Jones passes Rua test with flying colors
Remember the Machida Era, for that brief reign should slow the speed by which Jon Jones is anointed mixed martial arts' next great fighter.
I've no doubt that the new UFC light heavyweight champion has it in him to be worthy of that distinction. As it is, he is newly minted as the No. 1 fighter at 205 pounds and deserves mention among the top 10 mixed martial artists on the planet.
Follow us on Twitter
Don't miss a moment of the latest MMA coverage from around the world. Follow us on Twitter and stay informed. Join »
But as Jones told ESPN.com after his third-round stoppage of Mauricio Rua -- who not so long ago was considered the best in MMA -- eras, ages, dynasties and the like aren't where it's at. Going out, day by day, doing what's required to actually be the best -- that's where Jones is appropriately focused.
So I say, if he can take a step back and remain grounded, why not the rest of us?
Let's let Jones, who at 23 is the youngest fighter to win a UFC divisional championship, prove his worth. He seems willing, after all.
Let Jones make good on all that potential by bringing stability to a weight division in which champions Quinton Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Rua failed to defend the belt more than once since Chuck Liddell's reign ended in 2007.
Let Jones mature as an athlete, fighter and person.
Listen to the ESPN UFC Podcast
Let Jones do these things as they come, because only then will we know where he belongs on the pantheon of MMA's greatest fighters. Only then will he truly deserve such accolades.
Let him prove all this out of respect to Georges St. Pierre or Silva.
Safe to say, it will make for great viewing.
For now, let's settle on judging his effort at UFC 128. Taken as a whole -- six weeks to prepare, the pressure, the opponent, his age and relative inexperience, thwarting a robbery the afternoon of his fight, and his superlative effort against Rua -- Jones was brilliant in every sense. He proved on multiple fronts he's ready for what's ahead of him. Now he just has to prove it over the long haul.
From A+ (Jones, of course) to F, here are grades from UFC 128:
UFC 128 report card
What is there to say? Jon Jones (13-1) had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Some perceived him to be cocky, what with the autographs over the past few months that included the notation "Champ 2011." He spoke openly, more like a boxer than a mixed martial artist, about what he intended to do to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Hours before the fight of his life (until the next one), Jones helped subdue a thief on the streets of Newark. Oh, yeah, and then he went out and calmly dominated one of the best light heavyweights this sport has ever seen. The kid, still just 23, has all the tools for greatness. He knows this. He talks about it. Will he come to believe it too much? Will he surround himself with "yes" men? Will he do things we know time and again derail even the brightest talents? As Jones' trainer Greg Jackson said before the fight, "The adversity of success will test Jon much more than the adversity of failure." Based on Jones' effort against Rua on Saturday -- and all that he's shown us previous to that -- it makes a lot of sense.
You'll get no argument from me that Jim Miller (20-2) is prepared to compete against Frankie Edgar or Gray Maynard for a UFC title shot. My hesitation, however, stems from what he's done relative to others in the division. While Saturday's victory over Kamal Shalorus was impressive in its execution, Miller's opponent offered nothing of value on his ledger. What we can take away from Miller's win is that he continues to add elements to his game -- the left uppercut that hurt Shalorus before the finish was perfect -- and fans and media are finally recognizing the 27-year-old's ability. Still, I'd like to see him fight once more -- say the Anthony Pettis versus Clay Guida winner, or Melvin Guillard if he bests Shane Roller.
Credit where credit is due, Brendan Schaub's ceiling as a mixed martial artist is higher than I thought it was. What that actually means is anyone's guess, but the point is that Schaub, 28, has potential and is beginning to make good on it. Moving his record to 8-1 with a third-round knockout of Mirko Filipovic will only add to his confidence. Schaub's driving takedowns -- tackles, really, for the former football player -- were explosive. He was tenacious. And he stood his ground against a striker who, no matter how much his skills have diminished, remains capable of hurting lesser opponents. This was an important win for Schaub.
Chalk another one up for Nate Marquardt (31-10-2) as he attempts to once again climb to the top of the middleweight division. The 12-year veteran showed his savvy against Dan Miller by escaping chokes that could have forced lesser fighters to tap. There's no doubt that Marquardt, 31, remains among the best at 185 pounds, but can he get over the hump and be the best? It seems unlikely so long as Anderson Silva is around.
When a fighter wins as decisively as Luiz Cane did over Eliot Marshall, you can't really do worse than an above-average grade. The victory was immense for Cane (11-3), who had lost his previous two fights in the UFC and was set to fight Czech powerhouse Karlos Vemola. When Vemola is healthy, a match against Cane, 29, should be worth watching.
The second attempt for Urijah Faber (25-4) at 135 pounds went very well, and the California Kid is aligned to challenge Dominick Cruz for the UFC bantamweight championship. So why just a B-minus? Well, whatever size and strength advantage Faber was perceived to carry with him down from featherweight hasn't materialized, at least not as significantly as many expected. He struggled to do with Wineland what he wanted, and though Faber eventually secured takedowns and wore Wineland down, he wasn't as dynamic as we've seen him in previous fights. He'll have to show more to defeat Cruz.
Edson Barboza is not Jose Aldo or Jon Jones, which is fine since most fighters aren't super-prospects. However, Barboza, 24, qualifies as an extremely good up-and-comer who needs time to improve as a mixed martial artist before he's ready to challenge the best. A striker first, Barboza (8-0) was matched favorably against Anthony Njokuani. Wrestlers and submission fighters are surely on the way. If Barboza can avoid being stuck on the bottom or getting tangled up in knots by Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters, Barboza's striking is more than good enough to carry him a long, long way.
Having complained after previous opponents chose to grapple with him, the 31-year-old Nigerian, now fighting out of Garland, Texas, can't criticize Barboza. The pair indulged in a stand-up fight for 15 minutes, and as the fight played out Njokuani had his moments. But they weren't enough to offset the young Brazilian's offense. He is a liability on the canvas against better wrestlers and submission fighters. And while Njokuani (13-5) is a threat on the feet, it's clear he can be had.
It took some time, but Wineland (18-7-1) finally conceded to Faber's pressure and takedown attempts en route to a unanimous decision loss. Wineland was forced to defend throughout and hardly challenged Faber on the offensive end with his heavy hands. Still, the 26-year-old former WEC champion never appeared to be out of the fight -- just out of answers. The bantamweight division is quickly advancing, and as it stands now Wineland hasn't done enough to turn into a fighter capable of beating the best the weight class can offer.
For guys like Kurt Pellegrino (16-6) there's a sizable gap between "good" and "very good." The 31-year-old fighter is a solid though largely unspectacular lightweight, all of which came through during his split decision loss to Gleison Tibau. That's two losses in a row after four straight wins. Prolonged success, it seems, is his toughest hurdle to clear in the UFC 155-pound class.
Tibau, 27, will never be an easy out for anyone in the lightweight division, yet he has a ways to go in his effort to become a serious threat for a championship run. The chiseled Brazilian (22-7) once again went the distance in a very close contest, this time with Kurt Pellegrino. Tibau should be happy with his effort late in the fight, but he didn't do enough during his 15 minutes with Pellegrino to stand out above average.
A veteran on the upswing. Mike Pyle, 35, maintained momentum earned after becoming the first fighter to defeat John Hathaway by calmly outworking Ricardo Almeida to a points win. Pyle (21-7-1) will run up against explosive athletes and better wrestlers as he attempts to climb the welterweight ladder, but for now things are looking good for a guy whom many fighters trust to help get them ready.
Almeida, 34, is a middle-of-the road welterweight; we saw this once again during his decision loss to Mike Pyle. Seven-and-a-half years removed from the most important win of his career (a first-round submission against Nate Marquardt to win the middleweight King of Pancrase belt), Almeida (13-5) is by any standard a gatekeeper. Had he opted to remain an active fighter rather than stepping away from MMA from May 2004-February 2008, perhaps he'd be performing differently.
It's the end of the line for Cro Cop. UFC president Dana White said as much following UFC 128, and unless you have some sort of unhealthy obsession with the 36-year-old Croat, there's no real argument to keep him around. Filipovic (27-9-2 in MMA) has fought professionally since 1996 (that includes his K-1 career), and Saturday's knockout loss to Brendan Schaub marked the sixth time he was put down due to strikes to the head. Until Schaub hammered Cro Cop in the third round, the veteran fought competitively, so don't be surprised if he chooses to continue when European promoters throw money his way. But it should be clear, if it wasn't already, that his days as an elite fighter are done.
For the first time in his wonderful career, Shogun faced an opponent he couldn't compete with. Ten months after officially ending the Machida Era, Rua, some will say, helped give rise to the Jon Jones Age. Shogun (19-5) never found any kind of rhythm against the performance artist that is Jones, though he showed his spirit, which is the reason people (like myself) picked him to win on Saturday. But that alone wasn't close to enough. I'd still make Rua a favorite over the vast majority of fighters at 205, and interesting bouts for the 29-year-old Brazilian aren't in short supply. He'll hang around for a long time to come, just not with a No. 1 ranking beside his name.
Miller could have known about his match against Nate Marquardt for months and it would not have looked any different than Saturday's shutout decision loss. He's clearly not strong enough physically and lacks the diversity of skills necessary to compete against the top tier of the middleweight division. Since the UFC matched Miller (13-5) against Nick Catone but was moved up the card to meet Marquardt when Yoshihiro Akiyama could not make the trip from Japan, the 29-year-old from Sparta, N.J., will receive more opportunities even if he is just 5-4 in the Octagon.
Shalorus possesses many traits of a high-class mixed martial artist. But considering his limited experience (7-1-2 since he began fighting in 2008) and his age (the Iranian fighter is 38), it's hard to project him as anything more than a tough outing. For two plus rounds, he filled this roll against Jim Miller. However, technically poor striking (he doesn't set anything up and prefers winging telegraphed power punches) and a game plan that failed to highlight his strength (wrestling) resulted in the first stoppage of his career.
Returning to the UFC on short notice doesn't look like a prudent decision after Marshall (10-3) was overwhelmed by Luiz Cane in 135 seconds. The UFC has tended to give fighters jumping in as replacements some leeway in terms of being cut or not, so this could be a saving grace for the 30-year-old Marshall. Absent of that, Marshall's prospects in the UFC are limited at best.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
MORE MMA HEADLINES
- Velasquez, Silva make weight for UFC 160
- Overeem-Browne fight set for August in Boston
- Barnett to end 11-year absence from UFC
- Evans, Henderson now main event at UFC 161