Jon Jones (top) will look to defend his title for the first time at UFC 135. | Photo: Dave Mandel
If a champion is not a real champion until he defends his belt, Jon Jones will have to pass a stiff test at UFC 135 to prove he is the goods. In his first fight since dethroning Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and winning the light heavyweight title, Jones tackles Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the main event on Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The match is something of a referendum on the two men. For Jones, it represents a great opportunity to prove he is more than just a physical phenom with some impressive performances, perhaps by dealing with a degree of adversity he has yet to face. For Jackson, it is a chance to put virtually every tough break of his career behind him and return to the 205-pound throne, all while defeating the game’s hottest young fighter.
The rest of the main card includes a welterweight bout between Josh Koscheck and hall of famer Matt Hughes, two heavyweight battles and Nate Diaz’s lightweight showdown against Takanori Gomi.
Here is a closer look with the UFC 135 main card, with previews and picks.
UFC Light Heavyweight Championship
Jon Jones (13-1, 7-1 UFC) vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (32-8, 7-2 UFC)
The Matchup: In his first defense, Jones faces a fighter who can truly hurt him with a single punch. The problem will be how Jackson negotiates the obvious problem at hand, namely Jones’ reach, far more diverse striking arsenal and the champion’s ability to hit takedowns in seemingly endless variation and type.
One big shot from Jackson, however, can neutralize all the hype that Jones has generated, and it is an important issue, because “Bones” has yet to really be tested in that department. In fact, he has barely spent a moment in a bad position in his UFC career, physically dominating foes while doing what he wants when he wants.
Jones has plenty of physical assets that make him a problem, but the biggest obstacle for opponents is his length. He employs it perfectly, whether standing, where he flicks out kicks and punches from seemingly across the cage, or on the ground, where the sheer distance encompassed by his limbs and torso skews everything the other guy wants to do. It provides openings for Jones to bang foes while he is too far away to attack.
Jackson’s approach to the mental game in this fight has already faltered, with accusations about “spies” in his camp working for Jones -- claims the champion has politely but firmly dismissed. Jackson’s outstanding wrestling is largely used to defend shots so he can headhunt, and Rampage still has not fixed his iffy defense against leg kicks, nor used takedown attempts to add another variable to his offense, which would open up strikes. In a way, he has become more one-dimensional than during his Pride Fighting Championships days. Poor game planning cost him against Rashad Evans, who simply used better tactics to get the decision at UFC 114.
At the end of the day, Jackson has the one-shot power and durability to beat Jones, provided all the dominoes line up correctly. That is assuming Jones does not have a host of options on which to feast, ranging from hassling Rampage with kicks and sticking takedowns to outboxing him on the feet.
What it boils down to is this: Jones is able to do things nobody else can. He will frustrate and pick apart Rampage while Jackson heaves the occasional counter, eating punches three-to-one and eventually getting weary of fighting through a thicket of counters. Jones is also going to be able to take down Rampage easier than many think; his ability to execute Greco-Roman and lower-leg shots is unreal, and Rampage will be victimized by the latter, since it is doubtful Jones wants to tie up, especially early.
The Pick: Ultimately, Jackson comes apart slowly but surely, with Jones dominating every phase of the game, even as he takes a couple of shots. He will punish the durable Jackson, finishing with a submission from the top in the fourth round.
Continue Reading » Next Fight: Matt Hughes vs. Josh Koscheck