With a one-sided decision win over challenger Rashad Evans, Jon Jones definitely settled the question of who the better fighter was Saturday night (April 21, 2012) in the UFC 145 main event from the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. And with a steady if unspectacular showing, "Bones" reinforced the perception that he's one of the most difficult match ups in mixed martial arts (MMA).
With ever-more tools at his disposal, Jones' dizzying mix of punches, elbows and variations on technique left Evans largely in defensive mode for the five-round affair, though the challenger did connect on two occasions -- once with a solid right hand, the other with a flush kick to the head -- that seemed to get the champ's respect. But aside from those few bright spots, the bout resembled every other Jones fight since he stormed into the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 3.5 years and 11 fights ago.
It was total domination, albeit without a signature Jones finish.
In the co-main, Rory MacDonald steamrolled a game, but outmatched Che Mills en route to a second-round technical knockout. And in a Heavyweight upset, a renewed Ben Rothwell dispatched the favored Brendan Schaub with a rousing rally via knockout.
Here's a closer look at UFC 145 and report card for last night's competitors. Grades are given relative to prefight expectations, and how the performance affected their immediate career prospects:Rory MacDonald: A
MacDonald looked like every bit explosive, well-rounded machine that generated considerable hype in 2011 with impressive wins over Nate Diaz and Mike Pyle. After an iffy start, where Mills -- clearly looking to engage -- drilled him with a couple of clean shots, MacDonald immediately adjusted and took it to the mat, where his suffocating top control and pressure wore down "Beautiful."
In the second, MacDonald took down Mills again, delivering a punishing barrage of strikes en route to a lengthy beating and the stoppage. MacDonald, just 22, is a training partner and friend to champ Georges St. Pierre. When I interviewed him and trainer Firas Zahabi (who also trains GSP) last year, they both stated unequivocally that he would never fight St. Pierre. And the UFC has put MacDonald on something of a parallel track to similar rising contenders, such as Johny Hendricks and Jake Ellenberger, who got Jon Fitch and Jake Shields to test themselves against. After tonight, it's obvious that MacDonald needs someone who's a legit top ten Welterweight as his next opponent to really test him. Maybe even top five. It's crowded at 170 pounds, which might be an advantage in developing the talented Canadian, who turns a mere 23 in July. But, given St. Pierre's dominant run as champ, and MacDonald's inevitability, it's hard to see how these two won't meet in the coming year or two.
MacDonald's still filling out - he was a lightweight when he turned pro - and it's impressive how he can control and smash people. He has exceptionally heavy hands given the slightest openings on a grounded opponents, and his athleticism and seamless transitions are huge assets, as well.
So what's next?
Out of all available opponents, Diego Sanchez would be a logical next opponent. Sanchez has never been stopped at welterweight, and gave a credible effort in losing to contender Jake Ellenberger in February. It would also be interesting to see MacDonald pitted against someone like Diego, who'd push the pace and try and take the initiative - and it would be smart matchmaking, because win or lose, Sanchez is almost always in exciting fights.
Ben Rothwell: A-
The journeyman heavyweight was truly on the bubble after his dreadful decision loss against Mark Hunt, which dropped him to 1-2 in the UFC. But with one left hook, "Big Ben" showed why heavyweights only need one shot, as he dropped the pouncing Schaub, who was moving in for the kill after apparently stunning Rothwell.
The win was the biggest of Ben's career, and his firmed-up physique showed he clearly put in serious work in the gym, transforming his frame. Rothwell is still something of crude heavy with his limited technique and athleticism, but experience goes a long way in working out of bad situations, and tonight was a perfect example of how a guy that's more of a fighter than an athlete beats an opponent who's the opposite.
Michael McDonald: A
The rising bantamweight product was brilliantly on point in a showdown against former WEC champ Miguel Torres, and showed stunning power in a nasty right uppercut that set up the wicked finish. Now 15-1, and 5-0 in the WEC and UFC, McDonald's a rising bantamweight contender in a division badly in need of fresh faces. After the Dominick Cruz-Urijah Faber rubber match, the UFC will need marketable contenders to usher in the next wave of challengers. Alongside uber-talented Renan Barao, aggressive sluggers like McDonald are the crest of that wave. Under-155ers often have bouts that resemble pillow fights, but a heavy-handed little guy is exceptionally viable in building a fan base. Mcdonald can bang and showed some real stones in standing with Torres, exploiting the opening perfectly, to boot.
Eddie Yagin: B+
Gritty, gutty and persistent, Yagin pulled out a split decision over former title challenger Mark Hominick in a career-defining performance. Bloodied and swollen after Hominick lit him up in a rollicking second round, Yagin finished the show by taking the third round and winning a razor-thin split duke, 29-28 on all cards. An impressive showing for Yagin, who at 135 seems undersized and a tad too hittable, but he's exciting, and he had enough tonight to score an upset win.
Jon Jones: B
Everybody's human, even Jones, whose 2011 was the most impressive calendar-year run in the history of the sport (just edging out Shogun Rua's tear through Pride in 2005). Somewhat restrained in his approach, Jones picked his spots and demonstrated an ever-evolving technical standup game, with added confidence in his hands, as he shot out punches, even turning jabs into punishing elbows on the largely-flummoxed Evans, who did land the occasional shot.
The bout going the distance was probably the product of two things: Evans' thumping right hand which got Jones' respect midway through the bout, and Jones' never going five rounds, which is now something he's got under his belt. It will serve him the next time he has to go deep. Going against him tonight, however, was his seeming disinterest in takedowns until late in the bout, where he basically arm-blasted Evans to the mat with a big-brotheresque shove. At times, Jones seems to technically superior to opponents that you'd think he's in a sparring session trying out new things, instead of defending his title. A finish would have been feasible if he'd taken Evans down earlier and punished him, but Jones was never in serious trouble, and his evolving game only spells bad news for future light-heavyweight challengers. After Dan Henderson, there's nobody that's world-class that Jones hasn't already stomped.
Mark Bocek: B
The reliable lightweight plugger scored a workmanlike decision win over John Alessio, using his quick transitions and takedowns to grind out a clear-cut victory on the cards. Bocek dominated throughout and secured his short-term future, at least, as a reliable measuring stick too good for lower-level 155ers, and a credible test for those looking to break into the top fifteen. It wasn't spectacular, but it wasn't boring, either.
Rashad Evans: C+
To his credit, Evans went where no one has gone since Stephan Bonnar, making Jones work to a decision, and over five rounds, to boot. He took a steady, sustained pounding, but never mailed it in and gave up. He kept firing. But the problem was that his opportunities were few and far between, which is always a hassle with fighting Jones, whose reach and range skew every tactical option hopelessly against opponents. Evans did something that few light heavies will ever do - be standing at the end of the fight against Jones - and he showed some serious pluck and heart in a fight that never really got out of third gear. It's a tough loss for "Suga," but he did so much better than most of Bones' recent challengers that in a relative sense, Evans really doesn't drop too far in the ranks. Unless you're a completely biased Alexander Gustaffson fan.
Che Mills: C+
Tough Brit took a terrible thumping against Rory MacDonald, but only after absorbing serious punishment in a brutal display of ground and pound from the dangerous "Ares." There aren't a lot of welterweights that can stand up to MacDonald's attack, and Mills lasted longer than most would have. However, his toughness and heart shown tonight outweigh the loss - the UFC will definitely keep him around for a while, either against midlevel competition to rebuild him or as a measuring stick against rising prospects.
Mark Hominick: D
Since his epic stand in a five-round brawl with champ Jose Aldo, Hominick may be showing the signs of a long career. Coming into the bout after his stunning, eight-second KO loss to Chang Sung Jung, "The Machine" looked flat tonight, sucked into a life-or-death struggle to a split decision loss against the game but limited Eddie Yagin. Hominick couldn't sustain the breakneck pace that usually makes his standup up game one of the best in the featherweight division, and the accumulated punishment he's taken seems to have added up.
John Alessio: D
Dropping down to 155, Alessio's size and decent standup helped him give Bocek a few brief moments of trouble prior to his getting completely outworked on the ground. Alessio, who challenged Pat Miletich for the welterweight title in 2000, was a substitute for Matt Wiman and did his best, but age and the weight cut clearly left him outgunned against the quicker, wily Bocek.
Miguel Torres: F
Slugging it out and firing back when hurt has created some of the most exciting moments in Torres' career, and some of his worst, as well. After getting cut and then reinstated by the UFC last year for inappropriate comments on his Twitter feed, the former WEC boss had a good matchup tonight. Vexed by wrestlers at times, Torres had a standup opponent who landed first and exploited the holes in his defense for a punishing first-round stoppage.
Brendan Schaub: F
Tonight was a disaster for Schaub, who slugged with an opponent whose sole chance to win was exactly that - a slugfest. After his crushing knockout loss against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the once-surging Schaub was seen as a heavyweight prospect on the cusp of being a legit contender. Two knockout losses later, it's apparent that he's got some real adjustments to make. After stunning Rothwell, Schaub moved in for the finish, only to get finished himself by a glancing left hook that turned an imminent win (and a well-matched comeback opponent, at that, in Rothwell) into sudden defeat. It was no accident that the UFC picked Rothwell, an eminently hittable guy with limited wrestling, for Schaub's much-needed comeback win. After this loss, Schaub not only is in a must-win position, he'll be fighting heavyweights with the perception that he can't take a punch, which always bolsters the other guy's confidence, no matter how badly he's losing.
For complete UFC 145: "Jones vs. Evans" results and blow-by-blow coverage of the main card action click here.