The last time Quinton Jackson entered the Octagon as the challenger for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight title, he stood opposite Chuck Liddell, one of the greatest champions to ever grace the cage.
"The Iceman" had run roughshod over the division, knocking out each and every fighter they put inside the cage to go against him. He was almost universally ranked as the top light heavyweight in the world and looked to cement the status with a victory over "Rampage."
The two titans had met once before, during PRIDE Fighting Championships' 2003 grand prix, and Jackson walked away the victor that night. At UFC 71, it took "Rampage" less than two minutes to replicate the result. Over his decade plus long career, the Memphis native had been there, done that in the world of mixed martial arts (MMA). He was quite the polar opposite of the man he faced off against at UFC 135.
Jon Jones rocketed to the top of the MMA world through a series of brutal wins, one so much so it ended in a disqualification loss for him. When he choked out fellow rising prospect Ryan Bader in early 2011, he jumped at the chance to face off against Mauricio Rua in a title bout six weeks later.
He beat and pounded on "Shogun" for nearly 13 minutes before the fight was stopped and at 23 years of age, "Bones" became the youngest UFC champion in history. Impressive, yes, but winning the belt is one thing while defending it in the shark-filled tank that is the 205-pound division is something else entirely. He got his first opportunity to prove himself against a former champion in Jackson.
Before "Bones" steps inside the cage this weekend (April 21) against Rashad Evans at UFC 145: "Jones vs. Evans," we'll take a look at the young prodigy's first title defense, a dominant display against a formidable foe which helped prove that, yes, this kid is for real.
Let's dive in.
Jones begins the fight by almost crawling towards his opponent, nearly keeping both knees and one hand on the mat at all times. Eventually Jackson gets close enough for Jones to shoot in for a takedown. The champion grabs hold of his opponent and bullies him against the cage where he proceeds to punch Jackson's ribs, knee his thighs and stomp his feet.
They break and reset in the center of the Octagon where Jones immediately throws a front kick to keep Jackson at bay. A leg kick swings Jackson's lower limb backwards and everyone quickly realizes "Rampage" has learned nothing from his loss to Forrest Griffin. They clinch up again and Jones nearly tosses the challenger to the mat with what seems like the utmost of ease.
Kicks are the name of the game in the first five minutes. To the chest and face, against the thighs and to the front of the knee all land for the champion and the round ends with Jackson throwing punch after punch, each hitting nothing but the air between him and his opponent.
The second round opens with more of the same from "Bones" until one kick is caught. Jackson forces the champion against the cage but the much larger fighter is able to work his way off the chain-link and back to the center of the Octagon. From there, he continues to pick "Rampage" apart with leg kicks, a strategy for which the challenger has absolutely no answer for.
For as poorly as Jackson is doing in the stand-up exchanges, he's doing remarkably well when defending the champion's takedown attempts. Any time Jones tries to get the fight to the mat, "Rampage" is able to foil him. This lasts until 90 seconds into the third round when "Bones" finally gets his opponent on his back, landing in side mount and then almost immediately exploding into full mount. To his credit, the former champion weathers the elbows Jones throws his way and gets back to his feet.
A front kick from the champion snaps Jackson's head back and as the seconds tick away in the round, the fact that Jackson's only triumph in the bout has been a defensive maneuver and he has landed little to no offense in 15 minutes becomes startlingly clear.
The first championship round begins with Jackson taking the center of the Octagon but a hook from the champion rattles him. A kick from Jones goes high and the two clinch up, jockeying for position until "Bones" shoves his opponent against the cage. "Rampage" attempts to turn away and Jones takes his back and it's only a matter of seconds before the champion's anaconda-like arms wraps themselves around Jackson's neck.
One thing which can't be dismissed was the mental warfare "Bones" waged on his opponent. In the opening round, he ragdolled Jackson to the mat. At the end of the second, Jones pulled guard as if to tell "Rampage" the bout would go wherever he wanted and in the third, a last second takedown attempt ended with the champion literally lifting Jackson up and shrugging the Memphis native of his shoulders.
Physically and mentally, Jones decimated "Rampage" and proved he belonged at the top of the 205 pound mountain.
Can he do the same this weekend against Evans?