter of the Year. He's the former and current number one light heavyweight in the world. He's the UFC champion, and he's familiar with the role of being a 23-year-old phenom.

In a perfect world, Jones would be fighting Rich Franklin or Forrest Griffin or Thiago Silva next, guys who hang around the top ten of the division. After that the UFC would pit him against Quinton Jackson or Lyoto Machida or (gasp) Jackson's teammate Rashad Evans. Then the title shot would be in hand.

Sometimes talent just can't wait, though.

A look at the upcoming relevant light heavyweight fights after the jump.

Mauricio Rua vs. Jon Jones @ UFC 128 - Arguments about the career path of Jon Jones, this is a huge fight. Jones opened as a 3-2 favorite, and early line movement has pushed him to a consensus 2-1 favorite among the off-shore books. It's not a conspiracy either, despite what Jones might have you believe. Jones will enjoy a big size advantage (3" in height and 8.5" in reach), and "Shogun" is coming off ten months of rehab after another surgery on his knee. The media is sleeping on the champ, but is it deserved?

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Phil Davis @ UFC Fight Night 24 - This was originally Tito Ortiz's last "last chance" in the UFC, but a mild concussion and stitches forced him out of the bout, which is a welcome break from the usual post-fight injury excuses that emanate from Ortiz. Davis comes in as a surprising (to some, anyway) 7-2 favorite over the much more experienced Nogueira, who has had issues with wrestlers in his last two fights.

Randy Couture vs. Lyoto Machida @ UFC 129 - Randy Couture gave the UFC an ultimatum: give me Mauricio Rua or Lyoto Machida or I'll retire. The UFC must feel Couture still has value (despite a very poor draw as the main event against Mark Coleman) because here we are. Machida is dealing with a two-fight losing streak, including a close decision against Quinton Jackson in his last fight at UFC 123. A loss to the 47-year-old Couture would be disastrous to his career.

Quinton Jackson vs. Matt Hamill @ UFC 130 - Jackson was scheduled to fight Thiago Silva, but concerns over Silva's UFC 125 drug test forced the UFC to scrap that bout. A rematch with the recently-injured Rashad Evans bandied about the Internet, but the UFC decided to stick Matt Hamill in with Jackson instead. A Jackson win opens a lot of interesting fights: a title shot with the winner of the UFC 128 main event, a rematch with "Shogun" Rua (should he lose), a rematch with Forrest Griffin, or the aforementioned rematch with Rashad Evans. Rematches.

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