Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting.
When I think about Jon Jones, his match with Mauricio Rua is still his most memorable. Shogun was looking like his old self coming off UFC 113, and had yet to develop the knees of a penguin. Jones, meanwhile, despite looking impressive against another young upstart in Ryan Bader, was still untested. Jones would eventually take the title with such violence, it was hard to imagine who could beat him.
That was only last year. His reward for his continued excellence one year later?
The winner of Mauricio Rua vs. Brandon Vera according to Dana White at the UFC on Fox 4 press conference. Think about that for a second. Shogun has gone 1-1 since then. A win over Vera will give him the necessary victory to earn a shot. Vera, on the other hand, is a not even mediocre 2-1-1. How does Rogan spin that one in the promo video? It'd be one thing if Brandon lost a close decision in his "no contest", and won impressively in the lone victory within this stretch.
But that's defiantly not the case. Elliot Marshall probably deserved the decision against Vera. It was a close fight with the most significant round belonging to Elliot, who had Vera dead to rights with a tight armbar late in the third (revealing the worst thing about judges, which is when they fail to recognize a 10-8 round that doesn't involve a fighter getting knocked down five times in a row) . Worst of all, Vera seemed psychologically at peace with his performance, reflecting comfortably about how it was nice to know "what Brandon Vera would do" in a snap or tap situation. And then there's Thiago Silva. Silva was a small set of Pride rules away from playing dance dance revolution on Vera's face.
Jon Jones has taken to twitter with his best Bunk Moreland impression...not only indifferent, but defeated in the face of such absurdity.
I know the UFC is in a difficult situation. Their best contender at 205 is Alexander Gustafsson, and like many contenders, champions, and mere able bodies, he's injured. For other promising fighters like Glover Teixiera, it's simply too early. Others, like Phil Davis, need more tuning.
Unlike Fraser, I don't think the problem is with the LHW division, however. It's with Dana expecting this to be the best approach to keeping sustained interest among fans. Frankly, I'd argue he's on the right track. Rematches are the answer, in part because they're unavoidable, but also because some are truly interesting.
While fans often deplore the idea of rematches, there's fundamentally nothing wrong with them. In MMA, they're hard to validate. Fights often end so suddenly, fans and observers mistake the quick finish with dominance. I'm not saying a knockout is not a display of dominance. But fighters shouldn't be disqualified from contendership on this basis.
Plenty of compelling fights have taken place between two fighters having already settled the score in dominating fashion. Urijah Faber vs. Mike Brown II (at the time), Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell II (Couture had only beaten Vitor Belfort beforehand to get a crack and this is one of the most storied trilogies in MMA history), Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, etc.
I think Jon Jones rematching Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans are interesting fights, because Jones and Machida are two fighters I can envision making adjustments that would give them a better chance to win. Likely? Perhaps not, but I don't think they looked so bad in defeat that they're not capable of contending for the title again.
Dana would best be served by giving them softball matchups in the meantime to make them look like they've progressed enough to earn another shot. There's nothing wrong with political matchmaking. It's necessary in a world where contenders need to be kept warm. The sharks need not swim with other sharks until absolutely necessary.
Fans will still clamor for their super-fights like Jones vs. Silva, but these continue to be pipe dreams, and perhaps we should accept them as such.