UFC 128: For Jones, The Future Is Now

Jones ready to secure his place at the top

Ever since he tossed Stephan Bonnar around the Octagon at UFC 94, fans and media alike have expected Jon Jones to rise to the top of the light heavyweight division. His future greatest and the likelihood of a championship reign have always been discussed as a matter of when, not if.

Though a climb to the apex of the 205-pound ranks has always been anticipated, no one thought it would happen this quickly, not even UFC President Dana White.

Following his dominant performance over Brandon Vera, White was asked whether the young star was ready to challenge for the light heavyweight title. White laid out his ideal blueprint for the blue chip prospect.

“I’d like to see him get another year under his belt, and in that year, before he got a shot at the title, he’d have to take out Rashad, Rampage, possibly Shogun or Machida, and then get the title shot.”

One year later, Jones is on the precipice of becoming a true superstar, needing a victory over the third man in White’s quartet of contenders to claim the light heavyweight championship.

His climb to the top may have happened faster than expected, with some still wondering if the 23-year-old is moving up too far, too fast by facing an experienced champion like Rua on short notice. While we can speculate whether he’s ready or not, it’s Jones who has to step into the cage tonight, and the challenger believes this is the right time to fulfill his championship promise.

“I think everything happens for a reason. I have a really solid staff around me, and they’re making sure I peak out perfectly. I started this camp already in phenomenal shape. I already had pretty close to phenomenal timing, and now I’m just altering my mind to prepare for a different beast.”

Accepting the challenge of facing a world champion on short notice is a daunting task, but Jones had a head-start in his preparation. Before Rashad Evans was forced to vacate his position opposite the light heavyweight champion, it was Jones who was portraying Rua in training sessions, studying his tendencies and to help his teammate prepare. It’s something Jones believes will give him an advantage tomorrow night.

“I was preparing Rashad and mimicking Shogun, between his stance, his steps, the punches and kicks that he throws the most, the hand he uses the most, and I think it’s going to help me out a lot. I think we’ll see that when I come out there; just a calm and a sense that I really know what I’m into and what I’m doing. I’m excited.”

There is no denying that Rua represents a different level of competition than Jones has faced to date. Though he dominated consensus top 10 contender Ryan Bader last month at UFC 126, the former Ultimate Fighter winner is far from being as accomplished as the former and current top 205-pound fighter on the planet.

But therein lies the hook.

If it were Evans or anyone else in the light heavyweight division standing opposite Rua, the defending champion would be a definite favorite, and the interest in the fight would fall far short of the palpable level attained a day before the event.

Jones changes things though, his dynamic offensive arsenal and impressive natural gifts giving many a reason to reconsider the outcome. Preparing for Jones is a difficult undertaking on regular notice, and Rua has only had six weeks to prepare for the vast array of weaponry the Team Jackson fighter will be bring to the cage with him tomorrow.

This is a chance for Jones to validate the hype that has surrounded him throughout his UFC career. After two years as the best prospect in the sport, Jones now faces one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world with a chance to prove that his success hasn’t a charade.

It’s easy to look at the way Jones has manhandled his opponents and think he’s been the beneficiary of bouts tailor-made to suit his style and showcase his skills. Revisionist history reduces each of his opponents to “he was never all that good in the first place” status as a result of the pummelling they all endured, but Jones can change that perception with a similarly emphatic performance Saturday night.

Beating up Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko is one thing; putting the same kind of hurting on Rua is an entirely different task altogether, and it’s a challenge Jones is looking forward to completing.

“I’m excited to be pushed for the first time, if I’m pushed. Who knows? I’m embracing the whole situation. I just feel as if God has given me all of this, and I’ve worked for all of this. Now it’s just my time to go out there and literally take what belongs to me.

“I feel that’s my belt and I want it, and I’m going to hang on to it, and I’m going to start with Shogun.”

Jones is beyond confident that he will emerge from tomorrow night’s showdown with “Shogun” with the belt around his waist, the culmination of an incredible three-year climb from unknown to undisputed champion.

Some believe he will do just that, while others thinks he’s just not ready yet; the ever-present “will he or won’t he” that follows young phenoms in every sport.

Many consider Jones the future of this sport. Now it’s time to see if the future is already here.