It is hard to believe (or imagine) a 24-year-old having such an illustrious career so fast. However, Jon Jones is doing something that none of us can believe, or at the very least, doing it the way he has so brilliantly.
Four top 10 light heavyweights, one The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner, three former world champions: Jones has finished them with only having one round raising any eyebrows. The only comparable meteoric rise to fame is that of what Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko was able to do in Pride FC.
Who would you bet on in a fight with UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones?
Follow me after the jump as we explore all the possibilities:
There is little to no money to be made on "Bones" when you visit your local bookie or online -- he's emerged as the consummate heavy favorite. He has run through his division and opponents like a hot knife into butter.
On the flip side of that coin, perhaps there is a Matt Serra-like underdog waiting in the wings to land one big shot and turn the mixed martial arts (MMA) world upside-down.
As it stands today, the 205-pound division has three viable challengers; however, only two of them can secure a title fight in 2012. Dan Henderson, Rashad Evans and Phil Davis are all in the direct sight lines of the Greg Jackson-trained pupil and seemingly unbeatable champion.
None of them have the same elusive and unpredictable striking as Lyoto Machida, who at UFC 140 got the better of an impressive exchange over Jones, clipping the long-limbed champion with a solid punch when he threw a leg kick. In fact, it was perhaps the first time we've ever seen Jones in a position of danger inside the Octagon.
Can any of these three contenders replicate that striking?
UFC on Fox 2 is headlined by former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans taking on Phil Davis. It's an interesting match up as UFC president Dana White said that the winner would likely emerge as the next division contender tasked with dethroning Jones.
Several days later, White slightly backed off that position, saying that if Davis won, he probably would not earn a title shot. He's likely too green and his striking still to unrefined, even though his wrestling, which can set up submissions like the one secured over Tim Boetsch, can take him very far, very fast.
Evans, meanwhile, is a viewed as a small light heavyweight, standing only at 5'11" and doesn't cut drastic weight to make the 205-pound division limit. His reach is 75," which is on par with many other fighters at his weight class, but is still much shorter than Jones' 84" reach.
Having said all of that, Evans and Davis both posses some of the best wrestling in the sport as they both can wrestle their ways to unanimous decisions in most fights if required. And the upcoming fight between them will come down to who can impose their will to get to their strong hold.
Davis is a very good submission practitioner who trains under Llyod Irvin. He holds notable submissions over Alexander Gustafsson (UFC 112) and Tim Boetsch (UFC 123). If Davis can get Evans down and secure top position, then he could win this one fast. His long limbs and four each reach advantage will allow him to grabs limbs and twist them.
Evans will look to use his wrestling to keep the fight standing, possessing the power and striking advantage. Evans has been criticized for his chin even though he has only been knocked out once by Lyoto Machida (UFC 98), he has been buzzed in other fights. Evans holds notable stoppages over Jason Lambert (UFC 63), Sean Salmon (UFC Fight Night: 'Evans vs. Salmon'), Chuck Liddell (UFC 88), Forrest Griffin (UFC 92) and Tito Ortiz (UFC 133).
Both have faced fighters who create interesting insight into possible match ups with champion Jon Jones should they win ... and only one of them can.
In the case of Davis his, tilt with Gustafsson gives us an insight how he can elude a far better better striker with his wrestling. Gustaffson made the unlucky draw of getting Davis is his UFC debut at UFC 112. He had not faced anyone with the wrestling pedigree of the Penn State University (PSU) alum.
Davis wrestled Gustaffson with ease and secure a submission win. Gustafsson has some of the best striking in the light heavyweight division and since his loss to Davis, has gone undefeated (4-0) and holds a technical knockout win over Matt Hamill, another dominant wrestler who recently retired. "Wonderful" was able to impose his will without getting clipped and beat up on the feet.
His striking may not lead to highlight reel knockouts yet, but it sure has given him enough to use his wrestling to do what he wants, which is make dudes tap.
In the case of Evans, his best example may be his fights with Chuck Liddell and Brad Imes. Yes, Brad Imes at heavyweight. When "Suga" began in the UFC he fought at heavyweight on the second season of "The Ultimate Fighter," making it to the finals and facing the biggest man from Jefferson City, Missouri.
Imes, a former professional football player, was 6'7" and weighed more than 250 pounds. He was never a stud in the Octagon, but the "Hillbilly Hearthrob" could hit like a Mack truck. And at the finals he did just that.
Evans survived the massive size and reach advantage of Imes and fought a three round back-and-forth battle of attrition. He lit up Imes, with his superior boxing skill getting him past the reach advantage. His wrestling wasn't hugely affective, but it was more than enough to win a close split decision. We also learned that Evans competed tiny at heavyweight and could eat a punch from an actual giant man.
In another example, Evans took on former UFC light heavyweight weight champion Chuck Liddell, who was coming off his first loss in years when Quinton Jackson knocked him out cold at UFC 71. Evans was taking on his first huge challenge, which he passed with flying colors.
Evans would go on to knockout Liddell, who was the first elite striker he had faced to that point, in brutal fashion. Liddell may be predictable, but regardless, he can knockout anyone and put him down for the count with one punch. His takedown defense is one of the best ever and his use of his range is much like "Bones."
So, who would put my money on?
I'd place money on Evans because his range of arsenal is deeper then Davis' and his wrestling is top notch. Davis may be the better of the two at grappling while on the attack, but Evans has always used his to get up to his feet. These two only have one distinct difference and that's striking, which clearly favors Evans.
In short, my wallet and the cash within it would be put toward Evans if he can knockout or smash Davis for all five rounds. I think he is smart enough and holds the distinct advantage of having trained with Jones. He knows how his striking is used and how to carry his weight, too.
Now we have the wild card, Dan Henderson, who seems to have no apparent foe before him nor a reason he can't be the number one contender. His performance against Mauricio Rua at UFC 139 was phenomenal, and except for a debatable 10-8 in the final stanza, he delivered the performance for the ages.
Are we going to wait for "Shogun" to repair himself and get a rematch that many don't seem all too interested in?Jones may have had the best 2011, but Hendo's year wasn't too shabby, either, which included a Strikeforce light heavyweight title win over Rafael Cavalcante, a knockout of Fedor Emelianenko and a five round war with the aforementioned Brazilian.
Henderson has two things every bar patron wishes they had: An iron chin and a iron right hand to boot. Henderson is 7-1 in his past eight and his lone loss was at middleweight against a natural welterweight, Jake Shields. He doesn't leverage his Olympic-level wresting, but he does use his clinch game to look for trips and avoid going to the ground. He has wins over some of the best strikers (Mauricio Rua, Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort, among others) and some of the best best grapplers (Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Renato Sobral and Rousimar Palhares).
Henderson is 1-1 against competition considered to be the best in Emelianenko and Anderson Silva. "Hendo" lost a UFC-Pride FC middleweight title unification bout against Silva at UFC 82. Henderson in many eyes won the first round against "The Spider," but seemed gassed in round two, which led to the Silva's rear naked choke victory.
"Dangerous" Dan has never looked that great at middlweight and has always looked his best when he took heavyweights or competed at 205 pounds. At Strikeforce: "Fedor vs. Hendo" Henderson would become the first man to knockout Emeilanenko. Fedor swarmed in and put the pressure on Henderson who was able to get back to his feet and drop the Russian with a short uppercut.
The most comparable fighter to Jon Jones that Henderson has fought is Silva. Silva has unpredictable striking and long limbs that can create crazy power with little set up. As stated, Henderson isn't great at middleweight as he gassed hard in round two at UFC 82. The biggest difference between Silva and Jones is the wrestling, but Henderson does have some of the best takedown defense since Liddell's heyday.
If Henderson and Jones was announced today (or soon), I'd be okay betting Henderson and actually pretty confident that it be much closer than some others would believe. I think they match up pretty close and Henderson's knockout power is just too crazy even with that reach in favor of Jones.
I must say this though, even if i were to bet against Jon Jones it be a very small amount. He had what many will consider the best year in MMA history. Jones won't replicate his 2011 simply because of having cleared all possible contenders. And even though Machida just woke up about five minutes ago, his first round has people thinking he'd win a rematch.
If that's the closest we see anyone take out Jones, 24, then get a nice seat and enjoy the show because he could be here doing his thing for the next decade years or so. It's going to be hard to stop him and the odds will be stacked against whoever the promotion locks inside a cage with him.
In fact, it may not even matter.
Check out the full recap of the event that was UFC 140: "Jones vs. Machida" right here.