In an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) main event that was as clear-cut as it was brief, Jon Jones concluded UFC 159, which took place at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., with a technical kmockout win over Chael Sonnen with 30 seconds to spare in round one last night (April 27, 2013).
After some opening moments where an aggressive Sonnen came out forcing exchanges, Jones -- content to work in close -- scored several takedowns of his challenger, prior to a final one that was followed up with solid ground-and-pound, prompting a stoppage by referee Keith Peterson.
It may have seemed a tad early (even though Sonnen didn't think so), prompting some boos from fans, but it only delayed the inevitable. The biggest moment of the bout was Jones’ mangled toe (see a pic here and a .gif here), which Joe Rogan noted in the champ’s post-fight interview.
In the co-main event, Michael Bisping took a decision win over a listless Alan Belcher, winning a unanimous sweep after "The Talent" was poked severely in the eye (see it here) in the final round, and unable to continue.
That's not all.
Let's take a closer look at UFC 159 and see how the competitors graded out with our latest "Report Card:"
Jon Jones: A
He did what he had to do, and Jones’ broken toe probably did more to endear him to mixed martial arts (MMA) fans that the win that seemed inevitable. Jones’ ability to stay focused and implement his gameplan are top-notch, and the way he came out and simply weathered Sonnen’s early storm, and then dumped him for a series of takedowns with heavy ground-and-pound, was impressive.
UFC will need to work quick-fast to build someone up as the next challenger for Jones, who probably won’t see less than a 5-1 underdog for the next two years given the current contenders on the roster. That’s not a knock on them – he simply has beaten so many good fighters in such one-sided fashion that that’s the way people will perceive his superior skills. I said it in early 2011 that Anderson Silva vs. Jon Jones will emerge as the must-have "super" fight of 2013 (you can look it up on the interwebs), and that prediction is happily coming true.
Both have emerged as so superior to their competition that it’s a brilliant collision of seemingly unbeatable talents. If the UFC can make this happen, all credit to them. Because if not, we’re gonna be left with more farces like tonight.
Alexander Gustafsson, anyone?
Roy Nelson: A
I don’t necessarily think Nelson deserves a title shot just yet, but wins like last night -- and his big-time chin -- make you wonder how he’d do against anyone if he came in top condition. And once the Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Silva bout sorts itself out, Nelson, with his power and personality, certainly would be an interesting title challenger, especially if he can string together another impressive win like last night.
The thing about Nelson, as always, is his conditioning.
He was 258 last night, which is a bit heavier than he should be (and could be), and he’s great in the first round or so. He’ll need insanely good conditioning to last in a dogfight against someone like Velasquez, or in a rematch with Junior dos Santos, or whomever is the champ. But, when he connects like he did against Kongo, it doesn’t matter, because his power is the ultimate equalizer.
Pat Healy: A
Gritty, resilient and relentless, Healy made a gem of an effort tonight. After a rough opening round where Jim Miller had the upper hand, he simply kept pressing, using some big takedowns and intense top pressure to wear down the tough New Jersey Lightweight.
Healy doesn’t do anything pretty from a technical perspective, but he’s persistent as hell and that in itself wears down foes. After a tide-turning second stanza where his takedowns and thumping ground-and-pound clearly knocked Miller into defensive mode, Healy turned up the pressure in the third, sinking home a crushing rear-naked choke to put the tough Miller to sleep, notching not only his first UFC win, but also just the second time anyone has ever submitted Miller.
This was a huge win for the ex-Strikeforce product, and a big statement in his UFC return.
Phil Davis: B
Busy on the feet, and tactically sound, Davis asserted his standing advantages early and consistently popped Vinny Magalhaes with chipping punches, outworking the Brazilian for three one-sided rounds. An intelligent fighter who seems to have benefited from experience he got in the five-round loss to Rashad Evans, Davis seemed comfortable in a lengthy stand up battle and defended Magalhaes' occasional hard kicks with a degree of comfort and competence. He’d then go right back to peppering his man, although Magalhaes’ high guard made him wide open for body shots that Davis could’ve unloaded, but didn’t.
Davis was also smart in terms of using takedowns to seal the decision, but spending minimal time on the ground. He’d simply toss Vinny down, linger for a moment or two, and then back out, refusing to give the submission ace his best chance at turning the tide. Obviously, Magalhaes’ limited stand up and inability to take down Davis made this a great style match up for "Mr. Wonderful," but this was definitely a case of win tonight, and look spectacular the next time. Davis did just that, notching another win and getting more seasoning, which is the best thing for a talent like him at this phase of his career.
Chael Sonnen: C+
He did his part in promoting the bout, and as a fellow coach on the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17. And to his credit, Sonnen went right after Jones. That’s where his achievements pretty much stopped, as Jones’ superior size, takedowns and overall technique resulted in a one-round stoppage that didn’t surprise anyone remotely familiar with both men.
Sonnen’s had his 15 minutes’ worth and a good career. I don't buy his claim that he's retiring, which he said after the bout. I’m sure he’ll figure out an angle for his post-Jones career move; whether or not the UFC plays huckster alongside him is the larger question, because they sold out their integrity giving Sonnen a title shot in a blatant play for ratings.
It was fitting that the stoppage came a bit early, as it was fitting justice for a fight that was a scam to begin with.
Michael Bisping: C+
To his credit, Bisping makes winning ugly a habit, and he has a real penchant for sucking people into the kind of fight that plays to his strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. He got the win via decision after what might be classified as a merciful eye-poke stoppage on account of it being probably the most exciting moment of a dreary bout. The guy has cardio for days, a good sense of distance and timing, and some promotional mojo that makes him a draw (even though half the people paying are doing so, no doubt, to see him lose, preferably in grim fashion).
It’s hard to see where Bisping goes from here because he’ll need a few wins to really generate viable talk of a title shot, but you never know. Injuries and pullouts happen, and stranger events have transpired. And he’s still a big seller in the United Kingdom. And, most importantly, he got a victory after the setback against Vitor Belfort. You get the feeling that with his consistency against certain levels of competition, Bisping could be around for a long, long time.
Always a bridesmaid, but never a bride, and occasionally, getting thrown into the pool by a Dan Henderson or Belfort. Either way, people are going to watch.
Vinny Magalhaes: C-
Magalhaes was stuck in a strategic box tonight, unable to outland Davis on the feet, and nowhere near capable of getting the fight to the mat. He stuck out a long, arduous bout, getting constantly whacked with shots, few of which were haymakers, but more of the keep-busy-and-show-the-judges-I-can-throw-combinations type. Once Davis realized he could dominate doing this, Magalhaes didn’t have much of an answer, though he did throw a few really solid kicks. However, his boxing is rudimentary at best and he doesn’t seem comfortable against an opponent with decent stand up. At lower levels of competition, it doesn’t matter given his incredible submissions. At this one, it obviously does, and his deficiencies cost him last night.
Cheick Kongo: D
Kongo’s the exact center of the Heavyweight division in that he’s good enough to beat many guys and vulnerable enough to lose to the other half, usually in instructive fashion that tells you something about the winner. Last night, we saw what we already knew – Nelson has a great right hand and the proclivity to use it. Drilled in the first round and finished with a shot on the ground, and referee stoppage that displeased some (but not this writer), Kongo goes right back into the mix as the division’s gatekeeper. He’s lost before, and he can win again. But, last night wasn’t his night.
Jim Miller: D
Miller ran into a carbon copy of himself tonight: a bearded, shaven-headed guy with grappling chops and a relentless style. And it was a helluva' fight. Unfortunately for Miller, he came up short against the exceptionally tough Healy. After a good opening few minutes, Miller -- perhaps underestimating Healy’s takedowns -- found himself on the bottom. Working readily for submissions instead of getting back to his feet cost Miller, as Healy drilled home some solid shots that had visible effect on Miller’s cardio. It’s a little early to say that Miller is over the hill, but after the Nate Diaz knockout loss, he’s gone life-and-death with Joe Lauzon and now tonight, where his gas tank simply didn’t seem what it used to be. Time will tell if he can rebound to the sharp form he showed notching an impressive string of seven wins, but he seemed far removed from his best tonight.
Alan Belcher: F
With what seemed a solid style match up in front of him, Belcher pulled the neat trick of reminding everyone why Bisping can’t break an egg, taking several flush shots on the chin. His response? Back off, smile and continue taking more punches. The few power shots he did unload seemed to affect Bisping somewhat, but there was zero follow-up. Seeming listless, disdainful and completely without a gameplan, Belcher let Bisping con him into a Bisping-style points-fest, one based on activity rate, cardio and the occasional act of overt violence. This was a face-plant for Belcher, promotionally, as his loss to Yushin Okami was the opposite end of the style spectrum – he got Okami’d by, well, Okami – and he had to win this one tonight to stay relevant in the Top 10-ranked Middleweight conversation. From here, he’s prone to being foisted in there to help build up-and-coming guys, because he looks like he’s fighting for a paycheck and not much else.
For complete UFC 159: "Jones vs. Sonnen" results, including blow-by-blow coverage of all the night's MMA action, click here.
Jason Probst can be reached at www.twitter.com/jasonprobst