In crushing Chael Sonnen, Jon Jones gives UFC what it wants
NEWARK -- So now we just sit and wait for the result.
Yes, it's true that Jon Jones had his hand raised after swarming and engulfing and blitzing his way to a record-tying fifth defense of his light heavyweight championship, stopping Chael Sonnen at 4:33 of the first round in the main event of UFC 159 on Saturday night.
But did anyone among the noisy 15,227 at the Prudential Center have even a glimmer of belief that this bout would play out any differently? That's sort of beside the point, though, isn't it? No matter how much the naysayers said "Nay!" when the UFC elected to have Jones defend his belt against a man who was on a zero-fight winning streak and had not fought in the 205-pound weight class in six years, the building was full and it was abuzz. Just as the marketing department of the behemoth fight organization hoped it would be.
So that part of the fiscally driven result is in. Once pay-per-view numbers are counted, we'll have the whole story of what it means when matchmaking takes a left turn.
As dominant as Jones was, though, this whole situation was oh-so-close to taking a shockingly bizarre left turn. After "Bones" was pulled away from a bloodied and vanquished Sonnen, and after the champ had cartwheeled across the octagon in celebration, and after his hand had been raised, he stepped to the microphone to be interviewed by Joe Rogan. As he started to ask a question, the pay-per-view analyst looked down and gasped. Jones had broken his the big toe on his left foot, and it looked ghastly. And, adrenaline being what it is, the champ had not yet noticed.
As 'Bones' was guided to a stool for him to sit and resume the interview, the thought no doubt occurred to a lot of people in the arena: What if Sonnen had survived the 27 seconds that remained in the round? With a compound fracture of the toe, the bone having broken through the skin when the injury occurred late in the round, would Jones have been allowed out of his corner for the second? Not a chance.
Chael Sonnen would have been light heavyweight champion of the world.
Sonnen would hear none of that talk. "When I get in there, I just want to know who's better," he said at the post-fight press conference. "I want to feel these other guys. I want to see what the hype's about. And if they'd have called the match right there, I wouldn't have had any illusions. I knew in those first five minutes who the better fighter is. So, yeah, I'm sure it would have garnered a rematch, and to do it again would have only been right for Jon. But I got my questions answered tonight."
He actually had questions answered that he didn't even know were in question. When Sonnen strode across the octagon in the opening seconds, going right at Jones just as he'd said he would, he probably didn't expect to be on his back within 10 seconds. The champ took the one-time Olympic alternate wrestler to the mat just 10 seconds in, and though Sonnen did find a way back to his feet, he was taken to the mat twice more, his face reddened and battered each time he fell to his back on the canvas. Jones, who won a junior college national championship, took the fight where he wanted it to be whenever he wanted to.
"I really wanted to 'Chael Sonnen' Chael Sonnen," he said, "and I think I did that."
He might also have truly finished Sonnen, who both in his in-cage interview and at the press conference made oblique references to being ready to call it quits as a fighter. He never said the word "retire," but he spoke of being at a dead end, having lost to the champions of two weight classes -- twice to middleweight king Anderson Silva, in fact -- and with little hope of getting back within grasp of the belt.
That he took such a thrashing put this fight in stark contrast to Sonnen's bouts with Silva, whom he took down repeatedly in their first meeting and smothered for a full round in the second. Sonnen already was on record with his assertion that 'Bones' is the pound-for-pound No. 1, but saying that in the buildup to his bout with Jones might have been just part of the hype. Now that he's been in with Jones, he was asked to talk again about the Silva comparison.
"I whipped (Silva) for 30 minutes, he whipped me for less than 30 seconds," Sonnen said. "I whipped Jon for zero seconds, and he whipped me for the entire fight. if you're asking me my opinion, Jon's better."
For Jones (18-1), the fifth successful 205-pound title defense tied him with Tito Ortiz for the UFC record. Overall, the 'Bones' resume shows nine consecutive victories. But the resume lies: This was his 19th beatdown in a row if you count his 2009 bout against Matt Hamill, whom Jones was en route to smashing when he was disqualified for landing illegal elbows.
Sonnen (27-13-1) was the first opponent Jones has fought in over two years who has never worn a UFC championship belt.
It all started right here at the Rock, when Jones took away the belt from Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua. "Last time I was here, I achieved a goal of becoming a champion," he said. "And now I'm here in the same building as one of the best champions."
One of the best? Not the best?
Jones was not willing to go where Sonnen had gone and declare himself the pound-for-pound No. 1. "No, that would be disrespectful, a shame to disregard what Anderson has done," he said. "I've now celebrated my two-year-anniversary of being a champion. Anderson has been doing it for around six. That's phenomenal."
Perhaps he'll get to find out how phenomenal. Although Jones and Silva have danced around the possibility of a summit meeting, Dana White said at the press conference that he received a call from 'The Spider' during the fight card. The champ told the UFC president he wants one of the super-fights that have been proposed. White would not reveal, however, whether the fight Silva wants is with Jones or welterweight belt holder Georges St-Pierre.
If Silva was watching the pay-per-view and saw what Jones did to the man who smothered him for the better part of their two fights, he probably was calling about GSP.
Talk to the hand: They stood not toe to toe but at a jab's length from each other. They threw punches. They landed some, Michael Bisping way more than Alan Belcher. No one appeared to be hurt -- though the American was the personification of fatigue -- until there was less than a minute to go in the final round and one of Bisping's fingers poked Belcher in the eye. The fight was stopped, and Bisping, ahead on all three scorecards, was declared the winner by technical decision.
The crowd did not seem to feel robbed of seeing the bout play out to the final horn. Yet even while the building was filled with boos, Bisping nonetheless told the crowd, "I know you enjoyed that fight."
He might think he knows. But he might think differently if he goes home and watches. It was a festival of no-combination punching. In baseball terms, this was Ichiro Suzuki slapping singles -- and not Suzuki in his prime, when he was spraying hits all over the ballpark, but the latter-day Ichiro, hit or miss. We watched the fighters smile at each other. Belcher waved Bisping in, and had no answer when the Brit came for him.
At least Belcher didn't embarrass himself a la 'Mayhem' Miller. He was successful in keeping Bisping at arm's length ... until a stray fingertip put an end to it.
Big, really big: If Roy Nelson really were a big country -- I mean, if 'Big Country' weren't just a nickname, but if the dude were a vast piece of land -- he would frighten the world. Not in a U.S.-as-superpower way -- even though he gave New Jersey its lone Springsteen walkout, with "Born in the USA" -- but more in the manner of a loose-cannon dictatorship.
It was a loose cannon disguised as a looping overhand right that crushed Cheick Kongo like a failed coup midway through the first round. As the crowd erupted, louder than it had been all night, Nelson followed with another right to the head of the grounded Kongo, and it was over: Knockout at 2:03.
"All I do is set 'em up, knock 'em down," the big teddy bear said in an interview in the cage. "I want that gold."
Why not? If Sonnen can get a title shot in the new world order of the UFC, why not Nelson, who's actually on a winning streak (three in a row) and, as his belly attests, is a true heavyweight? The crowd at the Rock certainly liked the idea. As we've learned, what the (most vocal) fans want, the fans often get.
Standup guy: Because I like to go green, allow me to recycle what I wrote in my preview of this fight card: "Phil Davis is a former NCAA Division I wrestling champion and four-time All-American. Vinny Magalhães has won multiple medals in the world's most prestigious submission grappling event, the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship. So watch these light heavyweights stand in front of each other trading punches for 15 minutes. Or until one of them falls involuntarily."
That's pretty much what happened, except Davis was the one dishing out the vast majority of the punches, none of which had enough oomph to make Magalhães fall involuntarily. But make no mistake: Davis, winner of a unanimous decision, was in control from start to finish. If he'd decided the fight belonged out in the concourse, Vinny would have followed him to the beer line.
The champagne of beards: If you were a Jersey guy or gal seated in the upper reaches of the Rock, you might have been inclined to applaud. After all, the bearded, stubble-headed fighter won. Only problem: The one who had his hand raised was not Jim Miller, but Pat Healy, a taller, leaner stunt double of the Garden State favorite.
After getting the better of some serious scrambles on the mat over two-plus rounds, Strikeforce refugee Healy finally locked in a rear-naked choke in the middle of the third. And when the bloodied Miller refused to tap out, referee Herb Dean jumped in and ended it at 4:03. "And the winner by technical decision," octagon announcer Bruce Buffer bellowed, "Jim Miller!" Seriously. The crowd gasped (see, it wasn't just your vantage point from the cheap seats), and Buffer sheepishly corrected himself.
Showing her medal: Sara McMann, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling, didn't make as flashy a UFC debut as her fellow U.S. alum of Olympus, but who can keep up with the 'Rowdy' one, really? McMann did get busy in a Ronda Rousey hurry, though, taking down Sheila Gaff within five seconds of the start.
That opportunity came courtesy of a bull rush by Graf, who'd scored three of her 10 wins within 30 seconds, nine in the first two minutes, all 10 of them in the opening round.
This time, the German was promptly planted on her keister (a word that sounds like it has origins in her homeland). Gaff did successfully tie up McMann until the fighters were stood up, but that was her undoing. McMann (7-0) swiftly took the fight back to the mat, but this time in side control, which turned into an immobilizing crucifix. Sara then planted punches on the defenseless head of Gaff until she was pulled away at 4:06 of the first.