What we learned from Jones' victory over Matyushenko
Up-and-coming light heavyweight Jon Jones is no longer a prospect after Sunday
Jones blasted 39-year-old veteran Vladimir Matyushenko in less than two minutes
Yushin Okami's victory over Mark Munoz doesn't necessarily warrant a title shot
If the hype surrounding Jon Jones is beginning to wear thin, too bad. Not only had you better get used to it, but it's also probably something worth embracing.
The 23-year-old light heavyweight (for now, more on that in a bit) graduated beyond the status of mixed martial arts' top prospect Sunday. And, to his credit, Jones seems to know this.
That is one of five observations following UFC's escapades in San Diego, where Jones blew past 39-year-old veteran Vladimir Matyushenko in less than two minutes to cap a solid night of fights.
1. Jones is no longer a prospect.
Six days ago, I wrote that Jones (11-1) should be considered the sport's top young talent. That certainly hasn't changed. What has? Jones, in my estimation, shed the "prospect" tag with his win against Matyushenko (24-5).
"Bones" is now firmly in the "contender" category.
Sounds like little more than semantics, right? Well, it's a meaningful distinction. From this point forward, Jones shouldn't face opponents whose best-case scenario is to "hang in there" -- unless he truly is that good, in which case every foe may have the same objective.
But, really, Jones is now stepping into a realm of challenger that should push him like never before. Fortunately for Jones, that appears to be exactly what he's looking for.
"Every opponent I had were really tough guys," Jones said. "Right now, I'm like passing these tests with flying colors. I really don't want to sound arrogant, so I have to be careful how I word this, but I want to fight someone who will give me a tough test. If that has to be the champion, or whoever, I just want to fight someone who's supposedly much better than me ... so I can really try to step up and evolve to a different level."
He may want fighters ranked in the top three at 205, but it's simply too soon for Jones to fight the likes of Mauricio Rua, Lyoto Machida or even Quinton Jackson. As good as he is, he shouldn't jump to the head of the line. Because Jones said he won't fight Rashad Evans -- it's hard to imagine he won't be forced into a tough decision some point down the road -- the best options come from the bottom half of the top 10 at light heavyweight.
So who's next?
My first choice is the winner between Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ryan Bader, who fight in Indianapolis on Sept. 25. Nogueira (19-3) is a distinguished veteran with wins over some of the division's best. Bader (11-0), like Jones, is young and talented. Some people contend that a Jones-Bader fight makes little sense because by booking the bout UFC would be unnecessarily wasting a youngster. I can't disagree enough.
Next in line: Forrest Griffin. A win over Griffin vaults Jones into the top five. Griffin is durable, a former champion, and one of the most recognizable names in MMA. There's a lot to like in this matchup.
Last -- and never least -- is Anderson Silva. Should Silva defy everything Chael Sonnen said for the past two months and convincingly defend his UFC middleweight title on Saturday, his stock will soar again. A trip back up to 205 wouldn't be completely nuts, and a fight against Jones would create a tremendous amount of interest.
2. Jones is a light heavyweight ... but for how long?
Jones stepped into the Octagon on Sunday weighing 226 pounds. Because he's so young, Jones can get away with shedding and rehydrating more than 20 pounds in 24 hours.
Four or five years from now?
It sure feels like his future is at heavyweight.
Standing 6-foot-4, Jones has the frame for it. He'll naturally add muscle as he matures. And even though he looks almost skinny, that's a height-weight-proportional optical illusion. Jones is a big guy who comes from a family of big men -- his older brother, Arthur (6-foot-3, 300 pounds), was a fifth-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens this year; his younger brother, Chandler, stepped on the Syracuse campus in 2008 as a 6-foot-5, 238-pound freshman.
Jones said his priority is fighting at light heavyweight and winning a championship there. Eventually, though, he'll tussle with the giants.
3. Jones offers a blueprint for how to build a fighter.
The UFC -- and MMA promoters in general -- has not always been the best about allowing prospects space to grow. To the wolves, young man; a sort of rite of passage. That's how it's been and, for the most part, that's how it always will be. This is, after all, a sport in which 10 fights or fewer can sometimes be enough to earn a shot at a title.
But with Jones, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva showed the restraint and foresight to allow him space to develop. Critics may say it shows favored nation status, something not everyone is afforded. And while there is some truth to this, the benefits of Jones' maturation against an appropriate level of competition far outweigh anything that could have been gained by tossing him in there against the best light heavyweights right away.
Jones has faced enough tests. His confidence and skill have grown with each effort. As does his experience. He has been handled perfectly, and it shows.
4. Okami is not dynamic enough to be a champion.
Middleweight Yushin Okami pushed his UFC record to 9-2 with a split decision win over Mark Munoz on Sunday. The bout was not the energized war Okami or Munoz (8-2) promised, though Okami did more than enough to earn the victory -- even if judge Cecil Peoples didn't see it that way.
Should the victory catapult Okami (25-5 overall) to the front of the middleweight division title picture? I don't think so.
Okami said before fighting Munoz that he wanted Vitor Belfort next to solidify the No. 1 contendership at 185. There's a case to be made that that would be the right move; however, Belfort is already in line to fight the winner between Silva and Sonnen, and Okami really did little to convince anyone otherwise.
He'll continue to push ahead, outpointing opponents with exploitable technical deficiencies. But when it really matters, in pressure-packed moments against equally skilled opposition, I have my doubts that Okami is capable of rising to the occasion.
5. The dangerous Gomi is a welcome addition to the UFC lightweight ranks.
Welcome back, "Fireball Kid."
After mostly middling efforts since a war with Nick Diaz in 2006, Takanori Gomi, the former Pride lightweight champion, finally looks serious about MMA again. Finally.
With Gomi turning 32 in September, there wasn't any time to waste if he was going to pull out of a downward spiral that saw the Japanese star go 4-3 before a vicious right hook sent Tyson Griffin (14-4) crashing to the canvas for the first time in his career.
The power was always there. That we knew. It's the last thing to go. But what about desire? That was the question with Gomi, as it's been throughout his career, which peaked in 2005 when he went 5-0 to claim the Pride championship.
Judging by his reaction after pasting Griffin -- his first win in the UFC after Kenny Florian submitted and thoroughly outworked him last March -- it sounds as if Gomi (32-6) is serious about finding the top of the 155-pound division again. With some confidence and with some time to acclimate himself to the "American style," Gomi appears more than capable of mixing it up with the best the sport can offer.
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