That has become the question following Jon Jones and his performances inside the Octagon. First it was the beatdown of “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128 last March. Even though he was fighting for the UFC light heavyweight title just six weeks after defeating Ryan Bader, Jones fought the Pride veteran, and dismantled him. Then it was “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 135. Even though the fight went into the fourth round, Jones was rarely challenged by Jackson. Then came the third consecutive former champion in Lyoto Machida. This was supposed to be the test for Jones, as Machida brings a distinct style that fighters rarely see in mixed martial arts. Despite that, along with a solid first round from Machida, Jones was able mount a charge and choked “The Dragon” out in the next round.
Then came Saturday and the highly anticipated fight against former training partner Rashad Evans. The matchup was long expected, as Evans was the man the UFC brought into the cage following Jones’ last two wins. But due to injury and other circumstances, the grudge match took nearly a year to come to fruition.
Evans was expected to test Jones. The physical challenges were there, with Evans’ premier speed and wrestling; but Evans also brought the mental challenge, as the two trained together at Jackson’s MMA in New Mexico. That was evident in the matchup between the two, as they clearly respected each other throughout the 25 minutes spent inside the Octagon. But Jones still showed off many of the reasons why he is considered one of the greatest fighters in the world. Evan at 24-years old, Jones shows off more maturity and patience than he did a year ago. Match that with his length and versatility, it has come to the stage of wondering just how great he can become, and if anyone can challenge him in his current division.
Yes, Jones went to a decision for the first time since defeating Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94 in January 2009. But Evans did not test Jones for an extended amount of time. He landed a decent head kick in the first round, and clipped Jones with an overhand right in the third, but Jones was able to recover both times. Jones still landed the most effective strikes, and did so repeatedly. His forward elbows that he landed on Evans were clearly impacting him, and Jones was wise to continue using them throughout the match. Evans was able to survive those elbows and other strikes, but that should discount Jones’ performance.
That now transitions us to Jones’ next scheduled opponent, Dan Henderson. “Hendo” was named the next challenger at the press conference on Saturday by UFC President Dana White. Many fans and pundits have already stated that Henderson will present Jones his toughest challenge, but that is just continuing the pattern that has come to be after every one of Jones’ performances. Will Henderson actually prove those experts correct? That is to be determined, along with just how long Jones will remain at light heavyweight, given his first year as champion.
Biggest winner: Michael McDonald
After two solid performances in his first two UFC matches, the 21-year old from Washington has been one of the most impressive fighters in the entire organization in his last two matches. Coming into the matchup with Miguel Torres, McDonald was telling everyone that would listen just how confident he was going into the biggest matchup of his career. He put that confidence on display, knocking out the former WEC bantamweight champion in the first round. “Mayday” very well could be fighting for the title before he turns 23.
Biggest loser: Brendan Schaub
Losing to a former champion in his hometown is nothing to be ashamed of. That is something Schaub endured in losing to “Minotauro” Nogueira at UFC 134 in Brazil. Now eight months later, Schaub finds himself struggling to remain relevant thanks to the loss to Ben Rothwell on Saturday. Once considered a top prospect in the ever-changing heavyweight division, Schaub’s future has changed 180 degrees from just a year ago.
Also: Stephen Thompson
The touted Karate expert came into UFC 145 with a ton of hype, as he was touted as the best striker in the division, according to the division’s champion Georges St. Pierre. Unfortunately for Thompson, that all blew over thanks to Matt Brown. Speaking of which, it seemed Thompson and his takedown defense was that weak, as he looked like he fell down every time like he was blown over by the wind. That will have to be addressed for Thompson to hope to remain relevant in the UFC.
Biggest question: How soon will Rory MacDonald be fighting for the welterweight title?
Coming into the match, many fans were wondering “who is Che Mills?”. That question received the answer “oh, that guy that Rory MacDonald demolished” on Saturday. The training partner of Georges St. Pierre could find himself in the category of his teammate very soon, as the 22-year old has put on an impressive arsenal every time he has stepped in the cage. If he does, MacDonald has stated that he would rather move to middleweight before fighting his teammate. But MacDonald will be fighting for the title very soon, regardless of his friendship and partnership with St. Pierre.
Future matchups to make:
Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson: This matchup was announced on Saturday by Dana White, and will happen in late-summer or early-fall.
Rashad Evans vs. Lyoto Machida: The last two victims to Jones, Evans and Machida nearly rematched at UFC 133 in August. But that is when Machida infamously asked for “Anderson Silva money”. Now the two are both coming off of a loss, and will hope to remain in the upper echelon in their second matchup.
Rory MacDonald vs. Johny Hendricks/Josh Koscheck winner: Hendricks and Koscheck will square off in two weeks at UFC on Fox 3, and the winner of that matchup would be an excellent candidate to take on MacDonald. With Martin Kampmann vs. Jake Ellenberger touted as a number one contender’s bout, MacDonald and Hendricks/Koscheck will be fighting at least twice more before challenging for the title.
Ben Rothwell vs. Pat Barry/Lavar Johnson winner: Rothwell came back from being clipped by Brendan Schaub in the first round to knock out “The Hybrid”. Many pundits have discussed Rothwell replacing Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva against Roy Nelson next month, but Rothwell would be better served taking on the Barry/Johnson winner because…
Travis Browne vs. Roy Nelson: “Hapa” is closer to title relevancy than Rothwell is. If he is able to defeat Nelson, it would push Browne into the upper echelon of the heavyweight division. He mentioned that his extended training camp for Chad Griggs was grueling, so a four-week training camp will not be as much of a prolonged issue for him.
Michael McDonald vs. Brad Pickett: Both are coming off terrific wins over the last week, as Pickett defeated Damacio Page last week in Sweden. I mentioned Pickett as a good opponent for Brian Bowles, but this matchup works out even better, as the winner of this one could be a title contender by the end of 2012.