Tonight (April 26, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight gold will be on the line when champion Jon Jones squares off with Glover Teixeira in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of UFC 172, airing live at 10 p.m. EST from Baltimore Arena in Baltimore, Maryland.
Looking to secure his record-setting seventh straight title defense, "Bones" was last seen in the fight of his life, a controversial unanimous decision win over Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 in September 2013.
Already considered one of the greatest mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters of all-time, Jones has a lot to prove after a fight where many felt "Mauler" held the upper hand on an overconfident champion.
He'll face a challenge of a different kind in Brazilian Teixeira, who's won 20 straight fights dating back to 2005. Five of those have been in UFC; with his last win being a come-from-behind victory over Ryan Bader at UFC Fight Night 28. Teixeira was wobbled by a "Darth" haymaker in the bout, but fought back to score a huge knockout of his own.
Teixeira is a good friend of legendary UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, who's recently called out Jones on Teixeira's behalf. The champion replied that he'd be willing to welcome back "Iceman" for a superfight, but Teixeira is only focused on one thing, and that's the belt.
He'll have to beat the world's No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter to get it. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Jones vs. Teixeira:
Record: 19-1 overall, 13-1 UFC
Key Wins: Alexander Gustafsson (UFC 165), Mauricio Rua (UFC 128), Quinton Jackson (UFC 135), Lyoto Machida (UFC 140), Rashad Evans (UFC 145), Vitor Belfort (UFC 152)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Jones' biggest edge has always been his size and reach advantage. With an 84.5" reach compared to Teixeira's 76", it's far from a secret that Jones will be looking to keep Teixeira's power at bay with a bevy of low kicks, front kicks, jabs, and lead elbows.
The former JUCO national champion wrestler also has a lethal takedown game. With an endless arsenal of trips and throws, Jones is a relentless finisher once he gets his opponents to the mat. While Teixeira is a insanely strong light heavyweight with a legitimate Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, we've never really seen Jones in danger when he had top control.
He can finish this fight with a barrage of strikes standing or on the ground, and we've seen him submit former champions in devastating fashion.
With a flawlessly well-rounded game, it would seem that Jones would coast to a record-extending title defense. However, looks can be deceiving, as the same thing was thought about Jones' last fight against Gustafsson.
You can bet that "Bones" is looking to avoid a similar fate at UFC 172, so he'll probably show up with a renewed mental focus. The fact that Jones dropped longtime wrestling coach Izzy Martinez could come into play here, but in his wins over Gustafsson and Belfort, the titleholder proved that his mental toughness is second to none.
His aura of invincibility was ripped away against "Mauler." Now the pressure is on "Bones" to continue proving he's undoubtedly the best martial artist on the planet.
Record: 22-2 overall, 5-0 UFC
Key Wins: Ryan Bader (UFC Fight Night 28), Quinton Jackson (UFC on FOX 5), James Te Huna (UFC 160
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Thunderous striker Teixeira has knocked out his opponent in 13 of his 22 total wins.
Training at The Pit with famed coach John Hackleman, Teixeira underwent a relentless training regimen for the biggest fight of his life. He's made his intention of knocking out Jones very clear, and for good reason. It's his best chance at shocking the world tonight.
Getting into a long, drawn-out wrestling match with a dangerous grappler like Jones will undoubtedly favor "Bones" as time wears on, so Teixeira should do what he does best and go for the early knockout. That's easier said than done, because Jones will be attempting to disrupt Teixeira's rhythm with a high volume of kicks and lunging strikes that seemingly come from miles away.
Teixeira can't be too lackadaisical while striking. We saw him lumber forward with a plodding style against Bader, and he was nearly knocked out for it. He'll be at a speed disadvantage so he'll have to make every shot count.
One move that Teixeira will definitely have to avoid is Jones' razor sharp spinning back elbow. It caught Gustafsson flush at UFC 165, noticeably putting "Mauler" into recovery mode for the final two rounds and probably sealing the deal for "Bones" in the process.
Teixeira can't be focused solely on his offense. He needs to anticipate the spinning elbow and be ready to avoid it.
Having won the 2009 Brazilian Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) trials, Teixeira is a slick mat technician. However, against a smothering wrestler of Jones' caliber, he definitely wants to keep this fight on the feet.
The challenger has his hands full. Thankfully, he's got the power to score the upset.
Bottom Line from Baltimore: The bottom line for this fight is that we're going to see how Jones responds now that he's no longer considered an unstoppable wrecking machine.
Gustafsson showed the champ could be harmed, and not just a little bit. This bout is special in that "Bones" can truly make a massive statement by rising to the occasion, or prove all of his doubters right with a disappointing loss.
That puts a lot of pressure on his shoulders, something that he's used to. It also takes a lot of pressure off Teixeira's back. The Brazilian appears to maintain a calm and cool demeanor at all times. He didn't really talk any trash heading into this fight, he just stuck to the belief that he's simply going to knock out Jones.
However, despite Teixeira's gaudy record, many think he is the byproduct of very favorable scheduling and hasn't faced anyone truly worthy of earning a title shot.
Regardless, Teixeira can put an end to all that talk with one big punch tonight. Jones has faced talented knockout strikers in "Rampage," Belfort, and "Shogun," finishing them all with ruthless efficiency.
Teixeira will have to mix up his game in order to avoid a similar fate. Jones has to prove his slow start against Gustafsson was just a fluke.
The stage is set for the most intriguing UFC title fight of 2014.
Jon Jones is no longer unbeatable, and Glover Teixeira truly believes he can finish the champ. But will he pull off that incredible feat in Baltimore?