This weekend Jon Jones, perhaps the best young fighter in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, will make his first defense of the UFC light heavyweight title. The first stepping stone on the road to immortality may end up being one of the trickiest - Quinton Jackson. A former UFC champion himself, Jackson has the skills to beat anyone in the division - including Jones.
It will be an interesting test for the young champion. Will Jackson end the Jon Jones era before it begins? Let's break down the fight into five key categories to see how the two men stack up.
Jones has taken down everyone he's ever been in the cage with, including top wrestlers like Matt Hamill and Greco Roman standout Brandon Vera. Even Vladimir Matyushenko was no match for the young prodigy. Jackson, who has a junior college wrestling background of his own, is very difficult to get off his feet. Most memorably, he stuffed takedown after takedown against Kevin Randleman, a two-time NCAA champion who was one of a handful of guys able to get the great Randy Couture to the mat.
More recently, Jackson lost a three round fight to Rashad Evans because of an inability to stay on his feet. While Jones doesn't have Evans' pedigree in the wrestling room, people end up on the canvas just the same against Bones. Advantage: Jones
This hasn't been the strongest area for either man. Jackson hasn't won a bout with a submission hold in over a decade. He's never finished a fight that way against a fighter with a wikipedia entry or in a big time promotion. Submissions are not his game; at the same time, he's mastered his defense to the point he's only been submitted once in a 40 fight career, during a 2001 bout with Kazushi Sakuraba. Jackson's grappling strong point is an ability to get back to his feet when the bout hits the mat. He will make Jones work for a takedown, then work some more to keep him there.
Jones hasn't shown many significant submissions either, though it is rumored he has them in his arsenal. He's won two fights by guillotine choke, one a nice choke from the top position against Ryan Bader, but I think it's unlikely Rampage shoots in for a takedown or gets caught in a choke like that. Where Jones excels on the ground is maintaining top position. And once he gets there, his ground and pound is some of the nastiest in the sport. Advantage: Even.
Jackson, once known for his big slams, has reinvented himself as a boxer. He's had great success with his striking game, most notably knocking out Chuck Liddell and using superb footwork to take a decision win over the wily Lyoto Machida. Jackson is very disciplined in the standup game and has power in both hands.
Jones is certainly dynamic on his feet. He uses some exciting techniques, like spinning elbows and kicks, but his bread and butter is on the ground, in top position. Scarily for future foes, he showed an inkling of understanding in his last fight, perhaps grasping how he might use his long reach to his advantage. If he ever is able to add effective jabs and leg kicks, the standup may become just as dangerous for his opponents as the ground game. Advantage: Jackson.
Clinch: Evans controlled Rampage from the clinch at UFC 114, using it to tire him out. Jones will likely try to do the same, but with the added wrinkle of the takedown. Jones has great Greco Roman throws and judo trips from the clinch. If he gets a hold of Rampage here, Jackson is almost certainly headed to the mat. Advantage: Jones.
Intangibles: Jackson has seemed disinterested in recent years, torn between fighting and a potential career in Hollywood. It doesn't seem like he has a passion for the sport anymore, worn out by more than a decade of high profile fights. He's also expressed concerns about his training camp, even going so far as to suggest Jones had planted a spy in his entourage. While that may be gamesmanship, Jackson's focus has become a permanent storyline in his career.
Jones has also faced new challenges with his increased profile. He's been very active with a variety of events and media appearances. How will a very young fighter respond to fame and fortune? We're about to find out in a big way. Advantage: Jones.
It's his time. Jackson is a fading star from another era. He's still dangerous and competent. But this is the fight Jones proves to the doubters that he's the real thing.