Sunday, March 20, 2011

UFC 128 Thoughts

In February, I said that tonight's fight with Shogun Rua was a win/win for Jon Jones. Now that Jones has won the Lightheavyweight championship, his win/win opportunities have ended for good.

Going into the fight, Joe Rogan compared this fight with Mike Tyson's first title fight. There were rumours that some in his entourage were comparing him to Muhammed Ali. The pressure was there for Jones to perform, but if he didn't there were still built in excuses. Jones took the fight on short notice, after fighting 6 weeks prior. Jones was sick in the last couple of weeks. It was a large jump in quality of opponent for Jones.

And yet, much like all of his other fights, Jones dominated a slow Shogun Rua, stopping him in round three via TKO. As in all his other fights, Jones never looked like he was in trouble, and was in total control for the entire fight. While Rua didn't play to his own strengths (Rua's avoidance on leg kicks to keep Jones from having an opening to take him down seemed to hamper Rua more than it hindered Jones' strategy), Jones managed to impose his own game plan on the fight. Jones seemed to prove all of his supporters correct. All of this is going to make the next 3 fights of his career the most difficult he will face.

Jones no longer will have any of the excuses. He beat a top level fighter. He will have ample notice to prepare for his next opponent. He's going to be expected to live up to the reputation he has built - one of a dominant champion who is still improving. Add to this the extra demands that will be made of him and Jones is going to be facing a much larger psychological hurdle to climb.

Sometimes it's not reaching the apex that's the problem; it's trying to stay balanced on top of it which proves to be most difficult.
Jones' victory seemed to justify the comparisons to Mike Tyson. I think it's worth making a different comparison though - one to Lyoto Machida.

Much like Jones, Machida looked unbeatable when he became champion. Machida had a style which was based on counter striking, and had done a great job of making people believe that he had a style which was difficult to beat.

Then Machida faced Shogun Rua, who found the counter to Machida. Rua attacked Machida's legs continually, and wore him down. Machida escaped the first fight with a decision that many found to be questionable, but in the rematch, Rua needed only 3 minutes to defeat Machida and win the title. After that, Machida lost to Rampage Jackson in a fight where neither fighter looked particularly good and now in April, Machida will fight Randy Couture.

When dreaming of the unlimited potential of Jones, it's worth remembering the rise and fall of Machida. It should give you some pause before you get ready to appoint Jon Jones as the best pound for pound fighter in the world.
The next Lightheavyweight contender was announced after the fight - Rashad Evans. This proved to be another victory for Dana White, a hater of the convention of fighters who refused to fight other members of their camp.

What was interesting was following the storyline that began in the last week or so, with Evans seemingly creating a beef with Jones over a non-issue. Many thought this was the start of a way to try to create more interest in an Evans/Jones fight, in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle similiar to the Evans/Rampage fight from May 2010. They both seemed to back away from that, and when they met each other in the octagon after the fight, Evans was very respectful to Jones and his abilities. You would think that if there was any animosity there, it would come out in some way during that interview.

Also interesting was Greg Jackson's reaction to the possibility of the fight. Jackson said that he would not corner either man if they fought and both remained in his camp. While probably a fair way to go about his business, what makes this intriguing is how fight camp politics is becoming more of a factor in MMA coverage.

Whether it's changing management, leaving camps or other items of the ilk, the "inside baseball" reporting has become a bigger factor in MMA journalism. This could be a sign of a maturing sport, but it also provides a question of whether this coverage is truly desired and needed. As with most of the world, the market will lay bear the answer to that question.
In my predictions, I was 8-4 and my theoretical wagers earned me $68.50, for a net of $18.50. On the year I am 27-17-2, with overall wins of $7.90.

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