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Jon Jones still the man to beat after UFC 172 win over Glover Teixeira

Photo: Patrick Smith/Zuffa LLC

Jon Jones kept Glover Teixiera off balance with improvisation to defend his light heavyweight belt.

BALTIMORE -- The last time Glover Teixeira had lost a prize fight, Jon Jones was a couple of months shy of his high school graduation. So one guy was vowing redemption following a decision loss to a pre-The Ultimate Fighter Ed Herman in a community college gym in Gresham, Ore. The other was planning prom night in Endicott, N.Y.

In the time between that evening in March 2005 and their meeting on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 172 at dusty old Baltimore Arena, the burly, brawny, bruising -- I could go on -- Brazilian light heavyweight had won 20 straight fights, 12 of them by knockout, six by submission. He proved himself to be a man who when he picks a fight, finishes a fight.

Not this time. This time the testament of Teixeira's toughness was not an early ending but that the fight went the distance. That was the best he could manage, and it was indeed an accomplishment. Glover lost every round -- every second of every round, really -- on all three judges' scorecards as Jones successfully defended his 205-pound championship for the seventh time with a consistently methodical, sporadically creative beatdown of a man unaccustomed of being treated that way.

Teixeira (22-3) had walked into the octagon in the midst of an unthinkable run. But this time he was not in with Ryan Bader, James Te Huna, Quinton Jackson, Fabio Maldonado or Kyle Kingsbury, his five conquests since joining the UFC two years ago. This time his dance partner was of a different breed. Jon Jones is not some awkward teenager anymore. He's a grown man. In mixed martial arts, he's The Man.

But you knew that already. If you've ever witnessed a cage fight or paid even a little attention to sports coverage that delved into the letters U, F and C, you'd seen or at least heard people tell of plentiful evidence suggesting that Jones (20-1) is the most sublime athlete in combat sports. You didn't need to see him choreograph a 25-minute victory dance over Teixeira to affirm that. But the 26-year-old, who three years ago became the youngest champion in UFC history, seemed determined to show some new steps.

It began with Jones's walkout, which began with a short rendition of a dance step familiar to Baltimore fans -- the herky-jerky moves of former Ravens linebacker/leader Ray Lewis. We later learned that old No. 52 in purple was in the house, as the champ gave him a shout-out in his postfight interview in the octagon. That was a crowd-pleaser, as you might expect. So were the champ's words of respect for Brazil -- yeah, he spoke kindly of not just his opponent but the guy's entire country. Then, after the interview finished, Jones slowly walked along the barrier in front of seating sections on two sides of the cage, high-fiving fans.

"It felt good to have the fans on my side again," Jones said at the postfight press conference. "It's been a long time since I'd had cheers. I thought, let me embrace that and give the audience some entertainment."

Jones seemed on a mission to win fans via both his fighting and his very being. This has been increasingly cited as Jon's other fight. There's a perception out there that he's not a popular champion. By "out there" I mean on the Internet, where there's much sniping at Jones. But on the Internet there's much sniping at everything, right?

On this night, the arena was Jones's house. The 13,485 in attendance -- the biggest crowd ever for a sporting event in the 51-year-old building, bringing the UFC the arena's second-biggest gate, behind only a Stones concert -- made that clear hours before he walked to the octagon. Every time his face was shown on one of the video screens, the place went wild. Then, when it finally was time for the main event, Teixeira was booed during his walkout, and Jones got a hero's welcome.

Then he put on a heroic performance. Right from the start, he was in control, landing punches and kicks and elbows and moving out of the way of much of what Teixeira threw his way. In the first round, Glover threw significantly more strikes than Jones did but, according to FightMetric statistics, landed a meager 28 percent (to Jones's 61 percent). And that's the way the entire fight went, with Teixeira swinging at air like a club fighter trying to touch Muhammad Ali.

Jones even evoked Ali himself in the final round, pulling out a rope-a-dope to sap whatever energy remained in a man who'd been battered in the first two rounds, bloodied in the third, and stalked and assaulted in the championship sessions. Much of Jones's work took place in an unlikely venue: the clinch. The consensus before the fight was that Jon would use his 6-foot-4 frame and airbus wingspan to maintain distance against the brutish slugger, but instead he closed in on him, locked him up, and gave him no room to wind up his big punches. "That was all improv," Jones said later.

At one point, with Jones firmly in control, the fighters were clinching against the cage near where Chuck Liddell was seated. The former light heavyweight champion was yelling instructions to Teixeira, his longtime training partner. His instructions were inaudible across the cage, but perhaps this was what he was imploring his friend to do: "Walk through his punches and knock him out!" Earlier in the week, that's what "The Iceman" said he'd have done to Jones in his prime.

Good luck with that, Chuck. Good luck with that, anyone.

Jon Jones is the king of the hill, and no climber is coming even close.

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