Whatever questions were left about Jon Jones' ability to handle elite competition were answered tonight. Jones didn't just beat up Mauricio Rua in the main event of UFC 128. He manhandled him. He embarrassed him. Rua, once the celebrated wunderkind himself, never had a moment of control in the bout.
The direction of the bout was never in question, but the turning point came around the three-minute mark in the first round. Rua was working to his feet along the fence. Jones threw a damaging knee to the body, timed "Shogun's" ascent to his feet, and unleashed a hybrid knee/kick that landed flush on Rua's jaw. The effects were immediate. "Shogun" stumbled around the Octagon, in that critical state-of-being where the threat of being finished hangs heavy in the air.
Somehow he survived to hear the horn to end round one. He looked to have recovered in the opening stages of round two, but he still hadn't figured out an answer for his stronger, longer, and more athletic challenger. As Jones continued to have his way with the champion, my friend turned to me and said, "It looks like it's just a matter of time." I couldn't disagree.
"Shogun" survived through the second round as well, but it became tougher and tougher to conjure a situation that ended with him raising his hand at the end of the night. His movement became more deliberate, more labored, more of an effort. Some may blame the ten months that he spent rehabilitating his traitorous knee, but it's also important to note that taking an ass kicking will take a lot out of you, as well.
The end came halfway into the third round. Rua's ability to defend himself off his back diminished, allowing Jones to eschew short, chopping elbows in favor of long, strong punches from guard. "Shogun" continued to fight, eventually working his way back to his feet, but displaying the symptoms of a heavy onset of the "Patrick Kane flu." Jones pounced, and landed a knee that put the former Pride champion down for good.
Jones victory was so dominant, so persuasive that looking past his expected bout with Rashad Evans, past the entire light heavyweight division is a natural reaction. With the manner that he's dominated the entire light heavyweight division thus far, what can we expect Evans, a smaller, less complete wrestler to offer? How can we expect a passive, soft-hitting Lyoto Machida to threaten him? Can an unevolved Quinton Jackson even keep up?
The question now about Jones isn't if but when he'll challenge for the heavyweight title. With a 6'4" frame and a walk-around weight already approach 230 pounds, there's no doubt that a 23-year-old fighter with such proven athletic genes will one day find himself competing among the giants of the sport.
- I'm not sure it would have changed the course of the fight, "Shogun's" decision to drop for leg locks twice with back control can be seen as nothing other than monumental mistakes. With such a huge disparity in effectiveness, I can appreciate the fact that Rua felt he needed to take risks in order to win the bout, but he would have been much better off trying to jump on Jones' back to get his hooks in versus giving up position for a very low percentage submission attempt.
- More than anything else, it was the size and strength disparity that made the biggest difference in the fight. Once again, Jones placed his right arm straight on the shoulder of his opponent while in full guard. Unlike Brandon Vera, Mauricio Rua made a concentrated effort to isolate the arm in order to attempt armbars, triangles, and other submissions, but Jones' length, strength, and base was able to keep Rua at bay. Just overwhelming physical gifts at play.
- It feels redundant to say it, but Jones' performance tonight is deserving of all sorts of adjectives like "brilliant" and "masterful." It's become difficult to criticize descriptions of his career as hyperbolic.
More UFC 128 thoughts and event awards after the jump.
- Urijah Faber will need a more impressive performance if he expects to beat Dominick Cruz at 135 pounds. He gutted out a win tonight over Eddie Wineland, who many expected wouldn't last longer than a round in the Octagon with Faber. It's arguable that Faber hasn't had a spectacular win since his victory over Jens Pulver at WEC 34, just under three years ago. And considering how Pulver has looked in the wake of that fight...
- Jim Miller: manly. A very impressive performance tonight against Kamal Shalorus. If a title shot isn't in the cards, the man needs a serious step up in competition. The lightweight division is in a tricky spot at the moment with guys moving around in weight and scheduling tracks.
- Speaking of Miller, the image of him crying backstage hit struck me pretty hard. His brother Dan's first child would have been two today. Those boys both made a lot of fans for life tonight. Good on them.
- Speaking of Dan Miller, while he had spirited moments, I didn't feel like he was competitive at any point of the bout. Nate Marquardt is bigger, stronger, and faster version of Miller, and that showed through tonight. Miller threatened with a couple of guillotines, but seemed overmatched throughout.
- Dana White said Mirko Cro Cop fought his last fight in the Octagon tonight. He looked more competitive tonight than I expected him to, but that's a hard decision to argue. Cro Cop's been knocked out cold three times since making his UFC debut in 2007, and beaten into submission in another fight. His most impressive win in that period is over Pat Barry, a one-dimensional kickboxer who gave him the fight after knocking him down twice in the first round.
- Josh Gross said on Twitter that he's giving Brendan Schaub a higher ceiling after tonight's performance. I'm not sure if Gross just had an absurdly low opinion of Schaub's abilities coming in to the event, but there wasn't much that stood out to me here outside of the final knockout blow. I expected Schaub to manhandle Cro Cop in the cage, but he was at risk of losing a decision (due to a point deduction in round two) if he hadn't finished the fight late in round three. The win should solidify his place in the top 15 of the division, but it doesn't raise his status in my eyes.
- Mike Chiappetta on Twitter: "That second shot by Schaub on a grounded Cro Cop is not gonna help us get MMA legalized in New York, I'll tell you that." Not sure I agree with the sentiment. The statement insinuates that Schaub should have made an effort to hold back after knocking Cro Cop to the mat. Fighters train to fight until the referee steps in. I felt the same way about Dan Henderson's "extra" shot on Michael Bisping at UFC 100. Also, I don't believe that the violent nature inherent in the sport is what's causing the delay in New York state. Politics are at play here, not a revulsion to brutality.
- Eliot Marshall? Confirmed orthodox fighter.
- Fun fight between Edson Barboza and Anthony Njokuani. It looked to me like Barboza had a hard time handling Njokuani's range and aggression. Njokuani put on a spirited performance, but his limitations as a fighter are going to continue to haunt him going forward.
Fighter of the Night
(Photo by Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
This was an event built around the coronation of Jon Jones. He returned from fighting six weeks ago to completely and totally dominate one of the elite fighters in the sport. Jones' future shines bright, and we might have our first undisputed title defense since Quinton Jackson defeated Dan Henderson at UFC 75.
Moment of the Night
I alluded to it in the rundown. Jim Miller's older brother, Dan, fought right before Jim, losing a unanimous decision in a tough fight with Nate Marquardt. Dan's story is well-known: he and his wife lost a daughter and their year-old son has health problems of his own. Watching Jim's emotions in the wake of victory is one of the most touching moments I've seen in relation to the sport of MMA.
Mike Goldberg Line of the Night
"Slip and rip."
I caught this during the broadcast, but thanks to Matt Bishop for reminding me of it on Twitter. Because MMA needs more phrases with two rhyming words conjoined by "and." To be fair, I thought Goldberg was the less-annoying of the men in the broadcast booth tonight, though I set the bar absurdly low for him.
Entrance Song of the Night
As if the Miller brothers aren't badass enough for being tough as nails and putting on entertaining fights, they come out to a pair of Creedence Clearwater Revival songs. Jim went with "Bad Moon Rising" (above) while Dan opted for "Run Through the Jungle." Both excellent choices.
The Chopping Block
Despite Dana White's assurance that Zuffa needs more fighters, there's no margin for error in the UFC. It only takes one loss to find a pink slip waiting for you on Monday morning. Who's on the Chopping Block?