But when it comes to witnessing history being made, that is much more difficult to identify. In terms of MMA and the UFC, names such as Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture, and Royce Gracie are mentioned regarding the history of the sport. But the current crop of fighters is the best this sport has ever seen. Current fighters like Jon Fitch, Kenny Florian, and Gray Maynard, who have never held a title, would have dominated the sport even as recently as ten years ago.
But fighters that rise above this current crop, those are the truly elite, and ones that deserve to be mentioned amongst the greatest ever, even if it may be early in a fighter’s career. That can be argued to be the case for Jon Jones, even just sixteen fights into his career.
The most fascinating aspect of history is that it is universal. It relates to any topic or subject.
If a scientific breakthrough is made, it is historical. If a mathematical formula is created, it is historical.
And much like that, if a fighter has a breakthrough like Jon Jones has had in 2011, it is historical.
Jones fought four times in 2011, defeating four top opponents, including three former UFC Light Heavyweight Champions. He defeated Ryan Bader in February, then defeated Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua at UFC 128 in March to win the title. He then went on to dismantle Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson in September, and then this past Saturday night, he defeated Lyoto Machida at UFC 140.
That is an incredibly impressive year, one that can be called arguably the greatest in MMA history.
What does Jones’ 2011 compare to?
For starters, his former opponent, ‘Shogun Rua’, had a spectacular 2005. Rua defeated ‘Rampage’ Jackson, ‘Little Nog’, Alistair Overeem, and Ricardo Arona that year. With that came being named the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix Champion.
Then there is ‘Rampage’ Jackson’s 2007, in which he defeated Marvin Eastman, Chuck Liddell, and Dan Henderson.
There are few instances in which a fighter had two impressive wins during the year, including Georges St. Pierre defeating both BJ Penn and Matt Hughes in 2006, Lyoto Machida defeating Rashad Evans and ‘Shogun’ Rua in 2009, and Randy Couture defeating both Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz in 2003. Even Fedor’s greatest year was not as amazing in comparison. In 2004 he defeated Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
When putting all of those resumes together, Jones very well might have put together the greatest year in MMA history. And he’s just 24 years old. Not only is that hard to believe, but it makes me feel old.
On Saturday night, Jones looked to be patient in the first round, attempting to figure out the puzzle that is Lyoto Machida. Both try to use distance as their method in attacking their opponent. Machida’s best attacks on the night were actually when he attempted to split that distance, choosing to attack first. But that came to an end midway through the second, as he found his back on the mat. It was quickly over after that, as his forehead became a bunker for the 18th hole at The Masters.
Now Jones can look back at his 2011 as he will get to enjoy a much deserved vacation. But with how easy he made it look inside the cage this year, he very well may relax less on vacation than he did while fighting this year.
Biggest winner: Frank Mir
Much like Jones’ victory possibly cemented one of the greatest years in MMA history, Mir’s submission win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira possibly cemented Mir as the greatest submission artist in heavyweight history. Mir was the first person to ever knock out the Brazilian legend, and he is now the first person to submit him as well. This was Mir’s ninth victory by submission, but just his second in nearly four years. Perhaps not coincidentally, all nine of Mir’s submissions have occurred in the first round.
With three straight victories, Mir is not far off from a title shot.
Biggest loser: Mark Hominick
Unfortunately for Hominick, it took me longer to write this sentence than his fight with Chan Sung Jung. Knocked out in seven seconds, Hominick certainly did not expect that to be his return to his hometown of Toronto. The last time we saw Hominick, he was making Christian Slater jealous over the size of his forehead. This time around, Hominick didn’t even have time to yell out Christian’s name before he was knocked down.
While Hominick most certainly dealt with the emotions of returning to the cage for the first time since the death of his trainer Shawn Tompkins, Hominick is far too disciplined to make a mistake of that magnitude, especially that early.
Biggest question: Was Joe Rogan correct in welcoming us to the ‘Machida Era’?
Joe Rogan was of course speaking positively about Machida, as he dubbed it the ‘Machida Era’ after he defeated Rashad Evans for the light heavyweight title at UFC 98 in May 2009. But since then, Machida is 2-3, with both one win and one loss considered a toss-up. His victory over ‘Shogun’ Rua at UFC 104 and loss to ‘Rampage’ Jackson at UFC 123 were both very close, but in the two other losses, Machida was put away rather easily. His only true win was over a 47-year old Randy Couture, who went into the fight knowing it would be his last.
Now yes, Machida is fighting elite competition, but much like the ‘era’ that Rogan proclaimed, there was also an aura over Machida. That no longer seems to be there.Perhaps that ‘era’ is Machida easily being able to confuse mostly inferior opponents, but struggling with the division’s elite.
Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans
Now, this is only if Evans defeats Davis at UFC on FOX in March. I am not a big fan of the Evans/ Davis matchup since the two are at such different stages of their careers. Regardless, it does set up what occurs in the division in 2012. If Evans loses to Davis, then Dan Henderson would likely get the shot. For the sake of the hype of the fight, considering Jones and Evans’ history, the hope is that this is the fight to take place in summer 2012.
Frank Mir vs. Cain Velasquez
Mir mentioned he would be ready to step in for Alistair Overeem if he ended up being unable to fight at UFC 141 against Brock Lesnar in three weeks. But that seems to no longer be an issue, so Mir can enjoy his holiday break. Another person on a break is another former champion in Cain Velasquez. Undoubtedly still a top heavyweight, the pair can headline a pay-per-view card to decide who could possibly be fighting for the title in late 2012.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueria vs. Rich Franklin
The two were supposed to square off at UFC 133, but Nogueira pulled out of the fight. Franklin is currently recovering from shoulder surgery, but should be able to fight in late spring to summer of next year. With Little Nog’s brother nursing his injury, he will likely take some time off before returning to the cage.
Chan Sung Jung vs. Manny Gamburyan/Diego Nunes winner
The Korean Zombie does it big in the UFC. In March, he pulled off the first Twister submission in the organization’s history. Then on Saturday he tied the record for fastest knockout in history. Now he has his sights set on possibly making a title run in 2012. The division does not have much depth, but Gamburyan and Nunes both bring a big arsenal that would certainly test Sung Jung.
Lyoto Machida vs. Alexander Gustafsson/Vladimir Matyushenko winner
Quite simply, Machida just needs to get his confidence back. Even after the win over Randy Couture, a quick dismantling of the legend could not have done too much to help Machida recover from his recent slide. Jones did nothing but damage that confidence even more. In Matyushenko or Gustafsson, Machida can still be tested against a name opponent, but he should be able to return to the win column.