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UFC 128: Media Crowns Jon Jones Before Bout With Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua

Photos by Jed Jacobsohn/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Photos by Jed Jacobsohn/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Jon Jones' victory on Sunday seems to be a forgone conclusion. Media coverage has focused on Jones -- on his ascent, on his skills, on his relationship with Rashad Evans. The media treated his opponent at UFC 128, UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, as an afterthought, more concerned about the champ's feelings about how he feels about being the underdog and his analysis of Jones' abilities as a fighter. The betting markets don't like the champ's chances either. Cold, calculating gamblers have moved the lines from  Jones at 3-2 to Jones at 2-1.

Today, the Wall Street Journal wonders if the UFC has found its transcendent star:

The gap between a status as underground freak show and grudgingly tolerated niche sport, though, may be smaller than the one between fighting as it is now and as it aspires to be. If it is ever to become anything near a major sport, it will have to present a transcendent athlete. Jones may not be that man, but he's likely closer than anyone yet has been-which in its way just shows how far fighting has yet to go.
"When I see him fight," [Lloyd Irvin] said, "it looks like a next evolution of the type of athlete that's coming in the future. I would say he's a next-generation fighter."

Irvin, though, is a lot more realistic than many fight people are about just what that means.

"We have a crop of high-level wrestlers, national champions that are coming out and going straight into MMA. But," he said, "these aren't guys that are Olympians at their sport." He figures that it will be five to 10 years before a crop of fighters who have been training in MMA since they were young children raises the athletic level of the game to that comparable with major sports.

Now we're seeing more than just "Shogun" Rua ignored. I'm not sure if Tim Marchman, the author of this piece, is using "transcendent" in its most literal definition -- "exceeding or surpassing usual limits especially in excellence" -- or as a synonym for "crossover," but he's wrong on both counts. For now, anyway. 

There's this guy, Anderson Silva, who has won 13 straight fights in the UFC and has defended his UFC title eight consecutive times, both organizational records. There's another guy, Georges St. Pierre, who has 15 UFC wins and 8 wins in title fights himself, appears in commercials for institutions like ESPN and Gatorade and Under Armour. Let's not forget about the new heavyweight champ, Cain Velasquez, who has a perfect 9-0 MMA record and looks as impressive as Mr. Jones.

Let's also not forget the man who "Shogun" won the belt from. It was just under two years ago that Joe Rogan proclaimed that this is the "Machida era." Two controversial decisions and one knockout loss later and Lyoto Machida is fighting for his job against Randy Couture at UFC 129.

While I don't doubt that Jones is a freak talent in many ways, we should also put his career thus far into perspective. He has beaten exactly one top ten opponent. He will hit the third anniversary of his MMA career four weeks after his meeting with "Shogun." Despite the manner in which he has dispatched opponents, there are holes in his game (which I hope to detail later in the week). We have no idea how Jones will fare if this fight reaches the "championship rounds." 

While that sounds like sobering analysis, it also points out that Jones, by my account, has a great deal of potential to fulfill. Jones, barring some unforeseen incident, will be a big-time player in MMA in this decade, but let's not count our carts before the horse hatches, either.