Jon Jones looks unsinkable at 205 pounds. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s busiest month of all-time draws to a close with UFC 159 “Jones vs. Sonnen” on Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will return to the same venue he brought to its feet in March 2011, when he dethroned Mauricio Rua with a third-round technical knockout. In his crosshairs, sits Chael Sonnen, who jumps to the 205-pound division for the first time since his Octagon debut in 2005.
How We Got Here: This whacky main event between Jones and Sonnen can be traced to Dan Henderson’s fragile knee ligament. Just a little over a week before “Hendo” was poised to challenge Jones for the 205-pound title at UFC 151, the 42-year-old injured his knee, leaving him unable to fight the champion. Sonnen offered to take the fight on short notice, Jones refused and the entire event was cancelled. Apparently, that was all it took for UFC President Dana White to turn a fleeting moment into a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and a pay-per-view headlined by the sport’s youngest superstar and its preeminent trash talker ... Michael Bisping-Alan Belcher serves as an intriguing co-main event. Both middleweights are top fighters looking to rebound from losses ... Every UFC pay-per-view seems to require at least one heavyweight slugfest, so Roy Nelson and Cheick Kongo will fill that quota ... Vinny Magalhaes did not even let Phil Davis’ sweat dry after winning at UFC 153 before calling him out on Twitter ... Lightweights Jim Miller and Pat Healy will get the main card popping, as two of the most underrated fighters on the UFC roster collide.
A Not-So-Legendary Favorite: Jones was at one time sitting as a -900 favorite over the challenger, which means one has to bet $900 to win $100 on a “Bones” victory; and people wonder where they found the $2.7 billion to build the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas. You would think the reality of a middleweight coming off a loss and facing a top three pound-for-pound light heavyweight might create record-breaking odds, but it is not even close. Georges St. Pierre was -1100 when he fought -- and lost to -- Matt Serra at UFC 69. This is not even the most substantial favorite Jones has ever been. He was -925 against Vitor Belfort at UFC 152 in December. Still, the distinction of biggest UFC main event favorite in history belongs to the man many view as the greatest fighter of all-time. Middleweight champion Anderson Silva was -1350 against Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153, where he kneed “The American Psycho” into retirement.
Expectations Unmet: Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter” had everything going for it. The episodes aired on Tuesday instead of the ratings wasteland we know as Friday night; the talent pool was rich; and the camera work looked more like HBO’s “24/7” series and less like Spike TV’s “Manswers.”
Pitting Sonnen against Jones as coaches was supposed to ensure the season knocked it out of the park. No dice. Sonnen stayed busy complimenting Jones, fighters on both teams, the guy who cleaned the toilets, the troops and virtually any other human being within earshot. The smack-talking Sonnen was nowhere to be found. Seriously, he did not even rhyme once. Nearly every single analyst picked the champion to have his way with the challenger, which left Sonnen’s mouth with the sole responsibility of exciting the masses. There are some things even the most overused muscles cannot deliver, and this time, Sonnen did not even try.
Useless Fact: By the time UFC 159 concludes, 94 men and four women will have competed inside the Octagon in April, making it the promotion’s busiest month ever with 49 bouts. Credit the UFC’s four events and cards packed with an abnormally large number of fights: UFC on Fuel TV 9 (13), “The Ultimate Fighter 17” Finale (12), UFC on Fox 7 (12) and UFC 159 (12). If you feel like your MMA viewing cardio has hit a wall when Jones and Sonnen step into the cage, you now know why.
Delayed Debut: UFC 159 was to have marked the promotional debut of former Bellator MMA lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. However, arguably the sports hottest free agent is stuck in a legal battle. He wants to fight in the UFC. Bellator would rather he not. On Jan. 25, Alvarez failed to receive an injunction that would have opened the UFC’s Octagon doors for him. Needless to say, he would have made an excellent addition to the lineup.
Say What: Belcher suggested in a Yahoo! blog that Bisping was not talking as much leading up to their middleweight duel because he is afraid of getting embarrassed again. The Brit had plenty to say before fights with Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort, only to wind up on the wrong end of highlight-reel knockouts in both. However, Bisping told the SiriusXM Fight Club that there was another reason for his relative silence: “The reason I’ve been less vocal is because no one cares about Alan Belcher, and the sooner I beat him and get another victory under my belt and get back to my winning ways and fight people that are interesting the less we have to talk about him. That’s the reason why I haven’t
been talking about him everyday. No one is asking.”
Awards Watch: In an engaging wrestling-versus-jiu-jitsu matchup, Davis and Magalhaes each have something to prove -- on the mat -- in their main card bout. Magalhaes’ jiu-jistu exploits are well-documented, while Davis is one of the best wrestlers in the UFC, having incorporated the skills that won him an NCAA national championship at Penn State University into a solid MMA ground game. Someone is taking home a “Submission of the Night” check, along with whatever limb he rips off … “Knockout of the Night” is another loaded pick. Nelson and Kongo are ridiculously hard-headed, with only two knockout losses between them. That is a tiny number for two seasoned heavyweights. It will be like catching a unicorn when Nelson lands his overhand right and puts Kongo to sleep, and UFC brass will reward him for it … “Fight of the Night” is a tough one to handicap. Rustam Khabilov could go on a suplex fest; Sara McMann and Sheila Gaff could go all female MMA on us; and Leonard Garcia could swing and grunt his way to a $50,000 check. With that said, the UFC’s main card bias is well-chronicled when it comes to handing out awards checks. Expect Bisping and Belcher to provide the necessary fireworks in the co-main event.