(Don’t just stand there, do something, Herb. PicProps: UFC.com )
Forget the Anderson Silva kick for a minute. Forget Paul Taylor punting Gabe Ruediger’s head into Brittney Palmer’s lap at ringside. Forget Forrest Griffin and Rich Franklin slogging through a stinker of a “co-main event” that the UFC really, desperately wanted us to believe was a great fight. Forget all that, the most impressive thing that happened at UFC 126 on Saturday night was that somehow – in the age of Twitter and all these muckraking bloggers – the company managed to keep Rashad Evans’ injury and Jon Jones’ impending title shot a secret until Joe Rogan dropped the bomb on us during their postfight interview. Well played, UFC.
Frankly, this is a brilliant tactical move. Think about it: 23-year-old Jon Jones now has six weeks to prepare for the fight of his life against the No. 1-ranked 205-pound fighter in the world. If he wins, it puts him on a bullet train into the history books, hands the UFC an unfuckwitable promotional storyline and makes every nerdy MMA writer on the planet (this one included) practically swoon from the size of our enormous, swelling boners for Jones. If he loses, no harm done. None at all. Just explain it away: The kid is still a baby in the sport and got rushed into a title shot against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua on relatively short notice. It’s pretty much a can’t-lose situation for the UFC.
Now, how bad does all this suck for Rashad? Dude. It sucks baaaad.
Evans already waited almost eight months for Rua to get back from his own injury only to suffer what is being reported as a sprained knee ligament, which will require just six to eight weeks of rehab. In response, the UFC – probably already pissed at him for choosing to wait for Shogun instead being a “true fighter” or some such bullshit – hands the opportunity to his teammate. Evans’ training camp now becomes Jones’ training camp. His chance, Jones’ chance.
And what if Jones wins? He and Evans do their best to play up a kind of friendly (even familial) relationship in public, but with Jones as champ you’d have to wonder if the Jackson-Wittman alliance would be big enough for both their aspirations. If one of those guys has to break camp and find a new home, it ain’t gonna be Jones.
Like the UFC, Jones essentially gets a golden ticket here. He gets to vault over any kind of contender fight with a Machida-or-Rampage-or-FoGriff-level guy straight into a title shot. Hard to say he doesn’t deserve it, too, after utterly dismantling Ryan Bader on Saturday night. Prior to the event, we actually thought Bader could make a fight out of it. Boy, were we wrong.
Jones so completely flustered and dominated Bader through two rounds that he had him diving in from the parking lot on desperation double-legs and eventually forced the former Division I wrestler to pull half guard. Think about that for a second. Bader – the consummate wrestler – felt so uncomfortable with what was happening on the feet (and had so given up on the takedown) that he opted for the bottom (in half guard), where he immediately got choked out.
Dude is lucky he is not Jay Cutler and UFC 126 was not the NFC championship game, or there would probably be a lot of rampant internet speculation going on right now. As is stands, he just got flat-out dwarfed by Jones, both physically and skills-wise. At one point Jones literally leapfrogged him in an attempt to take his back. You don’t even think of pulling off that kind of move in an MMA fight unless you’re 100 percent confident your opponent can not hurt you.
The whole thing was even more impressive than we thought it was going to be. Now Jones goes straight back to training where he has almost exactly a month and a half to get ready for Shogun. Luckily, he has his buddy Rashad there to help him.