UFC 135 saw the UFC finally return to where it all began. The UFC has grown leaps and bounds since the first UFC event in Denver back in November of 1993. There were probably as many UFC employees and media covering UFC 135 as there were in total attendance for UFC 1.
But not only has the popularity of the sport grown immensely, the talent is just as noticeable of a change. That was no more obvious than the main event, as Jon Jones defended his Light Heavyweight Championship against Rampage Jackson.
Few athletes define a generation, and Jones is doing just that as I type this. With just four years of mixed martial arts training, Jones has reached the pinnacle of his craft. What takes other fighters years and years of work, he has achieved in months. Eight months ago, Jones was not even the number one contender in his weight class. Three fights later, he is seen as one of the top fighters in the world, regardless of weight class.
To put it simply, he outclassed Jackson in every facet of the fight. No, it was not as physically dominant of a performance as his championship winning performance against Shogun Rua in March at UFC 128. But Jones did not have to be as dominant. He knew going in he held every advantage over Rampage. Most specifically, an enormous 11.5 inch reach advantage. That negated Rampage’s one glaring strength over Jones, his boxing.
From the opening bell, Jones looked calm and confident, as if he knew the outcome of the fight before he even stepped into the octagon.
That is not to take anything away from Rampage. His defense was the best it has ever been since joining the UFC. He moved very well, and defended nearly all of Jones’ unpredictable strikes and positions. He was even able to reverse Jones while he was in full mount.
Yet even with the months of training and, according to Rampage himself, the “best Rampage we’ve ever seen”, it was still not enough.
Much like Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre and their dominance in their respective weight classes, the question that will be asked most frequently will be who CAN, not who will defeat Jones. This has been a question that has never been uttered before at the most competitive division in UFC history.
Biggest Winner: Nate Diaz
Yes, I know winning his first title defense is huge for Jones. But don’t let that take anything away from Diaz and his dominating performance against Takanori Gomi in his return to the lightweight division. The welterweight division contains guys that are much bigger than Diaz. That much was obvious in bouts against Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald. But Diaz can hold his own against anyone that is willing to stand with him. Even if it is taken to the ground, Diaz has a strong submission game that is always a threat. He holds wins over top contenders at 155, including Melvin Guillard. He also defeated Gray Maynard while on The Ultimate Fighter season five, and it could be argued he defeated Maynard in their rematch in January 2010. Diaz’ striking accuracy against Gomi was one of the best performances of the year.
Biggest Loser: Ben Rothwell
Wow, that was ugly. No, I’m not talking about the cut on Rothwell’s forehead. I understand it his first fight in over a year, but Rothwell looked dead after the second round. He had to be carried to his corner by his cornermen. That is never a good sign after the end of the third round, let alone a fight that isn’t even finished.
Rothwell held a distinct advantage over Mark Hunt on the ground, yet he never threatened him there. In fact, it was Hunt that was doing the most damage there, attempting an armbar at the end of the first round. Some of the fatigue can be attributed to the attitude of Denver, along with his long layoff, but those excuses will not be valid in consecutive fights.
Biggest Question: Will Matt Hughes Retire?
The answer to this should be yes. Yes to will he, and yes to should he. Hughes is a legend of the sport; a two time welterweight champion holding wins over both Georges St. Pierre and BJ Penn (both finishes), and he is a UFC Hall of Fame inductee.
With that, at 37 years old, there just is not much left for Hughes to do. It is obvious he still enjoys the build up to the fight, the training, and the fight itself. But there is a point where you have to say enough is enough. Can he still fight? Absolutely. He displayed crisp striking against Koscheck for the better part of the first round. But he is nowhere near an opportunity for the title, and he is now on a two fight loss streak.
Continuing a distinguished career at his age, especially with his wife admitting she no longer wants him to continue, does not seem to be the best option for him and his family.
Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans: Perhaps we will actually see this one take place. We have gone through the drama of both training at Jackson’s camp in New Mexico. We have gone through the drama of whether Jones lied about a hand injury that forced him to withdraw from a bout that had not yet been scheduled. Now hopefully we can get on to what is important. Ya know, the fight.
Rampage Jackson vs. Forrest Griffin II: UFC 86 brought us one of the best fights in UFC history, as Griffin narrowly outpointed Jackson to become the Light Heavyweight Champion. Jackson hated the decision then and he hates the decision now. Both are coming off a loss, and are nearing the end of their esteemed careers. Jackson mentioned a rematch with Shogun Rua when the UFC returns to Japan in February. However, Rua has a scheduled fight with Dan Henderson in November at UFC 139. That bout is currently scheduled as a number one contender bout. Jackson is best served by getting back into training as soon as he can, as opposed to long layoffs like he endured prior to fighting Rashad Evans and Forrest Griffin
Josh Koscheck vs. Jake Ellenberger: Ellenberger looked great in the brief time he was in the octagon against Jake Shields earlier this month. He is arguably one or two fights away from an opportunity to fight for the title. Koscheck will not get another chance against Georges St. Pierre as long as he holds the title. He’s hinted at fighting at 185, but that does not seem to be the right move there, since he would be too small for the bigger middleweights. Koscheck can still prove as a test for the true contenders at 170, and he can still get plenty of big name fights at welterweight.
Mark Hunt vs. Brendan Schaub: Hunt was quite impressive against Rothwell, even though he was not able to knock out the exhausted Wisconsin native. Dana White praised Hunt multiple times after the performance. He clearly wants to continue fighting, and always shows up with a great chance to win with power he possesses. Schaub is coming off a loss to Minotauro Nogueira at UFC 134. He still has time to return to a top prospect, and Hunt would be more than willing to test Schaub, and continue Schaub’s Legends tour, having already fought Mirko Cro Cop, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Nogueira.
Nate Diaz vs. Anthony Pettis/Jeremy Stephens winner: Diaz can feasibly contend at lightweight. It seems as long as he stays away from wrestlers, he has enough tools to defeat anyone who is put in front of him. Well, there is a problem with that. The division is dominated by top wrestlers like Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. But at 155, he certainly holds a better chance at contending than at 170. Both Pettis and Stephens would provide the aggression and entertainment that Diaz always wants in an opponent.