It was at UFC 83 that Kalib Starnes took off.
Starnes fled the scene of a fight without actually leaving the cage against Nate Quarry -- and it made for an awkward experience. Kalib Starnes ran; Nate Quarry pursued; 15 minutes died in the interim. If there was ever a clear demonstration of the fine line between comedy and tragedy, this was it. In the end, one judge saw the fight 30-24. Another had it 30-26, and the last one -- a marathoner, no doubt, who didn’t disagree with the aesthetic he was watching -- had it a standard 30-27.
In other words, neither people nor judges know what to think when a fighter runs. Whether it’s for a whole fight, or just in pockets.
Jon Jones is a far cry from Starnes, but he ran from Quinton Jackson at UFC 135 -- only he was far more selective when he did it. This was a skipped-over detail of the fight. A couple of instances when Jackson coiled back in a scramble, Jones high-tailed it out of there. He admitted as much during the postfight newser, saying, “there were a lot of times where Rampage swung at me, and, instead of defending technically, I kind of ran like a little girl.”
Afterwards, on an ESPN podcast, Jackson talked about that very thing, and said that’s one of the reasons he’s contemplating a post-UFC career in boxing (ahem).
“I hate fighting people who are scared,” he said. “When you fight somebody who is scared, you never know what they’re going to do. They turn and run. That’s why I'm gonna go to boxing. I’m gonna try boxing because they’ve got to stand with you. If I get knocked out I don’t care because at least it’s a fight.”
Obviously, Jackson is bothered by Jones’ retreating. Why? Because when Jones ran, it wasn’t that he was hit and trying to recover like you see so often. He ran to avoid getting hit. This can be defended as fighting smart, but it can also be looked at as an unexpected new wrinkle in Jones’ game, the wrinkle of caution -- particularly for a guy who has dominated everybody the UFC has put in front of him. Rampage sees a fight as literal; swing until somebody gets knocked out. Jones sees it as something more akin to art; swing until you need to get out of the way.
While he still out-landed Jackson 74-24 in total strikes according to FightMetric -- with 61 of those strikes deemed significant -- it was unexpected that Jones’ first reaction in an exchange was to skedaddle. You say Jackson has knockout power? So did Mauricio Rua and Ryan Bader and Vladimir Matyushenko, all of whom have more knockouts in the last three years than Jackson (who has zero).
It’s possible Jones got caught up in the moment. It’s possible that his body and mind were parting ways for a few seconds here and there. It’s a fight, after all, and one that had more pressure than Jones was used to.
Even still, he dominated en route to a fourth round rear-naked choke. It was his fight from the opening bell. But in a bout where so much went right for the champion, it was one little, barely registering detail that looked a little wrong.