NEWARK, N.J. -- You thought the stream of superlatives being gushed in the direction of Jon "Bones" Jones these past few months was more hero worship than any young fighting man deserves?
You ain't seen nothing yet.
In a performance as extraordinary for its steady dominance as for its moments of flashiness, the 23-year-old Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history Saturday night, thumping light heavyweight belt holder Mauricio "Shogun" Rua with a third-round TKO that electrified a packed Prudential Center.
From the sounds that exploded from the crowd as the fighters made their way to the cage, many fans came to UFC 128 fully anticipating a coronation. They left the building having gotten what they expected to see. And more.
It wasn't simply a 360-degree spinning slam dunk. It was a game-long barrage of 3-pointers at one end of the court and don't-bring-that-weak-stuff-into-the-paint blocked shots at the other end.
It wasn't just an upper deck grand slam. It was a series sweep, every game a shutout.
It wasn't a 101-yard kickoff return. It was a touchdown, all right, but on an all-out blitz that left the quarterback on his back, woozy.
That quarterback, that outclassed ballclub, that layup hopeful getting his shot sent back in his face was Shogun. The official end was at 2:37 of the third, with the Brazilian lying bruised and feeble on the canvas. But this fight was over pretty much as soon as it began.
"I have to congratulate him," Rua told Joe Rogan through a translater in a brief interview in the cage afterward. "He was better than me."
Indeed he was. Right from the first exchanges, Jones was too fast, too strong, and too long. Rua came forward, all right, but he couldn't come within a zip code of Jones' chin. Bones, meanwhile, threw out the whole arsenal. Even on those few occasions when Rua gained what appeared to be a good position, Jones used his long legs and arms to seize the advantage, sometimes by maneuvering out of full guard, other times -- alarmingly -- by being satisfied to remain in guard but nonetheless rain down fists and elbows. Bones was relentless.
Jones occasionally showed off the spectacular moves that had catapulted him to the top of the light heavyweight division in just seven UFC fights. He threw spinning kicks. He threw flying knees. He threw spinning backfists. But the latest wrinkle the uber-creative disciple of trainer Greg Jackson added to his game was patience and relaxation. He took his time, never tired, never was in danger, never lost sight of the prize.
"It's a testament that dreams can come true," Jones told Rogan afterward in the cage. He spoke more, but the crowd spoke louder, drowning him out with wild cheers.
Then there were boos. That was when the arena video screens showed that Jones had been joined in the cage by Rashad Evans, his training partner at Team Jackson who was supposed to be the one challenging Rua on this night, but was injured. Now, apparently, Rashad's title shot will come against Jones.
"I guess you should never say never," said Evans when Rogan asked about the long-maintained vow amongst Jackson fighters to not face each other. The rest of what Rashad said sounded like crowd booing.
Statistics don't always tell the story of a fight or even a career, but here are some that speak volumes about Jon Jones: In his last five bouts, Jones has outstruck opponents by 210-37, according to CompuStrike stats, or 156-14 in power strikes landed. When Lyoto Machida wore the light heavyweight belt, people used to say he was impossible to hit. But that was because Machida was ever moving backward. Jones is ever pushing forward. And yet with his length he maintains a safe distance. Safe for him, at least, not so much for his opponent.
The beginning of the end came when Jones, in Shogun's guard, connected with seven straight punches and elbows. Rua scrambled away, no longer trusting his own guard. But Jones kept top position and unleashed another assault. This time Rua rolled over onto his knees. He took a knee to the ribs. Shogun climbed to his feet, took another knee to the gut, and retreated to the cage, Jones in pursuit. Bones then crumbled Rua with a left hook to the body, and continued his assault on the beaten-down champ until referee Herb Dean waved off the fight.
Shogun lay on his back, motionless. Jones walked to the center of the cage, flopped onto his back, and let the crowd's whoops and the emotion of the moment wash over him.
The young athlete -- the young artist -- was a UFC champion.
• If Urijah Faber were a lawyer, he'd be wise to cite Shields v. Kampmann as a legal precedent.
In October, Jake Shields made his UFC debut with a close split decision victory in a fight many thought Martin Kampmann won. But despite the less-than-spectacular showing, the former Strikeforce middleweight belt holder still was awarded a title shot against welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre, a bout that will take place next month.
Faber finds himself in much the same situation. After dropping down from featherweight, where he was the longtime champ, "The California Kid" has been stalking bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, whom he beat back in 2007. Standing between him and that shot at Cruz was former bantam champ Eddie Wineland.
The end of the story was that Faber had his hand raised, a unanimous-decision winner, all three judges scoring the bout 29-28. But along the way Faber was nowhere close to dominant. CompuStrike statistics say otherwise, tallying Faber with a 72-19 edge in total strikes and 47-6 in power strikes. That sounds dominant. But the fight was closer than that.
Nevertheless, Urijah did his lawyering afterward. "Dominick, hide your kids, hide you wife, hide that UFC belt," he said. "I'm going to come and get it."
• Mirko Filipovic used to be the hunter. Brendan Schaub made him the hunted.
Back when Schaub was playing fullback at the University of Colorado, the man known as "Cro Cop" was terrorizing the Pride Fighting Championships, winning the Japanese promotion's 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix and generally taking the breath and wits out of opponents with his thudding kicks. Now Schaub is moving up the ranks in his second career, and he effectively put the lights out on Filipovic's run in MMA.
In a slow-but-steady bout in which the strikers spent way more time on the ground than anyone expected, Schaub countered a Cro Cop kick with an overhand right that rubberized the Croatian at 3:44 of third round. For Filipvic, 36, it was his second straight one-strike KO, after succumbing to a Frank Mir knee in September. He's getting into Chuck Liddell territory.
Talk about playing to the crowd. Nick "The Jersey Devil" Catone got an early-evening rise out of the fans in Newark with the first notes of his entrance music, "Sympathy for the Devil." Nice. A nod to not only the classic rock of the Rolling Stones, but also to the other New Jersey Devils, the ones who play hockey in this same building.
Then Catone, a Jersey guy all the way -- native of Englewood, grew up in Brick, wrestled for Rider University, and fights out of Ricardo Almeida's dojo in Hamilton -- showed Constantinos Philippou no sympathy. Catone looked like a man of wealth and fame as he took down the Cypriot in each round on his way to a unanimous decision victory, a clear 30-27 on each scorecard. (Oh, by the way: Cypriot? That's what you call a person from Cyprus. It's a new one for me, but I looked it up.)
As things turned out, Catone was a rare bright spot for the home fans early in the night. Kurt Pelligrino, the charismatic Point Pleasant, N.J., fighter who got the first true roar from the crowd, had his moments but appeared to run out of steam in the third round and dropped a split decision to Gleison Thibeau. Then Richardo Almeida lost a unanimous decision to Mike Pyle. And Eliot Marshall, who fights out of Colorado but was born in Franklinville, N.J., was KO'd by Luiz Cane at 2:15 of the first round.
It was up to the Miller brothers -- born and raised in Sparta, N.J., fighting out of Whippany -- to uphold home state pride. But Dan Miller, facing Nate Marquardt as a late replacement after Yoshihiro Akiyama, spent more time on his back than a wrestler ever wants, and took the worst of the striking when the fight was standing, losing a unanimous decision (30-27 by all three judges). Younger bro Jim, however, gave the locals something to cheer about, handing Kamal Shalorus his first career loss. Emphatically.
Miller gave Shalorus a black eye in the first round. He took down the former Olympic-level international wrestler in the second, taking his back, applying a body triangle and almost finishing with a choke. And in third he did finish, wobbling Shalorus with a vicious uppercut, flooring him with a knee to the head, then flurrying with punches until he was pulled off a TKO winner at 2:15.
"That's seven in a row in arguably the toughest division in the UFC," said Miller, whose only losses were to lightweight champ (and fellow Jersey boy) Frankie Edgar and unbeaten Gray Maynard, who face off in May. "I'm ready for a title shot."
What, a main event bout for the championship isn't enough? Apparently not for
He not only ended the night with a bang but also began his day by doing a little banging. You might say he got the undercard started.
Hours before the action began at the Prudential Center with Eric Koch's sudden, thudding first-round KO of Rafael Assuncao, Jones was involved with a different sort of physical altercation in a park in nearby Paterson, N.J.
As trainer Greg Jackson related to my SI.com colleague Maggie Gray, he and Jones left their Newark hotel in the afternoon with trainer Mike Winkeljohn to go looking for a peaceful place in nature to meditate. They came upon a park in Paterson they thought would be the perfect setting for some pond-side reflection. But they didn't quite make it into lotus position. As they were getting out of their car, Jackson reported, they heard a woman yelling that a man had just broken into her car and stolen her bag. Jones later wrote on his Twitter page that it was a GPS that had been taken.
"Before you know it, we're sprinting up a steep hill chasing after him," Jones tweeted. "I turned the jets on ... we caught him."
Bad luck for the alleged robber, who now has a celebrity encounter to talk about in lockup. He probably wishes he'd run into Charlie Sheen instead.
Jones was the first to get there, Jackson said, and swept the man's legs out from under him. Jackson and Winkeljohn then wisely took over -- "Bones" had a second bout later in the day to keep his focus on, after all -- and held the man down until police showed up.
"It feels so good to help others," Jones tweeted. "It gives me power and energy."
Speaking of power and energy, did the Team Jackson boys ever get in their meditation? "Yes," Jackson told Maggie Gray in a text. "After the cops came, we found a grassy spot and sat down. It was nice!"