Matches to make after UFC 128
In less than 13 minutes, Jon Jones transformed one of the sport's premier divisions. He did not take the torch so much as he blew it out.
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The supremely gifted Jackson's mixed martial arts representative smashed the revered Mauricio Rua in a third-round technical knockout to capture the light heavyweight crown in the UFC 128 headliner Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. At 23, he became the youngest champion in the 18-year history of the UFC and put the rest of the 205-pound division on notice.
Jones figures to next face teammate Rashad Evans in his first title defense, once the former champion recovers from the knee injury that forced him out of UFC 128 and opened the door for "Bones." Rua's future seems far less certain after he was all but shut out in his first appearance in 10 months. What will become of the 2005 Pride Fighting Championship's middleweight grand prix winner, a man many consider the most accomplished 205-pound fighter of all time?
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua versus Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
Nearly six years have passed since their first encounter, which ended with a battered and broken Jackson seated in a corner at Pride "Total Elimination 2005." It remains one of the centerpieces of Rua's résumé, as he brutalized Rampage, first with knees to the body and later with kicks to the head. After absorbing a similarly demoralizing beating against Jones, Shogun will likely want back on the horse against a high-profile opponent. Jackson fits the bill, provided he can get past "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 3 alum Matt Hamill at UFC 130 in May. Though his performances of late have run hot and cold, Rampage has improved dramatically since he met Shogun in April 2005. Both men find themselves at a bit of a crossroads, perhaps in danger of being bypassed by a new breed of light heavyweight.
Urijah Faber versus Dominick Cruz
A no-brainer if there ever was one, especially when the UFC can pit these two against one another as coaches on Season 14 of "The Ultimate Fighter," introducing the casual fan to lighter weight classes while building heat for a five-round battle for the bantamweight championship.
Plus, the dynamic of a rematch exists. Faber remains the only man to defeat Cruz, having submitted the 135-pound titleholder under the WEC banner in 2007. That fight came at featherweight, with Faber as champion. Cruz has since become the top dog at 135 pounds, as he has rattled off eight consecutive victories, two of them against Faber protégé Joseph Benavidez. Plenty of story exists here to buoy what goes on inside the cage.
Jim Miller versus Frankie Edgar/Gray Maynard
Miller has waited his turn and deserves to be rewarded for his patience and reliability. One of the 155-pound division's most consistent performers, the AMA Fight Club representative posted his seventh straight victory at UFC 128, as he put away the previously unbeaten Kamal Shalorus in the third round.
Afterward, Miller politely but openly campaigned for a crack at the belt currently held by Edgar, one of two men -- Maynard happens to be the other -- to defeat him. At 27, he has shown the kind of improvement one would anticipate from a legitimate contender. Edgar and Maynard expect to finish their business in the UFC 130 main event on May 28. Let Miller have the winner.
Nate Marquardt versus Michael Bisping
Marquardt has let his distaste for Bisping be known after the polarizing "Ultimate Fighter" Season 3 winner was involved in a postfight spitting incident with the corner of Jorge Rivera at UFC 127. A fight between them makes sense, as they both attempt to creep closer to title contention. Marquardt has been on the doorstep twice in the last year, only to have ill-timed losses to Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami thwart his plans. Still, he remains one of the top competitors at 185 pounds. Bisping needs a win over a top-10 opponent to validate his place among the sport's elite middleweights, and Marquardt wields the kind of polished, well-rounded game that can give almost anyone fits.
Brendan Schaub versus Frank Mir/Roy Nelson
Schaub passed another important test at UFC 128, as he knocked out 2006 Pride Fighting Championship winner Mirko Filipovic with a thudding right hand behind the ear. It appears the time has come to throw "The Hybrid" into deeper water, and a victory over Mir, a former champion, or Nelson, the only man to defeat him, could do wonders for his résumé. Growing into his considerable ability, the 28-year-old Schaub has reeled off four wins in a row, three of them finishes. Mir and Nelson will settle their differences at UFC 130 in a little more than two months, allowing Schaub time to heal and prepare for the next logical step in his progression.
Brian Knapp is a contributor to Sherdog.com.
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