It is a sign of how quickly Jon Jones tore up the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight ranks, and how utterly dominant he was in doing so, that less than 18 months after he won the belt, the promotion put on an event in order to figure out his next challenger, featuring four fighters he had already beaten badly.
It sounds ridiculous, but UFC on Fox 4 was exactly that: a mini-derby for the right to rematch a man who had put them through the wood-chipper within recent memory. The main event pitted the man Jones had beaten to win the title, Mauricio Rua, against Brandon Vera, while the co-main event featured Lyoto Machida—whom Jones had choked unconscious eight months before—taking on Ryan Bader. Of the four, only “Shogun” had even made it out of the second round against Jones.
For a while, the unofficial word was that whichever man looked most impressive in winning would be the next challenger after Jones’ scheduled title defense against Dan Henderson at UFC 151, but a few weeks out, UFC President Dana White clarified that the winner of Rua-Vera would be the next light heavyweight title challenger regardless of the outcome of the co-main event. Thus it was that “Shogun” and “The Truth” entered the cage on Aug. 4, 2012, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, with a title shot expressly on the line. For Rua, it would be an opportunity to regain lost glory, while for Vera it would be another chance to make good on the promise of his early career, during which he had once proclaimed he would be a two-division champ.
Rua smashed Vera that night, out-striking and out-wrestling him for three increasingly lopsided rounds before dropping him for a final time and finishing him off with ground strikes late in the fourth. In so doing, “Shogun” showed flashes of different game planning than he had displayed in previous fights, going for takedowns in the first round and racking up significant damage with ground-and-pound. From there, he got much the better of the striking exchanges for the rest of the fight. It was one of the more quietly outstanding performances of the Brazilian’s career, and it appeared to have secured him a shot at winning back his belt.
Of course, none of those plans were to be, starting with UFC 151, which never happened. When Henderson’s injury withdrawal and Jones’ refusal to accept a late-notice opponent led to the event being scrapped entirely—a first for a numbered pay-per-view event in the UFC—the queue of title contention was shaken up, and the fact that the spurned late-notice opponent was none other than Chael Sonnen ensured that it stayed shaken up, to the extent of building a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” around their eventual meeting. The dust eventually cleared, only to be replaced by the dust from Jones’ future misadventures, but it was too late for UFC on Fox 4 to have had any impact. To this day, neither Rua, Vera, Machida nor Bader has fought Jones again, for a title or not.