23 year old Jon Jones will challenge 29 year old Mauricio "Shogun" Rua for the UFC lightweight title at UFC 128 on March 19. Jones is at the forefront of a youth explosion in MMA today, but six years ago it was Shogun who emerged as the Pride GP champion at age 23.
Now Shogun is the betting underdog according to Bookmaker.com. There's no shame in being the 'dog to the 11-1 Jones. But for his part, Shogun is planning on KO'ing Jones, who has vaulted up the UFC ladder in seven fights since signing on in 2008. The only pause in the ascent came when Jones took a DQ loss against Matt Hamill, whom he utterly dominated, in late 2009.
It's not just Jones. 26 year old Phil Davis is getting his first top-tier opponent in the USAT/SBNation MMA Consensus Rankings #9 ranked 35 year old Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. The UFC Fight Night 24 headliner on March 26 represents a huge jump in opposition for the #16 ranked Davis is not intimidated, from USA TODAY:
I know Nogueira. I've trained with him. Nice guy. We're going to fight, and then I'll see him around San Diego, I'm going to shake his hand and we'll hang out.
There's no need to make it more than what it is. We're doing business together. We're going to beat the crap out of each other and knock each others' screws loose, and hug after we're done and be real men and shake each others' hands, and that's it.
Everybody you get the opportunity to train with, just train with them. So what if you have to fight them later? There's nothing about this fight, there's nothing malicious. I don't want to go out and rip his head off and hurt him or anything like that. No way. The Nogueira brothers are a class act.
Shogun and Nogueira put on one of the legendary fights in MMA in 2005. Now if all goes right for the youth brigade, it's quite possible that Jones and Davis are on a collision course.