Jon Jones becoming UFC Light Heavyweight Champion is like Brock Lesnar fighting in the lightweight division: It’s not supposed to happen. Not this early, at least.
But then again, it’ll be profane to say that we didn’t see this coming. A 23-year old MMA prodigy, Jones knocked out seven fighters when he was just 20, outwrestled Stephan Bonnar at 21, and devastated both Brandon Vera and Ryan Bader a year later.
Jon Jones has been working, winning his fights soundly like any other potential contender would, but it’s not only his age that’s been making his meteoric rise to the top a big deal. It’s his magnificent reach, supreme wrestling ability, and those bone-breaking elbows (poor Vera).
If he becomes champion at UFC 128 this Sunday, March 20, not only will he make history by being the youngest UFC champion ever, he would also give legitimacy to claims that talent can trump experience, and that’s saying something. That is, if he becomes champion.
Like Jones, Shogun Rua strives for an aggressive fight, having KO’d Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida, and back in Pride FC, Rampage Jackson. Like Jones, Shogun was a prodigy, a young champion even, winning the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix Tournament back in 2005. Both fighters have never been knocked out. Jones’ sole defeat was based on a disqualification loss against Matt Hamill after he landed him with an illegal elbow. Shogun has been submitted, has been outscored, but has never been stopped in a fight.
On paper, Jones and Rua are complete equals. Both individual’s martial arts I.Q. though, are where the similarities end. With injuries and layoffs under his belt, Shogun will be fighting Sunday’s bout with hard work. Jones might still be relying on pure talent at this point.
"He is good in all areas, but he has especially great wrestling. I always saw him as a very complete fighter. You have to train everything to fight him. That's what I'm doing: training Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, everything,” Rua told mmajunkie.com.
How unfortunate for the champion though to have his first title defense against a fighter of Jones’ caliber with ring rust and a recovering knee to spare. Rua’s first road to recovery back in 2009 was made easier by the fact that he was facing a then-44 year old Mark Coleman.
But what we just said, we highly doubt. Shogun is fighting with his light heavyweight title on the line, and there is no way this Brazilian is going to lose it based on poor conditioning alone. Also doubtful is the assumption that he would lose the belt at all.
Whoever walks home the victor, who can tell? And this is why there has never been a more goose bump-worthy match-up. Setbacks are almost non-existent to them at this point, but Shogun and Jones are both going for the record books for this fight. It’s either Jones as the youngest champion ever, or Shogun as the first fighter to stop Jones. And that we’ll find out this Sunday.