Jon Jones has won his last 10 bouts, finishing eight of them. | Photo: Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/UFC/Getty
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has put on 34 individual fights so far in April, with 11 more coming at you on Saturday in Baltimore. The most important bout is the 45th and final match of the month. The UFC 172 main event is a title defense by one of the company’s best fighters in light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. The physical wounds from Jones’ last fight have all healed. The question remains: How will “Bones” rebound mentally after the toughest fight of his career? The UFC is more than happy to deliver the answer to your television set in radiating high-definition for a mere $54.99.
How We Got Here: Jones and challenger Glover Teixeira finally landed at the lazily named Baltimore Arena following a few false starts. After Jones defeated Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165, the time and location for the champion’s next fight floated around for months. For reasons one can only speculate, the Jones-Teixeira matchup was announced or rumored to headline UFC 169, UFC 170 and UFC 171 before finally stopping at UFC 172. I for one will only believe the match is actually going down when the two are finally locked in the same cage ... Phil Davis finds himself in title-fight discussions after scoring a controversial decision over Lyoto Machida -- in Brazil of all places. Opponents were scarce for the former Penn State Nittany Lion since most of the division was busy with other fights, not to mention the next few title challengers are more or less already lined up. Davis’ foe is former welterweight, former middleweight and current light heavyweight Anthony Johnson. The Blackzilians representative returns to the Octagon on a six-fight winning streak, the last three of which came inside the World Series of Fighting organization. Johnson has an opportunity to jump right into the top 10 with a win over Davis ... Former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold is back to his winning ways after defeating Costas Philippou in January. The victory represented a crucial step towards getting the taste of a devastating knockout loss to Vitor Belfort out of his mouth. He will face Time Boetsch in what will be the 10th UFC fight for “The Barbarian.”
Path to Greatness: It seems safe to say the UFC’s light heavyweight belt remains wrapped around Jones’ waist thanks to one spinning back elbow in the fourth round of his last fight. Gustafsson seemed well on his way to dethroning “Bones” until that devastating strike halted his momentum. This was the first real stumbling block for Jones’ title reign. He had grown accustomed to easily dismantling his opposition, rarely losing rounds or failing to finish a foe. The road may only get tougher from here. That is a scary thought considering Jones already handled Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and others. A fresh crop of contenders are chomping at the bit for the 26-year-old. After Teixeira, Gustafsson expects a rematch, followed by a grudge match with Olympian Daniel Cormier, provided he can get past Dan Henderson at UFC 173. Jones’ resume is highlighted by wins over a who’s who of light heavyweight royalty, but his next three fights may represent the most difficult stretch of his career. If he is still champion after running that gauntlet, a serious Greatest of All-Time discussions need to happen.
Opportunity Knocks Twice: Fighters receiving second chances litter the UFC 172 lineup. Chris Beal opens the card after winning a fight outside of the UFC following a stint on Season 18 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series. No second chance is more significant than Johnson’s, though. A rocky 11-fight UFC run saw the now 30-year-old miss weight three times, the final misstep on the scales coming in a losing effort to Belfort at UFC 142. The former top prospect was immediately cut by the UFC. “Rumble” now rides six wins in a row, having settled in the more appropriate light heavyweight division. Johnson is poised to show doubters he deserved the hype he accumulated early in his career. Defeating the world-ranked Davis in the co-main event of a Jones-headlined pay-per-view will do a lot for a fighter’s image.
Say What: Since Jones defeated Davis’ Alliance MMA teammate, Gustafsson, by the skin of his teeth at UFC 165, “Mr. Wonderful” has been uncharacteristically vocal. The verbal poking and prodding of the champion has proven to be one of the surprises of 2014 thus far. Davis said Jones would crumble like shortbread, criticized him for trying to match his way out of tough fights and questioned whether he will even show up in Baltimore. Everyone pray to the MMA gods that the Zuffa production staff puts Jones and Davis in the same warm-up area. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in there. “He may not fight at UFC 172. It’s not too late for him to back out of this one. It’s happened before. I’m just saying it might happen again,” Davis told MMAJunkie.com.
Awards Watch: We found Jim Miller’s ceiling against fighters like Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz. The New Jersey native demolishes just about everyone else. Yancy Medeiros looks like he could fall into the “everyone else” category, especially on short notice. Miller should have his way with the Hawaiian and walk away with a $50,000 performance bonus ... Rockhold’s ceiling is another matter. Only a knockout loss to Belfort in Brazil has managed to slow the American Kickboxing Academy standout’s rise. Rockhold will make a big and violent statement against the rugged but not nearly as polished Boetsch ... You cannot help but be tempted to lean towards Joseph Benavidez and Tim Elliot for “Fight of the Night,” but the Team Alpha Male ace might finish the fight too early. Keep an eye on Max Holloway and Benavidez’s teammate, Andre Fili, in the main card’s opening bout. The two featherweights are resilient, exciting fighters. Expect 15 minutes of back-and-forth action.