UFC 135 fight card: Jon Jones vs Quinton Jackson preview

The UFC light heavyweight title is on the line tomorrow night (Sept. 24, 2011) in the UFC 135 main event when current 205-pound champion Jon Jones takes on former titleholder Quinton Jackson.

Jones has quickly become a mixed martial arts (MMA) superstar. And his rise to the top culminated this past March when he defeated Mauricio Rua with a third round technical knockout to won the division title. He hopes to usher in his own era with his first title defense.

"Rampage" Jackson has repeated it time and time again in the lead-up to this fight: He wants his belt back. He reportedly spent $1 million to prepare for this bout and to get in the best shape of his life. Jackson appears as motivated as ever.

Will "Bones" prove his greatness with a huge victory over a legend at the top of his game? Will "Rampage" end the hype with one big counter left hook? Who will exit the cage with the belt wrapped around their waist tomorrow night?

Jon Jones

Record: 13-1 overall, 7-1 in the UFC

Key Wins: Mauricio Rua (UFC 128), Ryan Bader (UFC 126), Vladimir Matyushenko (UFC on Versus 2)

Key Losses: None to truly speak of

How he got here: Jones' path from can't-miss prospect to world champion has been very fast. Just five months into his professional MMA career, he was already 6-0 and making his UFC debut in place of an injured Tomasz Drwal at UFC 87. He defeated his opponent, Andre Gusmao via decision but his star turn didn't truly take place until his next fight against Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94 in which he showcased a diverse array of attacks and all kinds of slams and throws.

"Bones'" star continued to brighten as he began finishing his opponents in increasingly impressive fashion, smashing tough light heavyweights Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko in the first round.

After handing Ryan Bader the first loss of his career in another two round destruction, Jones was offered a title shot in place of his injured teammate Rashad Evans. This caused a huge rift in the Greg Jackson camp when Jones admitted he'd be willing to fight Evans which culminated in 'Suga' leaving Albuquerque for Florida.

The young gun took it to the champ, smashing "Shogun" over the course of three rounds and stopping him to become the youngest titleholder in UFC history. 

He was all geared up to defend his belt against Evans but a hand injury delayed a UFC 133 title bout. When it turned out Jones didn't need surgery, he instead accepted former champion Quinton Jackson as his first title defense.

How he gets it done: Jones has more methods of "getting it done" than any other fighter in UFC history. He could play it safe and stay on the outside, peppering "Rampage" with his severe reach advantage and a large series of leg kicks.

He could also force the issue with his superior diversity of strikes, attacking Jackson with flying knees and his gnarly elbows up close.

Where Jones may be most lethal of all is if he can take this fight to the ground. "Bones" has one of the most dangerous clinches in the division simply because he has impeccable balance and timing, capable of throwing an opponent on their head after seeing the faintest of openings. 

Jackson is stronger in the clinch as opposed to someone who can shoot in with a fast and powerful takedown but Jones may still have the leverage to throw him to the ground. If he can do that, expect some of the most brutal elbows and ground and pound on the canvas as you've ever seen.

Quinton Jackson

Record: 32-8 overall, 7-2 in the UFC

Key Wins: Lyoto Machida (UFC 123), Dan Henderson (UFC 75), Chuck Liddell (UFC 71)

Key Losses: Rashad Evans (UFC 114), Forrest Griffin (UFC 86), Mauricio Rua (Pride Total Elimination 2005)

How he got here: Jackson made the transition to MMA after a moderately successful high school and junior college wrestling career. He got off to a 10-1 start on the local circuit before he was scooped up by Pride Fighting Championships to compete over in Japan.

He would be thrown into the fire immediately against Japanese superstar Kazushi Sakuraba, losing via first round rear naked choke but creating many fans in the process. Jackson would go on to compete 17 times total in Pride, accumulating a 12-5 record over the course of five and a half years. 

His contract would be purchased by the UFC and after avenging a loss to Marvin Eastman via knockout in his promotional debut, he was given a title shot against Chuck Liddell, the man he'd previously defeated in the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix.

Jackson destroyed Liddell, knocking him senseless in the first round to end the legend's era. He would go on to defend his belt in a five round thriller against Dan Henderson in one of the most watched MMA fights in history on cable TV.

"Rampage" lost his title to Forrest Griffin in a razor-close decision and would have a mini-meltdown afterwards. He avenged two prior losses to Wanderlei Silva with another vicious first round knockout and was geared up for a title shot before "retiring" to film the A-Team. 

Since his return, he lost to Rashad Evans in a number one contender match but then defeated Lyoto Machida and Matt Hamill to earn one more shot at the belt against Jon Jones.

How he gets it done: "Rampage" isn't as quick as Jones. He doesn't have the same reach and he's not as skilled on the ground. What he does have is power and (potentially) superior technique with his striking.

Jackson is almost a pure counter puncher. He loves to time his opponents and take advantage of those openings they leave while they're arms are extended in attack. If Jon Jones does anything repetitive, Jackson will pick up on it and explode with some heavy strikes. He's got a nasty left hook and an absolutely brutal right uppercut that can end Jones' night if he can connect solidly.

The former champion has a terrific chin and will be willing to take a shot to give one. Don't be surprised if he does something like leave his head exposed just so he can take advantage of an opening that Jon Jones leaves when he tries to hit him.

If Jones tries to clinch and go for a takedown, "Rampage" has terrific interior strength. He should be able to use underhooks and try to throw "Bones" off and get back to striking. 

Jackson has experience in lengthy fights as well. If he can drag Jon Jones into the championship rounds, he could potentially find a weakness in cardio. Jones has looked pretty tired in his two UFC fights that went to a decision.

Fight "X-Factor:" The biggest factor in this fight is distance. Jones, the lengthiest fighter in the UFC, will clearly have an advantage on the outside edge where he can pound on "Rampage" with impunity.

Things get much more interesting inside the pocket where Jackson is in striking range and capable of landing his powerful counter strikes. This is also an area where Jones can actually land elbows because of his ridiculous reach.

Inside, the edge goes back to Jon Jones where he can really hurt Jackson with knees and elbows up close. He can also send the former champion for a ride if he can get both hands on him while utilizing his expertise in leverage. 

Whoever can dictate the distance at which this bout takes place will be at a tremendous advantage.

Bottom Line: This is a "can't-miss" type of match. Jones is one of the most exciting fighters on the planet right now and whether you like him or not, there should never be an excuse for missing his fights. Jackson is also one of the UFC's biggest draws because he's always capable of landing that fight-ending knockout blow. With how much these men have begun to grow disdain for each other over the past few weeks, the rivalry has really become intense. It could be a knockout by Jackson, it could also be a one-sided thrashing by Jones. Regardless, you will want to be tuning in.

Who will come out on top at UFC 135? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!

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