This was supposed to be a severe test for Jon "Bones" Jones. Even though the UFC light-heavyweight champion was still the prohibitive favorite in his title defense against teammate/friend-turned-adversary, ex-champ Rashad Evans, there were some in the media who were picking "Suga" to produce the first cracks of the Jones monolith and put an end to an era before it truly began.
Jones isn’t just a champion. He became the first UFC-sponsored fighter, and earned admiration from a few A-listers including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and LeBron James. Either a perfectly placed punch or Evans’ superior wrestling had a chance to declare the Jones party over.
The best you can say about Evans Saturday night is that he became the first to go the distance with Jones since January 2009 (Stephan Bonnar) and (if you agreed with two cage-side judges) he won the first round.
Praising Evans isn’t evaluating his five-round unanimous-decision loss at UFC 145 wearing rose-colored glasses. A lesser man would have been planted to the mat and/or picked apart by Evans’ swag. The problem for Evans – and every fighter weighing 205 pounds – is that Jones is neither a lesser man nor an ordinary fighter. Even if he wasn’t at 100 percent capacity, Jones still dominated this fight and made it a rout. He used a wicked 84 1/2 –inch reach to neutralize Evans’ wrestling and elbows as sickles to systematically carve up his adversary.
"I thought it was great," said UFC president Dana White. "I thought [Jones] fought a great fight. He threw elbows like they were hands. I thought he fought a great fight and I thought Rashad did, too."
Great simply isn’t good enough to beat Jones, 16-1 in his MMA career – that one loss came via a controversial disqualification when he used illegal 12-to-6 elbows to brutalize Matt Hamill in a fight that had no business lasting as long as it did. This is how incredible – not great – Jones was Saturday night: CompuStrike numbers had him owning a 112-56 edge in strikes and a 52-12 advantage in power shots.
And here’s proof of why in this writer’s view Jones is now the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world: Each of his last four victories have come against former UFC 205-pound champions (Maurcio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Evans). None of them were close. Jones destroyed Shogun, became the first in history to submit Rampage, choked the Dragon into unconsciousness and pounded Suga for five rounds. To further emphasize what Jones has done to the light-heavyweights, his second-round submission of the previously unbeaten Ryan Bader, combined with an injury to Evans, began his journey to the title.
That has Bones on the track to becoming the best MMA has ever seen. One hundred percent guaranteed? No, but when you consider he’s 24 years old and yet to peak, 10 years from now we may be placing him on MMA’s Mount Olympus. His next challenger is Dan Henderson, one who belongs in the sport’s Pantheon of Excellence and is thirsting for his first UFC championship belt. On paper this isn’t easy. Henderson is former Olympic wrestler capable of becoming the first to take Jones down. There’s also that patriot missile, in other words a right hook that blasted Michael Bisping from Las Vegas to the United Kingdom at UFC 100.
Alas, Hendo turns 42 in August. He’s been chocked out by Anderson Silva and nearly defeated by Shogun. He’ll have a legit chance, and win or lose will make it interesting, but Father Time will also likely have his say. Hendo’s reaction time may be a second or two slower, and that’s more than enough for Jones to kill when he knows the time is right.
Henderson is actually fighting for the future of the light-heavyweight division. An upset and the top contenders wiped out by Jones get second life. But upon reading the tea leaves, Jones will have reached his next stage of evolution by the time the two touch gloves, which means he’ll have the 205 club cleaned out while placing MMA more prominently on the radar of the rich and famous.
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC
UFC 145 Jones vs. Evans: Spencer Hall Hits The Streets!! (via sbnation)