We might not know what’s next for Anderson Silva, but we might know what’s ahead for Jon Jones. It was announced during the UFC on FOX 4 news conference that the winner of Mauricio Rua and Brandon Vera will fight for the 205-pound belt next.
No, it’s not April 1. After Dana White said it, he didn’t laugh or follow up with “I almost had you that time!” In fact, he seemed peeved to answer such a question about these stakes. He then ran down a highlight reel of Rua’s feats to remind us that this is a wrecking machine with a rich, violent history we’re talking about, not some schlub.
Rua, coming off a loss -- though an epic one to Dan Henderson in a close, ridiculous fight at UFC 139 -- could get a rematch with Jones with a win. Or a rematch with Henderson, should events shake out that way. What does this mean?
A lot of things, not the least of which is this -- if you’re watching UFC 151, and you’re a fan of linear competitiveness and intrigue, you might now be persuaded to root for Henderson against Jones. Why? Because it would be 10 times more exciting to have Henderson/Rua II on the horizon than Jones/Rua II. One was five rounds of heart and perseverance; the other was a one-sided beatdown with very little promise of being anything but the second time through.
Now we’re thinking about a second time through, and that’s the better scenario in play.
The other scenario is one best left to the mystics -- what if it’s Vera?
Here’s where coils and springs come flying out of the system works. Not that long ago, Vera was cut after losing to Thiago Silva. Then he was brought back when the loss was deemed a no contest after Silva got popped by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for masking illegal substances with (inhuman) urine he bought online. And because of that, Vera was granted a reprieve. He beat Eliot Marshall unspectacularly, and was supposed to fight James Te Huna next in a fight perfectly matching his caliber, but a series of injuries and circumstances landed him this new opportunity.
Now, if you are one of the people complaining about Vera ending up in a big headlining spot to begin with, this added magnitude will gnaw at the core of your ability to reason. Vera was part of Jones’ faceless march, part of that “just a matter of time” stint when he was clubbing Vladimir Matyushenko and Matt Hamill (and before you point to the official loss here, we all saw what happened). How does he get promised anything other than another fight with a win over Rua?
Vera’s wins since defeating Frank Mir back at UFC 65 include Reese Andy, Mike Patt, Krzysztof Soszynski and Eliot Marshall. Three of those guys -- as well as Marshall -- are no longer in the UFC. Soszynski is contemplating retirement. For as much as Rua’s casualty list can gussy up for company, Vera’s requires a search engine to figure out who these guys are.
For that matter, Rua is currently ranked in the top five on ESPN’s top ten power rankings at light heavyweight. As for Vera, we’d have to roll out a top 30 for his name to appear right now. Yet should he spring the upset on “Shogun,” he’ll be rapping his knuckles on the belt-holder’s door.
That’s a tough sell.
And none of this makes Glover Teixeira feel any better. Not only does Rua say “no thanks” to a fight with him on this weekend’s card, indirectly citing unworthiness, but turns out the fight would have been a title eliminator. At least Teixeira can take out that frustration on Quinton Jackson at UFC 153.
The rest of us will just have to hope that these proclamations are the UFC’s way of adding incentive to this weekend’s fights in Los Angeles. Coming off a fizzler at UFC 149 in Calgary, maybe the idea is to urge excitement along.
But if a chance at the belt is the case, it comes at the cost of the bigger picture. If the UFC is keeping its word on this, one night’s added intrigue just made the future a little less exciting. It’s how you handle opportunities, yes, but Jones already completely overwhelmed both guys, so it feels like a no-win situation to realign them.
If it’s Rua, it’s too soon. If it’s Vera, it’s too much of a stretch of the imagination.
And if it is indeed Jones waiting at the other end for either, we’ll be asked to believe that second chances make for competitiveness. But it’s hard, especially when the reaction to this news seems to be that Rua/Jones II, for all its warts, is far less baffling than Vera/Jones II.
UPDATE: MMA Junkie reports that Dana White had a change of heart and opened the title eliminator up to a four-man pool between Vera/Rua and Ryan Bader/Lyoto Machida.
Fan dissension prompted the change.
"I put together the fights that fans want to see," White told MMA Junkie. "The fans didn't like the Rua and Vera choice, so here it is: The guy that wins most impressively on Saturday night out of the co-main event and the main event will get the shot at the winner of Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson."