Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (right) will put his UFC light heavyweight title on the line. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Nothing compares to a title fight, especially one between a proven champion and a dangerous challenger. UFC 128 brings that to the table, pitting light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua against Jon Jones on Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Once the terror of Pride Fighting Championships, Rua’s UFC title reign begins in challenging fashion against the hottest fighter in the game. Jones’ march through the light heavyweight ranks has been Tyson-esque.
In the co-main event, WEC poster boy and former champion Urijah Faber squares off against rugged ex-titleholder Eddie Wineland at 135 pounds. A host of other interested matchups fill out the UFC 128 lineup. Brace yourselves, folks, for the pressing business at hand -- the breakdown and picks are here.
UFC Light Heavyweight Championship
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Jon Jones
The Matchup: There is no question in my mind that Jones will be a world champ someday. The only question is whether or not it will be after this fight.
Fresh off a second-round dismantling of previously unbeaten Ryan Bader at UFC 126, Jones has emerged as “the next big thing,” rightfully tabbed as such because his spectacular career has been defined by eye-popping moves. With an 84-inch reach, Jones executes moves that would seem ridiculous and amateurish, except for the fact that they work seamlessly.
Whether one points to the spinning elbow he landed on Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94 or weird choke variants he used to eventually subdue Bader, Jones is equal parts physical specimen and entertainment. He is eminently talented and watchable but has not had the kind of gut-check fight one desperately wants to see a young phenom endure in order to determine what he is like in a pinch.
Enter Rua. The champion rebounded from a controversial decision loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 104 by cold-cocking “The Dragon” in their rematch in May. Recovering from knee surgery, Rua will enter his first title defense as an 8-to-5 underdog despite his status as champion and position as one of the sport’s best light heavyweights -- if not the best -- over the past five years.
This fight resembles the first Georges St. Pierre-Matt Hughes match at UFC 50, with a streaking young challenger -- like GSP at the time, Jones is 23 -- against a proven, veteran champion.
If there is a prototype to beat Rua, Jones may be it. His reach and wrestling present all sorts of problems, because he can execute at distances from which should not be able to operate. Those distances throw off opponents, and that is exactly what Rua has to go to work on. Shogun possesses some of the best kicks in the game, and he will have to use them to soften up Jones, particularly early, and make him feel the pressure of fighting in such a huge match.
Jones’ best counter when Shogun kicks is a straight right hand. Tie-ups are probably in the Brazilian’s favor, as he excels in the clinch and doing damage with knees and punches. The big wild card is Jones’ takedowns. He can shoot from long range – witness the takedown he hit on Bader, which was launched from far away, yet Jones hit it effortlessly – and working form top position, he’ll have to be careful of Shogun’s submissions, always an overlooked variable in his game due to the violence he brings on the feet.
In a knock-down, drag-out fight, Shogun is the pick, given his experience with extended wars; the former Pride standout excels at this kind of match. However, Jones’ range and wrestling edge will be a big problem for Shogun. If Jones avoids getting caught early and taken out by a Rua onslaught, he will be able to stay long on the feet, landing strikes and trading even with kicks. Eventually, his wrestling and strength will come into play, and he will take down Rua.
Jones’ ability to execute submissions, along with striking from the top, will force Shogun into a defensive mindset, and there, Shogun’s response will make this an instant classic. By the second or third round, he will mount an all-out assault to get rid of the upstart challenger, which is when we will find out what Jones is made of.
If there is a gap in Jones’ game, Rua will exploit it. Jones has not gone past three rounds, nor has he had his bell rung with a big shot -- something Rua can definitely do. Any holes in his armor will be readily taken advantage of, but he has not shown any and just might be that good.
The Pick: The guess here is that Jones is every bit as tough as he is talented, and he will rally through a bad spot or two en route to wearing down Shogun and eventually putting him on his back. Jones’ wrestling and submission ability will be too much, as he powers through a difficult fight to win via third-round submission.
Continue Reading » Next Fight: Urijah Faber vs. Eddie Wineland