Jon Jones picked apart Quinton “Rampage” Jackson Saturday in Denver. | AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
With yet another brilliant performance, Jon Jones delivered the goods in his first title defense Saturday night, submitting Quinton “Rampage” Jackson after four increasingly one-sided rounds at UFC 135.
Utilizing his trademark blend of unorthodox tactics and stifling length, Jones dominated every phase of the bout before sinking home a rear-naked choke for the victory.
Coming into the bout, the conventional wisdom ceded the technical edge to Jones, but with a glaring caveat; Jackson’s punching power presented a sobering equalizer. But “Rampage” was never able to find Jones’ chin, eating a steady diet of strikes as the light heavyweight champ dissected him en route to the finish.
In the co-main event, Josh Koscheck blitzed out former welterweight ace Matt Hughes at 4:59 of the first. Hughes, doing well in the standup prior to Koscheck coming on with a barrage of strikes to set up the finish, remarked afterward that he might want to be “put on the shelf” for a while, but stopped short of announcing his retirement. The defeat was Hughes’ second in a row, and marked his fourth loss in his last seven.
Jon Jones: After going four rounds with Jackson, the last question mark on Jones will be his chin, which Jackson was unable to find. That’s OK, because the people still doubting Jones’ legitimacy (all seven of them) probably need something to ruminate on. That said, the champ showcased his ever-developing skill set, manipulating the range against Jackson with an excellent sense of distance and timing.
Jackson simply couldn’t get close. And while Jones’ early takedown attempts were stymied, he simply kept working on the feet, frustrating his opponent with a ridiculously diverse mix of kicks, all while throwing the kitchen sink behind it.
At the end of the day, this is a great champion just coming into the cusp of his physical and mental prime. It’s a privilege to watch, with each performance a crescendo-reaching recital of music only he seems capable of playing. He’s Sergei Rachmaninoff and the rest of us can only sit and enjoy what he’s going to do next.
Josh Koscheck: He’d always wanted Hughes and tonight he got him. Early on, it looked as though Koscheck might be sloughing through the ghosts of his orbital-busting decision loss to Georges St. Pierre, as Hughes landed a string of jabs. But in a stunning reversal of momentum, in the final half-minute of the opening stanza, Koscheck simply stepped up the pressure, landing heavy leather on the feet and then pouncing on the stunned ex-champ for a brutal finish.
Hughes’ best days are obviously behind him, but Koscheck’s brutal KO was a reminder of what a dangerous fighter he is. In the curious position of being top-five in a division where new and old school contenders are largely matched against one another to provide the next opponents for GSP, Koscheck’s next match should definitely be a tough challenger to help his prospects, because he remains an elite 170 pounder with potent tools.
Mark Hunt: In an unexpected move, Hunt showcased improved takedown defense and wrestling en route to a unanimous decision over Ben Rothwell. Hunt’s trademark big power scored on the feet, as Rothwell, after a decent opening round, tired badly down the stretch.
Hunt’s place on the marquee has always been defined by his massive one-shot power and concrete chin; with some added wrestling chops and this victory, he lifted himself into some compelling and viable matches amidst the big boys.
Nate Diaz: Equal parts clinical and precise, Diaz celebrated his return to 155 with a solid showing against Gomi, bouncing shots off Takanori’s head like a man drilling on the peanut bag. After battering Gomi, Diaz then sunk home a textbook armbar to finish the bout.
Caught between the 170- and 155-pound divisions, Diaz’ excellent flurry of chained submission attempts prior to the finish was a reminder of why so few opponents are willing to test his guard. Coupled with his resilience and high-volume standup punching, there aren’t a lot of ways to deal with Diaz other than carefully outboxing and outwrestling him in spots.
At lightweight, he’s still an exceptionally tough out, provided he can continue making the lightweight limit comfortably, which could be tough as he’s 26 and still filling out.
Quinton Jackson: Since I picked Jones by fourth-round submission, I wasn’t surprised with how the fight went, and in the coming months and years, Jackson’s ability to survive the onslaught will probably look more impressive compared to future challengers.
What was surprising was how readily Jones negated Jackson’s dangerous hands, by denying him range and angles, all while feeding him a steady diet of strikes and constant tactical shifts.
Jackson also stuffed more takedown attempts by Jones than anyone ever has; the problem was that he simply couldn’t get untracked offensively. Moving forward, Jackson remains an excellent contender in a situation much like Jon Fitch at welterweight -- tough enough to best anyone in the division, but in the curious position of being presently unmarketable for a title shot precisely because of how dominating the champ was in their first affair.
Travis Browne: In what should have been a showcase fight following his blowout of Stefan Struve, Browne gassed badly against limited slugger Rob Broughton, tiring down the stretch and was relegated to landing the occasional kick.
In taking a decision, Browne lost some of the considerable momentum he’d generated against Struve, but he did get the W. He’ll have to look more impressive in his next performance, however, because tonight he had the perfect guy in front of him to deliver a highlight-reel win, and he didn’t come close to getting it.
Matt Hughes: The former champ, who made five impressive defenses of his crown years ago, is now in the tough position of being past his prime, yet still possessing the desire to compete at the sport’s highest level.
Ben Rothwell: Rothwell came out with a good gameplan in trying to take Hunt down, but unraveled after his opponent’s surprisingly good takedown defense held up early. The loss is a serious setback for Ben, who needed a signature win to jumpstart his UFC campaign.
Rob Broughton: The British heavyweight did better than most expected against Browne, plugging along and getting the worst of it while landing little in the standup department. That’s about all you can say about this performance, in addition to the obvious: heavyweight fights should not be held at altitude, given how these two and the Rothwell-Hunt bout looked like dual heart attacks in progress.
Takanori Gomi: Another disappointing performance for the Japanese star, whose inability to close the distance on Diaz was obvious from the opening moments. After diving into his foe’s guard, Gomi’s fate was sealed. Now 1-3 in the UFC, Gomi is in a must-win position given a series of poor performances on the big stage.
Jason Probst can be reached at Jason@jasonprobst.com or twitter.com/jasonprobst.