After what felt like months of pre-fight banter and hype, the two champions, former UFC kingpin Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and current champ Jon Jones finally entered the Octagon. Jon Jones, as always, was the center of attention. "Is he truly the future and the present?" play by play announcer Mike Goldberg asked. "We've never had a fighter after only three years of mixed martial arts, who not only dominates the competition but becomes the youngest champion in the history of the sport. He's so ultra talented, he's so unusual in his movements, he's so unique," color commentator Joe Rogan responds, searching for the right words to explain the Jones phenomenon. It's a telling exchange, if only to demonstrate the weight riding on the shoulders of the 24 year old champion.
There's legitimate curiosity surrounding this bout. Jones is the prohibitive favorite at the sports book, but Rampage seems bound to test him in ways he's never been tested before. Rogan is clearly excited to see how Jones responds to adversity. "He's never been tested, never been hit, never been put on his back," Rogan explains.
Rampage wins the earliest battle, the entrance music showdown, coming out to Memphis based Project Pat's "I Ain't Going Back to Jail." Jones, for his walkout, chooses "Coming Home," a P Diddy song that has probably never been played by anyone under 35. It's corporate, safe, seemingly disconnected from his own life - unlike Rampage who went with a hometown favorite. Sometimes it's the little things that say so much.
The fight is sponsored by Dodge, Bud Light, and Gears of War 3. Rampage is repping Muscle Pharm and MMA Elite. Jones is backed by MicroTech, Form Athletics, and Xyience. Before the bout, Bruce Buffer attempts his usual histrionic introduction of the athletes. Unfortunately, he's lost his voice over the course of the evening and it doesn't have the same impact his over the top displays usually have.
5:00-4:00: If fights were won and lost at the staredown, it would be all over for Jones. Rampage is mean mugging something fierce and Jones refuses to make eye contact at all. At this point I don't think that's meaningful. Jones just doesn't like wasting mental energy on anything but the fight. He's not scared - he's just not interested.
Jones starts out the fight in a three point stance of sorts, crawling around the ring like an insect. Rampage isn't flustered in the least, immediately throwing a jab at his downed opponent. It's a bizarre beginning, and obviously throws Rogan for a loop. "What is this?" the comedian asks incredulously. Jones shows there is a method to his madness right away when he shoots for a single. Rampage sprawls and easily avoids it, but Jones now has him in the clinch. Pretty clever way for the fox to get in the hen house.
Jones pushes Rampage up against the cage and delivers two pretty solid knees to the thigh. At 4:20, Jones lands one to the cup, but referee Josh Rosenthal, not typically considered a main event official, misses it entirely, perhaps because he's nowhere near the action. Rampage complains, but to no avail. Jones continues to deliver knees in the meantime. As the first minute ends, Rampage is able to reverse positions, pushing Jones into the fence.
4:00-3:00: The champion immediately shows why he's so dangerous though, grabbing a front facelock and threatening for a choke. His arms are so long, he can end a fight by guillotine in just seconds."He's got his neck," Goldberg exclaims. "Rampage has to be very careful here, because Jon Jones has some spectacular chokes," Rogan adds with typical Joe Rogan timing. As luck would have it, Rampage escapes while Rogan is explaining the danger he is in.
With Rampage pushed back against the cage, Jones unloads with a hard left elbow. Rampage was busy securing double underhooks, trying to avoid the throw, leaving himself open. It's another problem inherent in fighting Jones. He has so many weapons that require your attention, it's hard to defend them all. Jones continues throwing knees and adds a foot stomp to boot. Many of Jones's knees are borderline low and Rampage again asks the referee to investigate. Jones stays busy, trying to set up what appears to be an Ashi Gurama, a judo leg wheel, but Rampage defends by pushing his butt into the cage.
3:00-2:00: Jones finally disengages, kind of a surprising move, but there is sometimes a benefit in resetting and trying again. Rampage was in a purely defensive mode and Jones just wasn't able to do much. Jones keeps the distance with front kicks, to the leg and body. Rampage searches for an opening, but it just doesn't appear. At 2:42 Jones unleashes a high kick. It didn't bring back memories of the great Peter Aerts, but it had some zip to it. Jones follows immediately with a left front kick, leaving Rampage in what feels like a continuous attempt to defend.
"Rampage wants to get inside and fight in a phone booth," Goldberg says. Jones is having none of it though, circling constantly and throwing kicks before Rampage can even think about attacking. "Rampage is having even more trouble with his reach, because he has a boxing centered attack," Rogan says. "He uses his arms more while Jon Jones uses a lot of kicks."
Rampage stalks Jones, eventually backing him into the cage. Feeling cornered, the champion fakes a shot and is able once again to get the fight to the clinch. Jones pretends to back the challenger into the cage, suddenly switching gears and attempting to toss him to the mat. Rampage is able to keep his balance, and the two get back at it.
2:00-1:00: Jackson closes the distance behind some elaborate head movement, but by the time he lets his hands go, Jones is already gone, circling back to the center of the cage. Jones throws another headkick, but this one was a lone ranger, set up by nothing, and Jackson easily avoids it. Jones backs away and goes back to the front kicks, landing one to the knee, a dangerous shot, especially when your opponent has his weight on the targeted leg. "Nice kick to the knee there," Rogan says.
At 1:42 Jones goes high again. He's eschewed his hands entirely thus far, throwing just a jab or two, focusing instead on kicks and knees. "This is a Muay Thai attack by Jones," Goldberg says. As if on cue, Jones lands a legkick that nearly spins Jackson all the way around. Suddenly, just when his opponent's guard is down, looking for kicks, Jones sneaks in a straight left to the nose. Then it's right back to the kicks, throwing a front kick and landing a legkick to Jackson's inner left thigh. Another shot to the knee, and we're looking at a rout. "I like that on the knee," Goldberg says.
Jones inexplicably leaps into the air. He doesn't throw a karate kick or a knee, but he certainly has Rampage on his toes. It's the champion's first misstep as Jackson quickly closes the distance and lands a short left as Jones is getting his feet back under him. That could have been much worse, an Andre Arlovski moment, but Jones is lucky enough to avoid a hard shot. It's his first moment of indiscipline, a moment that will bolster the spirits of future opponents. Jones is human after all.
1:00-0:00: Jones, the scare behind him, pushes Rampage back into the cage. He controls Jackson's left arm and goes right back to his knees to the leg. These aren't fight enders, but their cumulative affect over time is unquestionable. With both hands tied up, Jones resorts to throwing a shoulder at Jackson. "It's so hard to tell what he's setting up for," Rogan says, succinctly putting in words the issue facing every coach and fighter gameplanning for the young champion. With 37 seconds left, Jones unleashes his patented spinning elbow. Rampage knows it's coming -anyone fighting Jones has to be looking for it - but it happens so quickly he's still able to land.
Rampage has the presence of mind to act unbothered. Or maybe he's super human? Either way, he comes moseying right out of the corner like nothing happened. Jones meets him with a front kick while Jackson misses a lunging jab. Jones gets aggressive to end the round, throwing another fast head kick and a spinning wheel kick that Rampage is able to duck under. Jones immediately tries to follow with a leg trip. He's often credited for his Greco Roman throws, but this looks like an Ouchi Gari, a straight up judo trip. Rampage tries to seize the moment, throwing a four punch combination, each blow missing badly. Dominant round for Jones. He didn't do enough damage to justify a 10-8 score, but Rampage looked completely helpless.
5:00-4:00: "That was an amazing round," coach Greg Jackson tells Jones during the one minute rest period. Except for the bizarre leap into the air, it was flawless. The corners are a study in contrasts. While Jones and Jackson work on breathing techniques to calm the champion, Rampage is being yelled at by his coaches to "find your range. It's simple."
"That's easier said than done," Rogan says, speaking for everyone who saw the first round. Rampage takes the center of the Octagon, but Jones is able to circle away. Jones goes right to the high kick. It's not really scoring for him, but it is keeping Rampage off balance. You have to defend it, and it's fast enough that Jones is able to avoid any potential counter.
Rampage finally finds his distance, landing a couple of punches. Notably it didn't happen with a carefully timed counter or behind a piston like jab. It took a reckless charge into danger. It's perhaps the only way to fight Jones - rolling the dice on catching him before he catches you. "He wants to make it dirty. He wants to beat him up a little bit and test him," Goldberg says.
Jackson's advantage is short lived. Jones clinches, pushes him into the cage, and goes right back to throwing knees. At 4:27 Jones throws another spinning elbow, but this one is slow, allowing Jackson to easily duck under it. Jackson thinks about a double leg takedown. It was right there, but his heart wasn't in it. Jones almost immediately secures Quinton's neck. He's so dangerous here. It's an added wrinkle to worry about.
Jones looks for a takedown, but Jackson is able to defend easily. After Jackson misses a right hand, Jones scores again with a kick to the knee, then a sidekick to the thigh. Jackson lands a leg kick of his own, causing Rogan to gush with praise. "That's something I've been wanting to see from Quinton for years...he's a very powerful kicker."
4:00-3:00: Jones lands a straight left as Jackson continues to stalk him. Jones misses a kick to the body and Jackson comes very close to countering one of his kicks to the knee. Jackson, despite his corners pleas, just can't seem to get a bead on Jones. As he moves forward, Jones moves away, almost like a dance. "Chase him down," Rampage's corner yells. He's trying, but Jones is just a step faster.
3:00-2:00: The announcers point out Mike Winkeljohn's role in creating Jones's striking game. Winkeljohn and Greg Jackson are actually partners in their MMA gym, but Winkeljohn has remained in the shadows while Jackson has become the public face of the enterprise. Winkeljohn is, slowly, stepping into the limelight. "Rampage is waiting on Jon Jones," Rogan says. "He's been tagged so many times now, he's freezing and waiting for Jon to move first."
Rogan is right on point. At 2:30, Jones misses a punch. Jackson is in the perfect position to counter with a right hand, but can't quite pull the trigger.
2:00-1:00: Rampage is stalking, but rarely throwing. Jones lands a leg kick, and the challenger just continues his passive "attack." Jackson finally throws a one-two combination, but misses with both, while Jones cleverly lands a legkick. Finally, at 1:47, Rampage lands a crisp jab. It's nothing to write home about, but in this fight it's one of Jackson's best moments. Of course, Jones lands a leg kick at the same time, throwing Quinton off balance. In this fight though, that counts as a Rampage win.
Jones comes back with a spinning back kick and a quick jab. I wonder where this jab has been. It's crisp and clean and potentially a very dangerous weapon down the road. At this point it's an afterthought, but the future continues to look brighter and brighter for Jones. The champion throws a sidekick that sends his opponent sailing backwards. If you look at the picture, the distance Jones has on his challenger is remarkable. How is Rampage possibly supposed to hit someone who can strike him from halfway across the cage?
"Some wondered if Jones would stand and trade with Rampage," Goldberg says. "The answer is a definitive yes. But he's doing it on his terms Joe." Jones lands another jab, switching to the orthodox stance to do it, but Jackson is able to counter with a left hook. This is where things can get hinky for Jones, and he wisely retreats.
1:00-0:00: Jones opens a page from Anderson Silva's book, finally bringing that front kick he's used over and over again to the body and legs up to the head. Jackson avoids it easily, but the idea was a good one. "Rampage has got to bumrush Jon Jones," Rogan says. "He cannot stay here on the outside and let Jon Jones pick him apart...When was the last time you saw Rampage this tentative?"
"Maybe never," Goldberg responds. Jones continues his assault, throwing two lead lefts and a jab. Jackson continues to move forward, but not with a purpose. "I just think he's being mesmerized by this kid's talent," Rogan says. The round ends with Jones leaping to guard and looking for a triangle attempt. Time runs out before the choke could be secured, but it sure looks like he had something. Jones, it's worth pointing out again, looks amazing. "Who the hell would have expected that?" Rogan asks as the round comes to a close.
5:00-4:00: The round opens with Rampage throwing a leg kick, but Jones comes within a millisecond of catching it. He's quick to return fire, grabbing Jackson up and looking for the guillotine. He looks for a trip from that position, but Rampage keeps his balance and answers with a huge windmill punch that missed wildly but looked scary. "That's where Rampage has a chance," Rogan explains. "It may come down to the homerun for Rampage," Goldberg adds.
Jones quickly reestablishes control with kicks to both the head and leg, but Jackson is throwing kicks of his own. A solid one to the inner left thigh gives Jones pause and Jackson is able to follow up with a left to the head and a right to the body. It's his first sustained offense of the fight. Jones refuses to cede control of the Octagon however, coming right back with a leg kick of his own and taking the center.
4:00-3:00: Jones seems momentarily confused, throwing jabs from both orthodox and southpaw and generally just wasting time. Soon he's right back at it, landing a jab, a stomp to the knee, and a solid leg kick in rapid succession. At 3:44, Jones ducks under for a single leg, perhaps his first traditional wrestling takedown since the opening of the first round. He switches to the double at puts Rampage down for the first time in the fight.
Jones moves instantly into side control. "He has vicious elbows," Goldberg says. It's true. After just 10 seconds on the mat, Jones has taken the mount. Jackson is so busy defending against potential elbows, he never saw it coming. Rampage is holding on for dear life, wrapping both arms around Jones's midsection and burying his head in his opponent's chest. It's a defense that worked well years ago for Frank Shamrock against Enson Inoue in Japan, but it saps your energy quickly.
"Here comes the vicious elbows," Rogan says, as Jones pushes Rampage up against the fence. Jackson continues to defend smartly, controlling the champion's wrists when he can and covering up when he can't.
3:00-2:00: "Rampage has got to hip escape," Rogan exclaims. Perhaps Jackson was listening, as he essentially pulls off a sit up, propelling not just his body, but Jones's 220 pounds as well. In the blink of an eye, Jackson is on his feet, but Jones has him in a front facelock. Jones goes right back on the attack as if nothing has happened, throwing a mean looking heel to Jackson's leg. Jones steps back, misses with an elbow, and the two are back at distance, Rampage continuing his lonely pursuit of Jones.
Jones sticks out his fingers and puts them in Rampage's face. It's a dangerous situation - an eye poke seems imminent and Jackson is thrown for a loop, complaining to the referee at 2:36. "Rampage is bleeding Joe," Goldberg finally has the time to point out. "That's from that elbow on the ground." Things settle down and Jones comes hard with a kick to Rampage's body. Jones also lands the front kick to the face, snapping Jackson's head back and delighting the crowd. For his part, Jackson seems impervious to punishment, calmly taking the kick and moving ever forward. Perhaps out of desperation, Jackson is finally letting his hands go, but Jones remains elusive.
2:00-1:00: Jones is back on the attack, leading with a straight right, following with a left, and finally landing the front kick to the knee just the way he wants to, causing Rampage's knee to buckle. It's these kicks that show Jones's mean streak so clearly. They aren't seen that often in MMA, but Jones uses them regularly and to great effect. "Nice kick to the knee," Rogan says. "Rampage looked up to the clock after that one Joe," Goldberg says, suggesting the challenger is wearing down.
Someone forgot to tell Rampage. When Jones misses with an elbow, Rampage leaps after the champion, countering with a right that would have ended the fight if it landed. Jackson keeps coming, missing with two more hard shots as Jones scampers away. It was another mistake - a rare thing in this fight - but Jackson is clearly still waiting for the right times to strike.
Jones, to his credit, comes right back at Jackson, scoring with a leg kick and a jab. "If you watch Jon Jones's first fight in the UFC and compare his striking now, it is amazing. It is amazing that its only been a few years...this is like ten years of development. More," Rogan says.
1:00-0:00: Jones leaps in the air for a flying knee as Goldberg talks about designing the perfect fighter on your computer. "Jon Jones is Anderson Silva like in his striking," Goldberg continues. Slow down. Jones ends the round by shooting a double, then letting Jackson plop to the mat when the bell rings. "Wow, that was a huge diss," Rogan says, as Jones casually struts back to his corner.
5:00-4:00: Nothing has changed in Rampage's corner. "You must get in range," they yell. That's a step ahead of saying things like "knock him out." But not much of one. How about proposing a strategy to get in range? Rampage is getting nothing of value. Jackson is bleeding significantly and looks exhausted while Jones is jumping up and down, raring to go. It's nice to be 24 years old.
Action pauses momentarily as officials remove excess Vaseline from Jackson's right eye. When they resume fighting, it's like we never missed a beat. Jackson is stalking, Jones getting off first, landing a lefty hook that backs Jackson into the cage. Jones slips when throwing a high kick - his one mistake a round. Jackson is too slow to follow up on it and Jones springs back to his feet.
The two battle in the clinch, with Jones pushing Rampage back towards the cage and eventually grabbing a front facelock. He finally gets the inside trip he's been looking for throughout the fight, but loses control of Jackson's head.
Jackson is pushed up against the cage in a sitting position. Jones lands an elbow, then takes advantage of the circumstances to throw a brutal knee to the sternum right in front of Dana White and Frank Fertitta. The blow prompts Jackson to try to escape, allowing Jones to take his back.
4:00-3:00: This is what is great about mixed martial arts. There is no disgrace in giving in to an opponent. Roberto Duran's 'No Mas' will never be forgotten. In this fight, Jackson can turn his back on his opponent, give up the choke, and never hear a bad word because of it. Jackson is able to fend off the choke momentarily with solid hand fighting, but in the end Jones is just too persistent. For the first time in his UFC career, Jackson is finished in a fight, losing by rear naked choke at 3:36 of the fourth round.
What an incredible performance by Jon Jones. He controlled almost every moment of a fight that lasted more than 16 minutes. It was masterful. And, amazingly enough, Jones is clearly still a work in progress. His jab is a weapon he is just learning to use and his submissions are clearly developing nicely. The best fighter in the world is getting better every day. That's a thought to give opponent's pause going into 2012 and beyond.