Not elusive enough. (Photo: Esther Lin, MMA Fighting)
There’s nothing new in Jon Jones facing his ‘toughest test to date’; his recent fights have put him through a gauntlet of UFC champions. Searching for a style that stifles him is old hat as well; in his very short career he’s faced top level wrestlers, strikers, and even a one-of-a-kind karate specialist. And doubting the light-heavyweight champ? That officially became passé last night too.
While all of the smart money was being plunked down on Jon Jones, most acknowledged that Machida’s unique style would pose an interesting challenge to the young champion. Finding Machida with the end of your fist is a tough enough chore when you’re not spinning and twisting through the air, and Jones found that out in the first round. His flashy kicks and punches came close to finishing the Dragon’s shadow, but the intended target was long out of range by the time the twirling had ended. A pair of solid body kicks and a few stalking combinations gave Lyoto the round and momentum headed into the second frame against a suddenly more-human Jones.
“Bones” found himself on the losing end of the exchanges early in round two as well. Machida, who has made a career of the unorthodox, seemed able to predict what Jones would throw before he’d even thought of it. And that’s when it finally happened: Jones got hit. It wasn’t a jaw-dropping widow-maker, mind you, but finally we had contact, significant contact. Though Jones staggered backward at bit, he quickly regained his composure and did what champions do—he took over. A takedown followed by a brutal elbow to the forehead drew blood. Lots of it. Momentum had shifted, and Jones was certain the fight was his.
“When I opened him up with the cut, my confidence level went to a whole other level,” Jones told Ariel Helwani post-fight. “I was like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re bleeding! And now let’s play this game.”
Back on their feet after the cut was cleared by ringside physicians, Jones pressed Machida to the cage and sunk in a standing guillotine. As he repositioned his grip to maximize the torque on his go-go-gadget arms, the lights began to fade for ‘The Dragon’ and his body went limp. Referee “Big John” McCarthy stepped in and Jones released his hold, the only thing propping Machida up on his feet. As Lyoto and his bid for a second UFC title came crashing to the canvas, Jones coolly walked away with yet another incredible stoppage victory. Machida was game and his performance helped the pair secure the $75K Fight of the Night bonus, but the end leaves no doubt that Jones is simply on another level.
In any other circumstance, Jones’s 2011 run would be considered career defining. But how could it not be for a twenty-four year old with only three year’s experience under his shiny, gold belt? Jones didn’t just defeat Bader, Shogun, Rampage, and Machida; he stopped them, painfully, without getting hurt. Anything can happen in MMA where the tides turn quickly—the “Machida Era” was better timed with a stopwatch than a calendar–but everything I’ve seen indicates that Jones’s reign over the light-heavyweight division has only begun. There will always be a new challenger posing a new challenge, but they’ll be facing a new, more evolved champion each time he steps foot in the cage.
- Chris Colemon (@chriscolemon)