Jon Jones and Rashad Evans have quite a history. | File Photo: Sherdog.com
The long limbs of the youngest champion in Ultimate Fighting Championship history played a beautiful but violent symphony inside the eight fenced walls he calls home. It was as if an orchestra was following its conductor.
Some 1,500 miles from his flood-stricken hometown, Jon Jones retained the light heavyweight crown with a dazzling submission victory over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the UFC 135 main event on Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The 24-year-old secured a fight-finishing rear-naked choke 74 seconds into the fourth round. Jones transitioned seamlessly from offense to defense and back again, as he softened Jackson with punches and kicks, all while avoiding the toe-tag power for which the challenger has become known.
Jackson -- a man who had not been submitted in more than a decade and had not been finished since 2005 -- was admittedly spellbound by the enormous talents of the man in front of him. His advances were met with Jones’ 84.5-inch wingspan, insufferable clinches and, later in the match, takedowns and ground-and-pound. The champion grounded Rampage in the third round, opening a cut above his right eye with an elbow strike, and returned him to the canvas in the fourth. Once there, he moved in from behind, secured his hooks and cinched the choke.
There is little mystery involved in terms of who Jones will face next. Nevertheless, here are seven matches we want to see made following UFC 135:
Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans: A long overdue showdown between former friends and training partners. Evans left Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts and longtime trainer Greg Jackson after Jones won the light heavyweight championship in his stead at UFC 128. It seems the famed gym was only big enough for one of them. Jones and Evans have sparred verbally ever since. Once “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 2 winner heals from a hand injury and Jones recovers from an ailing foot, they need to settle their differences in the cage.
Quinton Jackson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua: No man, not even Jones, has dominated Jackson quite like Rua. Their April 2005 encounter in the Pride Fighting Championships middleweight grand prix resulted in Jackson absorbing a savage beating. With both men out of the light heavyweight title picture for the time being, there can be no better time than now for a rematch. Rua will meet two-time Olympian and former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson at UFC 139 in November. Win or lose, Jackson should be next on his list of appointments.
Josh Koscheck vs. Jake Shields: Despite his lopsided loss to champion Georges St. Pierre nine months ago, Koscheck remains an elite welterweight. He proved as much in dispatching UFC hall of famer Matt Hughes inside the first round, pounding out the two-time titleholder with a series of hammerfists. Koscheck’s blend of power punching and high-level wrestling make him a difficult challenge for anyone in the Top 10 at 170 pounds. His blowout loss to the surging Jake Ellenberger notwithstanding, Shields has earned his stripes in two weight classes. The death of his father has to have taken a dramatic emotional toll on the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but when he does return to the cage, a showdown with Koscheck would serve as an appropriate welcome back.
Travis Browne vs. Dave Herman-Mike Russow winner: Browne ran out of steam in the thin air of the Mile High City, but he did enough to earn a unanimous decision over former Cage Rage champion Rob Broughton. The 6-foot-7 Hawaiian has the size and physical tools to become an excellent heavyweight and with continued direction from the coaches at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts and Alliance MMA, perhaps he can fulfill such promise. More seasoning and less hype could do him some good, along with a fight at normal altitude. Herman and Russow will collide at UFC 136 in two weeks, and both men -- Herman with his standup and Russow with his grinding ground game -- could pose serious challenges for the unbeaten Browne. Give him the winner.
Nate Diaz vs. Jeremy Stephens-Anthony Pettis winner: Someday, when Diaz’s career has long since been put behind him, he may look back on his performance against Takanori Gomi with special favor.
“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 winner thoroughly whipped the former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder, overwhelming him with punches before submitting him with an armbar in the first round. Diaz flirted with the welterweight division until failed encounters with Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald forced his return to 155 pounds. Perhaps the 26-year-old is ready to make a significant move there. The heavy-handed Stephens and the dynamic Pettis will lock horns at UFC 136, with the winner improving his position in the lightweight pecking order. Diaz looms.
Tony Ferguson vs. Thiago Tavares: Ferguson proved his tear through Season 13 of “The Ultimate Fighter” was no fluke, as he ripped into respected veteran Aaron Riley at UFC 135. Two left uppercuts turned the tide in his favor and may have left Riley with a broken jaw. Ferguson’s reach, jarring power and underrated wrestling skills make him a scary proposition for those who populate the middle-tier in the lightweight division. Tavares has been hot and cold throughout his UFC tenure, but he is potently talented. The 26-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt stopped Spencer Fisher on second-round punches at UFC 134 and would serve as a fitting next step in Ferguson’s progression.
Tim Boetsch vs. Chris Weidman-Tom Lawlor winner: Boetsch, a former light heavyweight, is a brute at 185 pounds. The AMC Pankration representative handed “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 alum Nick Ring his first professional defeat in Denver, earning a unanimous nod from the judges. It took Boetsch a round to find himself, but once he did, Ring had no recourse for his combination of power and technique. Though his conditioning and ability to handle a hard weight cut as a middleweight remain question marks, “The Barbarian” has staked his claim at 185 pounds. Weidman, arguably the sport’s top middleweight prospect, faces a stern test from Lawlor at UFC 139 in November. Whichever man emerges the victor there should find himself in Boetsch’s crosshairs.