It was an important enough occasion for Dana White to travel all the way to the fight capital of the world. What's the big deal, you say, since the UFC president already lives in Las Vegas? Well, Dana wasn't referring to Sin City on Wednesday when he sang the praises of the locale hosting his UFC 140 news conference. He came to tout Jon Jones vs. Lyoto Machida, but first he had to tout Toronto.
"Vegas has always been known as the fight capital of the world," said White. "Well, in our sport, Toronto is becoming well known for that."
White and everyone else with a stake in Zuffa have good reason to feel that way. Just over six months ago, UFC 129 drew nearly 56,000 to the Rogers Centre, home of the Blue Jays, the Argonauts and the occasional monster truck show. It didn't hurt that national hero Georges St-Pierre was at the top of the bill, defending his welterweight belt against former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields. It also helped that Mark Hominick, who lives just a curling stone's icy throw away from Toronto, was on the card, challenging Jose Aldo for the bantamweight title. But 56,000 tickets for a $12 million gate? I don't care if you've got Chuck Norris vs. Ditka on your hype poster, that's impressive.
So the UFC isn't wasting time before returning. UFC 140 will be Dec. 10 -- not at the Rogers, though, but at the Air Canada Centre, home of the Maple Leafs, Raptors and fewer than 20,000 seats. In answering a reporter's question about why the smaller venue, White again fell all over himself in praising Toronto. It's "the biggest market on the planet" for the UFC. He'd do a fight there every week if it were feasible. He would live in the southern Ontario metropolis if it weren't so damn cold. (I don't remember if
White didn't intend to question the magnitude of "Bones" vs. "The Dragon." In fact, he banged the drum pretty loudly for the light heavyweight title bout, talking up champion Jones as "incredible" and ex-champ Machida as "a legend" before adding, "This one is fun. I like this fight stylistically."
There is where we differ.
To me, Jones-Machida looks intriguing ... on paper. OK, I hate that term -- on paper -- because it's so often spoken as if it were a legitimate factor, as if a fight or a game or anything other than an essay contest could play out on a sheet of paper. But I used the term because I do mean it literally. I think this matchup is most interesting if you're holding Jones' resume in your hand, whereupon you'll notice that Machida will be his fourth opponent this year and the third straight reigning or former champ. The fight becomes even more fascinating when you put down that resume and pick up Lyoto's, and are reminded that he most recently put an emphatic close to the Hall of Fame career of Randy Couture and, before that and probably more significantly, won the title by brutally knocking out Jones' nemesis, Rashad Evans.
Off paper and on a mat in the octagon, however, I find the fight less mysterious. It's not that I'm uninterested in watching, but my eyes will be glued to the cage simply because I can't get enough of Jones. I want to see what type of attack the indomitable manchild will employ this time, since Machida is different from anyone he's faced before. That uniqueness, of course, is what some people are banking on to make this a fight. "Machida is very evasive," said White. "He strikes from different angles. He's hard to hit."
True, true and true. But will he be able to reach Jones with his distant strikes, and if not, will he dare close the distance against that airbus wingspan? And if he does venture in close, how long will he manage to remain standing against a guy with the wrestling chops to take him down any time he lays a hand on him?
It should be noted that Jon Jones is a bad matchup for anyone this side of Stephen Seagal. But at least Rashad, despite having been handled by Machida a couple of years ago, has the tools to possibly keep a fight against Jones where he wants it, and he has the demystifying experience of having trained with Bones. And wasn't he supposed to get the next title shot, anyway? "I never said it was going to Rashad," White said when asked that very question at the news conference. "You guys said it was going to be Rashad." Um, Dana, was it press row that sent Evans into the cage following Jones' stoppage of "Rampage" Jackson three weeks ago at UFC 135 in Denver, to face off against the champ for some TV hype? Didn't think so. Unfortunately for the promotion, though, "Suga" Rashad needed a little more time to heal a hand injury. And, you know, the show must go on.
Now, just because I don't like the matchup for Machida, that doesn't mean I've already marked down, in ink, a W for Jones. It's true that Lyoto has lost two of his last three bouts, with the losses coming against Jones' most recent victims. But only "Shogun" Rua really beat up Machida; the Rampage decision was highly disputable. And before those fights, the karate man was practically untouchable. He's a legitimate challenger.
Two fighters other than the combatants will play key roles in determining Machida's chances. One is Anderson Silva, who already has contacted Lyoto, whom he trains with in Brazil, and offered to come to his camp and, as Machida put it at the news conference, "show me some things." If anyone is equipped to mimic Jones' movement, unpredictability and overall athleticism, it's "The Spider."
The other fighter who'll be a factor? Rashad. Bones seems obsessed with him. Asked at the press conference about a potential Evans fight, the champ offered more than an obligatory, terse answer. He went into a rap about how he doesn't like to get too wrapped up in an opponent -- "I'm taught, don't fight the legend, fight the body" -- but how with Evans, "it's different. I don't want to lose that fight." He called it "a huge fight" . . . even though it's not even been scheduled yet and he was there to talk about a fight that has been. Someone had to throw a bucket of cold water on Jones to douse his daydream and redirect his focus on the guy standing between him and Rashad.
Jones does have eight weeks to get his mind where it needs to be, though. Sure, Machida fits the profile of a guy who just might slip under the 24-year-old's radar. His quiet, respectful demeanor is not going to get the blood boiling like Evans and trash-talking Rampage have. And his karate, so uncommon in MMA and therefore difficult to duplicate in the gym, is not the kind of aggressive approach that heightens an opponent's sense of danger -- and therein lies its danger. But let's be real: Jon Jones has seized every moment he's spent inside the cage to this point in his young career. And he understands what needs to happen on Dec. 10. "The way I plan on dealing with Lyoto's style," said Jones, "is just being myself."
That plan has never yet failed him.