ATLANTA -- Jon Jones might not yet have the household name he aspires for, and the comparisons to such transcendent figures as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods may be premature.
But if he continues to turn in performances as clinical as Saturday's lopsided unanimous-decision victory over Rashad Evans at UFC 145, it won't be long before Jones' ambitions of crossover superstardom become manifest.
Jones delivered a dominating showing against Evans -- his estranged friend and former training partner -- before a sellout crowd of 15,545 at Philips Arena. He won all but two of a possible 15 rounds across the three judges' scorecards. Two scored it 49-46, while the other scored it a 50-45 shutout. (SI.com had it 49-46.)
Yes, Jones was extended the distance for the first time in three years and failed to deliver the crowd-pleasing denouement the fans have come to expect, but the fight was mostly one-sided. In fact, it's hard to imagine a competitive opponent for Jones unless Anderson Silva moves up to 205 pounds.
"He's so frustrating and long and he's very creative," said a downcast Evans, who fell to 12-2-1 in UFC fights (and 22-2-1 overall). "He was able to keep me from doing what I really wanted to do, and that's what he needed to do to get the win."
The cathartic victory closed the book on a soap opera-worthy saga that began in 2010, when Jones first joined Evans' training camp in Albuquerque, N.M., despite the inconvenient fact both men had designs on the same light heavyweight title. A vow never to fight one another was broken -- by whom it no longer matters -- and a brotherhood forged over more than a year of training together was shattered.
"Definitely my most satisfying victory," said Jones, who made his third defense of the UFC light heavyweight title since becoming the youngest belt holder in the organization's history in March 2011. The Rochester, N.Y., native has now beaten four current or former world champions in a row since a third-round TKO of Mauricio Rua to capture the UFC's 205-pound strap.
Jones, who emerged from the tunnel without the "playoff beard" he'd been growing since the first day of training camp, measured distance brilliantly with his 84-and-a-half-inch wingspan -- the longest in UFC history -- and showed every bit of the elusiveness that's vaulted him from promising prospect to the consensus pound-for-pound top three in just three years.
Evans landed some modest strikes in the opening round, but was largely unable to negotiate inside Jones' freakish reach. Neither fighter did much to press the action, though Evans stirred the crowd when a heavy right kick smacked off Jones' cheekbone. "He rocked me." Jones said. "I wouldn't say that I was hurt, but I was definitely wobbled."
A fierce Jones uppercut whistled a deadly lyric to open the second round, but missed its target. Jones began to stalk Evans, delivering a right hand followed by a vicious lead elbow that staggered the challenger. By the time Jones connected with a hard one-two combination to end the round, the champion was firing short elbows like punches and inflicting visible damage on Evans' face.
An overhead right from Evans connected early in the third round, but Jones responded with a hard left kick off the ribcage. When a flying left knee caused Evans to drop his guard, Jones couldn't exploit it. "He had those sneaky elbows that kept getting in," Evans later remarked. "I played the wrong game for that."
Jones briefly mixed up his attack in the fourth, but the action slowed toward the end of the frame, prompting boos from the dissatisfied crowd. Jones was safely out of range when Evans missed a nasty hook near the end of the round, with Jones landing a short left elbow as the horn sounded.
Evans clearly needed something dramatic in the final round to alter the outcome, but it never came. A Jones trip takedown briefly electrified the crowd, but the challenger quickly found his footing and made it to the finish line, where the outcome (as Evans' body language concurred) was never in doubt.
After the fight, UFC president Dana White confirmed Jones' next opponent will be former two-division champion Dan Henderson. "I feel great that I already have a mission and I'm going to work hard to better myself," said Jones, who improved to 10-1 since joining the UFC (16-1 overall). "[Henderson] is an awesome opponent. He's got extreme knockout power and I'm excited to conquer [him]."
Earlier in fight week, Jones had likened the exhaustive build-up to Saturday's fight to a healing process. "The more you hear the story, the more we all go at it and talk about the coaches and try to figure out who is telling the truth, it's almost therapeutic for everybody," Jones said Wednesday. "So I think this fight will be like the last counseling session for the whole situation."
At Saturday's post-fight press conference, both Jones and Evans allowed for the possibility for a renewed friendship, admitting respect for one another -- an optimistic coda to an promotion laced with animosity.
"I have a lot of thinking to do about this situation," Jones said. "I hope to rekindle some communication with Rashad, and I hope we can do that in private. There is a lot of emotion between us that can lead to a friendship."