What a way to end a year for the ages.
Having already won three fights in 2011 -- defeating a world champion, a former world champion and an undefeated top contender -- Jon Jones had the bar set pretty high when he walked into the octagon for the main event of UFC 140 on Saturday night before 18,303 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
The light heavyweight champ ended up finding a whole new way to impress.
Unlike in those three bouts just mentioned, or any others, really, in a career spent dominating and barely breaking a sweat, the man called "Bones" found his resiliency put to the test -- taking some early punches and kicks, looking a bit confused -- before he dropped and bloodied former belt holder Lyoto Machida, then choked him unconscious with 34 seconds left in the second round.
"He's just smart, man," Jones told pay-per-view color analyst Joe Rogan afterward, trying to explain why he had difficulty figuring out the Shotokan karate man. "He kicked really hard, he knew his range, he had great tactics. Yeah, he was definitely a very tough puzzle."
It was a puzzle that Jones (15-1) did not solve in the first round, as Machida (17-3) remained outside of the champ's jumbo-jet 84½-inch reach for the most part, entering Jones' airspace only occasionally to land a kick here, a punch there. Then, with a minute to go, "The Dragon" connected with a counter left hand, Jones staggered backward and Lyoto surged forward. Jones dodged the flurry, but when they squared off again, Machida landed a kick to the body that could be heard in his Brazilian homeland.
"It was good, you know?" said Jones. "One of my biggest critic points is that I can't take a punch. So I'm glad to prove to myself and to everyone that I can take a legit hit."
That's what you call retrospect. After the fighting was over, it was safe for Jones to make lemonade out of the lemons that life -- and Machida -- had handed him in that first round. But at the time it was happening, and when he returned to his corner at the horn, the 24-year-old did not look quite as puffed up as he had a few minutes earlier during his uber-confident walk to the cage. He looked like a guy who was in a fight. For the first time.
But it's amazing what a 60-second meditation retreat with trainer Greg Jackson ("Deep breaths ... deep breaths ... calm down ... calm down") can do for a guy's soul.
Especially when that soul is housed in the long, lean body of an athlete of uncommon skill, creativity and, yes, toughness.
Jones came out for the second round with none of the unease one might expect of a young fighter whose mettle was finally being shaken up. He kept his distance and his poise, calmly stalking his 33-year-old challenger as he looked for an opening. It came midway through the round when both fighters threw right hands but only the champ's landed -- and landed hard. Machida took it well, but 10 seconds later he was on his back anyway after Jones grabbed his legs for a takedown.
In top position for the first time, "Bones" maintained his patience. "I know Lyoto's a black belt," he said. "So I was expecting a lot more motion on the bottom, but he didn't move a lot, and I was able to open him up."
Indeed, a Jones elbow opened a Grand Canyon gash on Machida's forehead, above his right eye. The bleeding was so bad that, after the challenger managed to get back to his feet and the fighters were clinched along the cage, referee John McCarthy halted the bout so a doctor could look at the cut.
The fight went on, but not for long. They were restarted with just over a minute and a half left in the round, and with 55 seconds to go they had another of those both-fighters-throwing-punches-simultaneously exchanges. And again, Jones was the one who landed. Again, he landed hard. His short left dropped Machida face-first to the mat, and while Lyoto immediately rose to his feet, he took a knee to the gut on his way up. Then Jones clamped on a standing guillotine, which was especially effective with his height, because he was able to really sink in the choke and even twist Machida's neck in the process.
"It was a great lock. I knew that I had it," said Jones. "I knew I just needed to be tough and hold the position."
He did so until Lyoto's arm went limp, at which point McCartthy jumped in, Jones let go and Machida collapsed faced-first to the mat like he'd been shot with a bazooka.
It was the first time that Machida, who in addition to his karate credentials is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, has been submitted. (The official finish was a technical submission.)
Yes, the astounding accomplishments keep on coming for Jon Jones. Over the last 10 months, he's now beaten three world champions. Can't wait to see what 2012 brings.
A virtuoso encore: "Frank is out, Mike!" Rogan could be heard screaming as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira pounded away on a motionless Frank Mir after dropping him with a succession of punches in the first round of the rematch of their 2008 fight. That one was won by Mir via KO, but when "Big Nog" clamped on a guillotine, it looked like he was about to even the score. But suddenly Frank reversed position, and what followed was 40 seconds of transcendent grappling by a pair of Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt heavyweights (and I mean heavyweights in not merely their numbers on the scale). Mir got side control and trapped Nog's right arm ion a kimura, then Nog rolled him over for an escape or reversal, but Mir hung on to the arm and rolled the Brazilian onto his back again, twisted the arm even further in a direction it was not designed to twist, and Nogueira tapped just as the arm appeared to break. "Now I'm the first person to knock him out, and the first person and the only person to submit him."
Big night for little brother: "Big Nog" couldn't make it a full-on family celebration, but his light heavyweight twin brother, Antonio Rogerio Nogeuria -- a.k.a "Little Nog" -- came up big. He avoided the takedowns of Tito Ortiz and punished him in the standup game, outlanding Ortiz, 75-12, in total strikes, according to CompuStrike statistics. The one strike that mattered was a knee to the ribs that collapsed Tito and led to him getting a heavy dose of the ground-and-pound he's dished out to many others over the years. Ortiz took a beating before Nogueira was pushed away at 3:38 of the first, a winner by TKO.
Breathtakingly resilient: "In my martial arts experience, the guillotine is a myth," Brian Ebersole said after surviving what appeared to be a pretty deep one in the first round of his split-decision welterweight win over Toronto native Claude Patrick (14-2). "I can't say I've been choked out in one." That comment sent me scurrying to the Sherdog.com fighter database, where after about a half-hour of research -- hey, the dude has fought 65 times as a pro -- I discovered that he owes an apology to Stephan Bonnar, who in November 2001 finished him with a guillotine. But hey, if you're 49-14-1 (1 NC), I suppose it's OK to forget a fight or two.
The Korean Zoombie: That's zoom as in lightning fast and creating a buzz, which is descriptive of Chan Sung Jung's seven-second annihilation of Mark Hominick. The Toronto fans had hardly settled into their seats after the standing ovation they gave their native son's introduction when Hominick, usually a slick, disciplined striker, recklessly lurched forward with what even he later decried as "a wild left hook." It missed, and Jung's counter right hand didn't. After the Canadian collapsed to the mat, "The Korean Zombie" pounced with a half-dozen straight punches before referee Herb Dean pushed him away. "Sorry, Toronto," Jung said in English after having used a translator to that point in his post-fight interview. "I love Canadians!"
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