UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has been electrifying hardcore fans for a couple of years now since making his UFC debut at UFC 87 in 2008. Now that's he's won the title by beating Mauricio Rua at UFC 128, Jones is poised for stardom.
USA TODAY's Sergio Non puts him at the head of a class of rising young stars in MMA:
Two years ago, the No. 1 fighter for every weight class in the USA TODAY/SB Nation consensus rankings was a veteran who started fighting in 2003 or earlier. Now most of the leaders are relative youngsters.
In addition to Jones:
• Two other UFC champions, featherweight Jose Aldo and bantamweight Dominick Cruz, are 24 and 25.
• In the 205-pound division, ex-Penn State wrestling star Phil Davis only started fighting professionally in October 2008 yet already finds himself facing No. 1 contender Rashad Evans in August.
• Heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez, 28, had two pro fights when he joined UFC in 2008. His next opponent, Junior dos Santos, is a 26-year-old with five years of professional experience.
• One of UFC's top contenders at featherweight, Chad Mendes, had his first fight two weeks before Davis.
• Anthony Pettis, former champion of World Extreme Cagefighting, is 24 and had a title shot in his hands before a June 4 loss.
They bring a combination of youth and athleticism rarely seen in mixed martial arts until now. Look no further than Jones to see how quickly a talented athlete can gain ground. Name a way to dismantle someone, and he has probably done it.
I'm a huge believer in youth. Athletes under the age of 28 are developing so fast that their potential can only be guessed at from existing performances. Barring injury or illness, Jones is only going to get better, that's a scary thought for light heavyweights.