MMA: Quinton Jackson
Special to ESPN.com
Some may see this as an opportunity for Teixeira to make his name and "retire" Jackson from MMA. But Jackson, the former Pride and UFC champion, has other ideas. He is far from retiring as a fighter and has plans that could see him becoming an even bigger draw both in the sport and the mainstream media. After Jackson made changes to his camp, specifically a new nutritionist, and spent time at the new Wolfslair facility in Wigan, England, his trainers are excited by his current form. Manager Anthony McGann was also vocal about any ideas that Quinton is merely seeing out his contract.
“Quinton is looking like the old Rampage in the gym. Believe me, he is already ahead of the curve in training and is going to be 100 percent for the fight,” said McGann.
Jackson is as focused as ever on the upcoming bout with Teixeira, leaving all the distractions of home behind to train with head Muay Thai coach Dave Jackson, Bobby Rimmer (Ricky Hatton’s former boxing trainer) and grappling coach Tom Blackledge.
“I’m with Soulmatefood now and they are planning all my nutrition really well. I was with Mike Dolce for a while but I just got tired of him experimenting on me,” Jackson says. “I used to have to cut a lot of weight with that guy. He would give me a lot of bread and Nutella sandwiches. At the time I was loving it, but then I had to pay for it when I had to cut all the weight.”
That, along with a bad knee injury, meant that Jackson's last outing was not the performance he wanted to give his Japanese fans as he dropped a defeat to Ryan Bader. “I got no respect for Bader. I don’t understand guys that just want to hold you down. It’s MMA; I got no problem with takedowns and wrestling, but just holding a guy down ain’t my style.”
That loss to Bader, and the way Jackson felt he was treated afterward, is a major reason why the fighter decided to not renew his contract with the UFC.
“There’re a lot of reasons I’m leaving the UFC, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was that they knew I was injured before the Bader fight. The card wasn’t strong enough for the fans. I didn’t feel I could pull out of the fight because it was in Japan and that’s where I came from. The UFC had all the old Pride fighters busy,” explains Rampage. “They knew they [were] going to Japan but they had Dan Henderson, Shogun [Mauricio Rua], all the guys fighting before. Then they tried not to put me on the card and go to Chicago on a Fox card, and I just couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t use the Pride guys.”
Though Rampage took the responsibility to fight with his injury, he said it was Dana White’s reaction to his loss that pushed Jackson to make his decision to leave.
“Dana said [publicly] my head wasn’t into the fight and he talked some s--- about me even though he knew I had the injury. They’d helped me with the injury. That was the last straw for me.”
While "Rampage" Jackson has clearly fallen out of love with the UFC, his MMA career is far from over.
“I’m training better than ever now my knee is fixed. I was fighting with a bum knee for 12 years and it finally gave out on me before the Bader fight. Now I’m getting better, I’m getting faster. I’ve got a good team around me and I’m more positive now so I know this is the next chapter for me. I’m training harder than I have in a long time and I know I’m gonna destroy this guy,” Jackson states calmly. “These next fights are about my legacy. I wanna go out there and destroy some people in MMA and move on and start making movies and TV shows and video games.”
Rampage, then, clearly has a focused plan beyond the UFC and is showing no signs of slowing down. “I got at least 10 more fights in me and I want those fights to be my legacy, but I want to do that in a positive organization.”
However, before any of that, he must first take on Glover Teixeira and show the fans and his detractors that Rampage remains a dangerous threat in the cage. Many are questioning Quinton, citing the fact that he has lost his last two bouts. But, one was a Fight of the Night loss to the champion Jones, while the other saw Jackson injured yet determined to give the Japanese fans a show.
“I’ll fight anybody to get this last fight out of the way. I can’t wait to leave the UFC and have nothing to do with them anymore,” reveals Jackson. “I don’t see Glover as a huge threat or that his skills are so good. He’s pretty tough. I mean, anything can happen in the cage. MMA is unpredictable. My job is to fight and I take chances all the time.”
But Rampage and his team are obviously doing their homework, looking at Glover’s skills and examining key areas. “I am sure he is going to try to take me down. He’s talked all this smack about how he is gonna stand with me, but he’s gonna do what everyone else tries to do and take me down.”
In truth, Jackson doesn’t care what Teixeira is going to try to do.
“I’m going out there to destroy him, and then I’m done with the UFC and I can move on.” In what should be an explosive last Octagon outing for Quinton Jackson -- win, lose or draw -- Rampage is eager to get the job done and look to the future.
When former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson exits the Octagon on Jan. 26 in Chicago -- win or lose against hard-hitting Glover Teixeira -- he will not fight again with the promotion.
Jackson, one of the most popular and successful mixed martial artists ever, made it clear during a media call Tuesday to promote his upcoming bout that he has already severed ties with UFC.
The bout with Teixeira will be the final fight on his current UFC contract, and according to Jackson, each side is eager to move on.
"I'm over it," Jackson said. "I've given [UFC] time to keep me happy. Honestly, I think the UFC is happy with me leaving. It's a mutual thing."
While Jackson proved to be a big draw, and delivered many exciting fights, his absence from UFC's roster isn't expected to hinder the promotion's progress. UFC will continue putting on exciting MMA cards.
Jackson's future, however, isn't set in stone.
Competing in smaller MMA promotions is possible, but Jackson has a grander scheme -- taking his knockout skills to the boxing ring.
Jackson has complained for the past few years that part of his frustration with MMA stems from too many fighters' reluctance to stand with him. He longs for the days when most of his opponents stood toe-to-toe.
Today's mixed martial artist is more advanced technically, with wrestling becoming more prevalent in the cage, leading many to take the fight to the ground.
Despite his high school wrestling background, Jackson isn't among the more skilled ground fighters in MMA. If Jackson were to sign with a smaller MMA promotion, there is no guarantee that opponents would refrain from attempting to take him down.
No one knows this better than Jackson. It's why boxing looks more and more appealing to him.
He won't have to worry about anyone taking him to the ground in a boxing match, and Jackson gets to throw as many punches as he wants.
"I've put my time in. I did my thing," Jackson said. "I just want to entertain people. I want to be very exciting. Maybe I want to try some boxing or do some kickboxing. I’ve done jiu-jitsu tournaments, wrestling tournaments, kickboxing fights -- but never boxing. I think that would be my biggest challenge -- to see if I can be a pro boxer.
Jackson noted that former street fighter-turned-mixed martial artist Kimbo Slice has also made the switch to boxing.
Slice, whose real name is Kevin Ferguson, is 6-0 with five knockouts as a boxer. Although he has faced mediocre competition and has competed in four-round bouts only, Slice has shown improvement with each outing.
It's a path Jackson, who has no amateur or professional boxing experience, can expect to follow in boxing. Despite his lack of experience, Jackson can expect some high-profile boxing promoters to give him a close look.
One promoter has already expressed interest.
"Absolutely, I'd be interested in taking a look at him," Top Rank vice president of boxing operations Carl Moretti told ESPN.com. "I'm sure he's a well-conditioned athlete, but boxing's a different game. I'd like to see him in the gym sparring, just to see how he does against professionals before going ahead and just throwing him in a fight.
Moretti knows that Jackson is a heavy puncher -- 14 of his 32 wins have come by knockout -- but there's more to boxing than throwing haymakers. Jackson will need to show that he knows how to sit down on his punches and demonstrate decent footwork. Moretti would also like to see a decent jab and defensive skills.
Jackson would also have to show these skills against seasoned boxers during his sparring sessions. It won't be easy, but if any mixed martial artist can make the transition to boxing, Jackson is the man.
Getting over the initial hurdle won’t make life easier for Jackson. He is 34 years old, which gives him little room for error, and his name recognition brings high expectations.
“He’s one of the bigger names out of UFC. Everybody has heard of him, so that gives him an advantage,” Moretti said. “He’s not coming in as an unknown.
“But maybe it works against him because he’s going to have more eyeballs on him. And it may place some additional pressure on him to perform in boxing.”
While adjusting to a new sport will be difficult, Jackson is up for the challenge. Besides, he's no novice when it comes to fighting.
Fighting in UFC and Pride has prepared Jackson to compete in any professional combat-sports arena. He will not be intimidated inside the boxing ring.
"Sure, it helps him from a conditioning point of view, at least being inside the ring and knowing what can happen," Moretti said. "There's no question that [having MMA experience] helps him. But when you want to hold, punch while you're holding and grab a leg -- that's not boxing.
"We have to see how he handles the finer points of boxing as compared to MMA and make some kind of assessment from that."
Jackson made his request Sunday, several hours after Teixeira called him out at UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro.
“Yo [Dana White], set up that fight with Glover please!” Jackson said on Twitter. “Let’s give him what he wants.
“Fans, I won’t let you down.”
Teixeira let his desire to fight Jackson be known minutes after defeating Fabio Maldonado by second-round TKO.
“I’d like to fight Quinton Jackson,” Teixeira said after improving to 19-2. “I never talked [smack] about him. He was my idol.
“I loved that guy coming up in Pride. But he says I was talking bad about him. I’m not talking bad about him. I’m not afraid of no man. Step in the ring with me; I’ll fight anyone.”
White was not specific about the next opponent for Teixeira -- the hard-hitting native of Brazil who now calls Danbury, Conn., home -- but it won’t be current light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
“[Teixeira] is going to have to fight one of the top guys before we start talking about title shots,” White said.
Teixeira was scheduled to fight Jackson at UFC 153, but Jackson was forced to pull out of the bout after suffering an undisclosed injury during training. Maldonado then stepped in for Jackson.
Whatever the reasons, real or imagined, there is a perception brewing that UFC light heavyweights want nothing to do with Glover Teixeira.
The hard-hitting Brazilian is aware of the excitement surrounding his entry into mixed martial arts' biggest promotion. But he isn't caught up in the hoopla.
Teixeira tunes out the hype machine. This is MMA, the most grueling fight game, and he views himself as the consummate fighter.
He might be in his infancy as a UFC combatant, but he is no novice to this sport. So while veteran fighters approach him with caution, he understands their reasoning, though it might not be in agreement with his own fighting philosophy.
"I understand where they're coming from," Teixeira told ESPN.com. "I've just come into the UFC; I've only had one fight in UFC. Those guys have been in there for a long time. But it's kind of weird. I come from the camp of Chuck Liddell, and he never ducked a fight. Whatever guys do that, they feel is best for their careers. I'm not judging.
"It doesn't matter to me, I'm just going to keep fighting and get my name out there."
Teixeira (18-2) makes his second Octagon appearance Saturday night at UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro. And he will enter HSBC Arena against Fabio Maldonado with the same workmanlike attitude that has transformed him into one of the most talked-about UFC newcomers in years.
Maldonado is a late replacement for Jackson, but taking on a new opponent doesn't concern Teixeira. It's a regular occurrence for him.
Teixeira has fought in Brazil many times, and getting a change of opponent on short notice, sometimes less than 24 hours before a fight, is commonplace. It's situations like this that helped shape Teixeira's competitive mindset.
Besides, Maldonado's style is similar to Jackson's. Teixeira isn't one to guarantee victory -- he's too seasoned a professional to do that -- but this fight Saturday is being viewed as another day at the office.
He's familiar with Maldonado personally. The two fought on several cards together in Brazil and they've held brief conversations in the past. Teixeira considers him a good man. But that's where the friendliness ends. Maldonado is an opponent now, and Teixeira has him sized up.
"I've seen his fights and he's a good boxer," Teixeira said. "I don't see anything that's truly special, but he doesn't make a lot of mistakes, either. He's a tough fighter. I was training for Rampage, who is more of a boxing guy, now I'm facing Maldonado who is also a boxer. So things haven't changed too much, just the strategy a little bit.
"Opponents change all the time. I was fighting in Brazil where opponents change overnight, so I don't care. I just want to do my job and get in there and fight."
Barring an unforeseen circumstance or freak injury, Teixeira is expected to find success Saturday night and move a step closer toward an inevitable 205-pound title shot. Most believe that fight will be against current titleholder Jon Jones.
Despite his limited time in UFC, Teixeira has already surfaced as the biggest threat to Jones' reign. Teixeira has the UFC light heavyweight championship on his to-do list, but wants all his ducks to be in a row before facing Jones.
It has nothing to do with gaining cage experience or fine-tuning his skills, Teixeira already possesses those qualities; he wants to fully capitalize on such a potentially huge event. That means increasing his profile with UFC fans.
"I'm ready to face anybody in UFC right now -- that's my confidence. But I have to show where I come from. I just have to keep fighting and show people."
And when UFC officials give him the word that a date with Jones has been set, there is one place Teixeira hopes the fight will take place: New York City.
Teixeira grew up in Brazil, but now calls Danbury, Conn., home. And the Big Apple has been his playpen for quite a while as he often trains at a gym in the Bronx.
He moved to Connecticut, where he met his wife, Ingrid, in 1999. Despite stints in San Luis Obispo, Calif., where he trains at The Pit under John Hackleman, and a return to Brazil to resolve immigration issues, Teixeira is a full-fledged New Englander now.
Residing close to New York City, and with Jones being a native of Rochester, N.Y., Teixeira sees the fight as a perfect way to welcome UFC to the Empire State.
There is little reason to doubt that Jones and Teixeira will continue winning and eventually step in the cage together, the lone hurdle appears to be getting MMA sanctioned in New York.
"I'd love to fight in New York," Teixeira said. "I love the city. My wife called me recently and told me she saw the sign for UFC 153 in Times Square. I’m excited about that. I'd love to fight there. Danbury has a big Brazilian community, New York as well, and they'd all be there. It would be awesome. I would love to fight in New York someday."
There is no need, just hours before Jones defends his title Saturday night against Vitor Belfort at UFC 152, to rehash every detail that led to the recent animosity directed at him. Jones realizes his decision last month not to face Chael Sonnen on eight days’ notice helped trigger the eventual cancellation of UFC 151 and ignited the hostility that has shown little sign of letting up.
But Jones isn’t backing away from who he is nor apologizing for his actions. He’s been down the personal-attack road too often since claiming the 205-pound crown 1½ years ago to become thin-skinned now.
What Jones has accomplished in the Octagon and the rewards he has garnered as a result can’t compare to the wealth of knowledge he’s acquired outside the cage. At 25, Jones has been introduced to experiences many men twice his age can’t comprehend. Those experiences -- good and bad -- have come rapidly and repeatedly.
But through it all, not once has Jones caved in. He has accepted blame and has stood by his convictions when people have questioned them.
Jones is maturing, intellectually and emotionally, with the eyes of the mixed-martial arts world squarely upon him.
“Aside from figuring out what life is like as a champion, I’m figuring out what life is like being a 25-year-old father and growing up under a microscope -- it’s tough,” Jones said. “It really is.
“If I was to sit here and make my life sound as if I have the hardest life, it would be a shame. There are people out here who live way harder than I do. Keeping everything in perspective is what helps me deal with things. My world just isn’t that serious.”
Jones’ accelerated maturation process didn’t begin last month. In July, his New York State driver's license was revoked for six months as part of a DWI sentencing.
And there was the emotional stress of dealing with prefight taunts from Quinton Jackson and former training partner Rashad Evans.
Relying heavily on faith has allowed Jones to put all these events in perspective.
“I’ve had a DWI this year; I’m certainly not perfect,” Jones said. “There are parts of my life where I haven’t handled success very well. Having Christ in my life has helped me shy away from doing a lot worse things. Christ has definitely helped, but I’m not perfect -- no one is.”
Coming to grips with his personal shortfalls hasn’t completely alleviated the emotional stress of being the subject of nonstop verbal attacks.
Jones admits some comments directed at him from all directions proved difficult to swallow at times. But since arriving in Canada, Jones has worn a huge smile.
The emotional healing has begun. He’s excited to step in the Octagon and defend his title against Belfort. Fighting, Jones believes, represents the next step toward repairing strained relations.
“I’m looking forward to putting on a great fight at UFC 152 and putting this past us,” Jones said. “I’ve trained very hard for this Vitor Belfort fight, and I do believe that, with a good performance, I can help put this behind me.
“I believe this whole situation will bring me and the UFC a lot closer. We’ll have a better level of respect for each other.”
Jones expects to defeat the hard-hitting Belfort in impressive fashion Saturday night. He prefers to finish the fight early, but is prepared to go the full five rounds if necessary.
No matter the fight’s outcome, Jones has already found room in his heart to forgive. He holds no animosity toward his antagonists.
“It [the criticism] bothered me a lot,” Jones said. “But it’s been a while now, and I’ve come to terms with what was said.
“I don’t hold any hard feelings. Forgiveness is an important thing. It sets me free from the situation. I forgive other fighters; I forgive Dana White and the fans who’ve spoken out in an unfair and negative way. I forgive everyone.”
If anything, these things act as signposts toward the decay of civilization. At least to some people.
Peter Gammons, NESN baseball analyst and former ESPN analyst, recently went on Twitter and wondered publicly: “Can civilization go lower than WWE and or UFC?” He was referring to Ken Shamrock, who allegedly punched two women at a mall in California. Never mind that it’s a loose association between a man’s (pretty public) private life and his onetime occupation -- it still associates.
Gentlemen, fire up your retweets.
Columnist George Will wrote something similar not that long ago in the Washington Post, that MMA is “prizefighting for degenerates.” He was making a reference about the guilt in watching pro football players concuss each other incidentally rather than on purpose, which is how it’s done in MMA and boxing. At least the NFL disguises its brutality, in other words, rather than spotlighting this ... this … this dehumanizing truth. Truth about what? What we find entertaining? Our nature? That last thing will always be met with denial.
Obviously, neither Gammons nor Will can be accused of falling into the UFC’s target demographic of 18-35. They are regally immune to talk of the “fastest-growing sport in the world” even being considered a sport, just like plenty of others. And it won’t be the last time that perukes will catch fire while sneaking glimpses of MMA. In fact, many die-hard fans were squeamish the first time they watched. Just like in a street fight, it takes a minute to adjust to the idea that “somebody might get hurt.” The reality that somebody might get hurt intentionally is a hurdle a lot of people simply won’t clear.
That’s always been the case. It takes all kinds.
But you know what’s indefensible? That MMA practitioners so often give ammunition to detractors, to the point that “associations” are inevitable, and “degenerate” becomes an uncomfortably apt word.
It’s not one incident, or even a few; it’s a symphony. If it’s not Shamrock punching a woman, it’s Brett Rogers assaulting his wife, or Lee Murray robbing a bank, or Quinton Jackson spreeing down the highway eluding police, or War Machine and his nirvana blogs from the clink, or Junie Browning, or Chad Mendes getting arrested for a sucker punch, or Mike Whitehead and Jeremy Jackson, or insensitive tweets from Forrest Griffin or Miguel Torres, and Joe Son -- actually, the less said about Joe Son, the better.
I could go on.
For all the good and respectable things going on in MMA, the cage isn’t big enough to contain its cast of characters at large in the world. Even a ring girl recently got her mug shot made for fighting with a boyfriend. In MMA culture, it's just what happens.
So Gammons and Will are justified. But so is MMA. The UFC happily shakes up the PC world and that’s still part of its niche-y allure. Not everyone can be about convention. In fact, the idea of doing away with civilities once in a while should be a welcome thing. An ideal life isn’t homogeny.
But in a sport already looked upon as a Mad Max dystopia to conventional tastes, it doesn’t help to have so many negative headlines outside the cage. If people want to call you a rogue for fighting, so be it. You have to trust that in the end the art will prevail.
Just beware of the associations that seep in. The last thing you want to do is prove that “prizefighting for degenerates” is a fair statement.
Reaching the 205-pound mountaintop was motivation enough for Jones, who spent hours in the gym sparring, working to refine his skills and developing into arguably the best fighter on the planet.
All that dedication and hard work would pay off on March 19, 2011, in Newark, N.J., when Jones defeated Mauricio Rua by third-round TKO to become the youngest man ever to don a UFC title belt. Jones (16-1) is proud of his accomplishment, but it no longer fuels his motivational engine. What Jones seeks far exceeds wearing a light heavyweight title belt; he now aims for immortality.
When his fighting days come to an end, and that’s a long time from now, Jones wants to leave a mark others will desire to surpass.
When Jones steps into the Octagon on Sept. 1 to make the fourth defense of his title, hard-hitting Dan Henderson will be standing in front of him. Jones is aware of the potential threat Henderson presents and his mind will be focused on minimizing it. But Henderson won’t be the only fighter Jones will battle that evening.
Recently retired former light heavyweight champ Tito Ortiz won’t be far from Jones’ thoughts. These days Jones fights to surpass Ortiz’s UFC light heavyweight record of five consecutive title defenses.
“The biggest motivator really is the goals, the records,” Jones told ESPN.com. “I’ve done great things, but I want to be talked about when I’m done.
“Right now being a tough dude isn’t enough. I don’t have any of the records. I’m the youngest champion and so far I haven’t been taken down, but outside of that ... Tito has records, Chuck Liddell has records. I don’t have any records. So I’m fighting for records.
“I’m creeping up on one and that’s Tito’s all-time light heavyweight record. That’s my big one; that’s my immediate goal right now.”
This is who Henderson must confront -- a champion determined to retain his belt, but more important, a man on a mission to leave his mark on the sport.
Tito [Ortiz] has records, Chuck Liddell has records. I don't have any records. So I'm fighting for records.” -- Jon Jones, on trying to surpass Ortiz's UFC light heavyweight record of five consecutive title defenses
Jones turned 25 last month and his body is still developing -- quickly. If Jones is going to break Ortiz’s record, he can’t have a setback on Sept. 1.
The clock is ticking on his days as a 205-pound fighter. Jones knows his body will force him to abandon the light heavyweight division within the next couple of years, but he refuses to allow the physical growth process to consume his thoughts.
Besides, he’s doing everything necessary to ease the weight-cutting process.
“I can’t say it’s something that is on my mind, but it’s definitely something that is inevitable,” Jones said. “It’s going to happen. Mark my word -- it’s going to happen. I will fight at heavyweight. But it’s not going to be anytime soon. My staff every year gets bigger. I have an assistant now, a nutritionist, everything. So I’m doing things more professionally. My weight cuts are easier.
“I’m eating cleaner. Everything is easy.”
The day, however, is coming when Jones can no longer cut to 205 pounds. And when it arrives he wants to have a celebration.
Jones looks forward to beating larger guys and leaving no question that he truly is the baddest man on earth. But that claim can never be fully realized if he doesn’t continue to take care of business at light heavyweight.
It’s the reason he insists Henderson will fail next month. Jones refuses to give Henderson a remote chance of preventing him from achieving his immediate or future goals.
What about the powerful overhand right Henderson throws to finish his opponents? No problem. Jones isn't the least bit intimidated.
"Dan Henderson doesn’t have anything that I haven’t seen," Jones said. "Rashad Evans had an overhand right that was extremely fast, way faster than Dan Henderson’s, with an extremely fast double-leg coming right behind it.
"Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson had equal H-bombs in both hands. That’s intimidating.
"I respect Dan Henderson a great deal; I’m training my heart out, like I always do, with extreme passion. I’m going to go out there and try to KO him."
In every sense Jones is guaranteeing a win over Henderson. But still, the heavyweight division waits, as Jones has light heavyweight business to complete at UFC 151 and after.
“It’s too soon to begin talking about me moving to heavyweight,” Jones said. “Maybe when I’m 27 and I’m starting to have a hard time making (205), that’s when.
“Right now fighting at 205 is still a lot of fun for me. I walk around at 225, so a 20-pound cut isn’t a tough cut.”
Former middleweight top contender Chael Sonnen didn’t just reveal on Tuesday his intention to return to light heavyweight and face Forrest Griffin on Dec. 29, he took it a step further.
Sonnen felt obliged to express his main reason for doing so: to get a crack at current 205-pound champion Jon Jones. And Sonnen did so in his usual disrespectful way.
“Sure, I can go up to 205 and take Jon Jones’ belt away the same as I can take his candy on Halloween; the punk kid, I can snatch it all I want,” Sonnen said Tuesday on Fuel TV. “But there is something to be said in sportsmanship in earning your shot.
“And on the 29th of December I’m going to go through Forrest to do it.”
As everyone knows, when Sonnen sets his sights on a titleholder he does so with venom in his speech. We all saw how he went after middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
He taunted Silva personally and when that didn’t have the desired effect, Sonnen turn his attention to the man’s wife, friends and country of Brazil.
The nonstop verbal assaults worked to near perfection; Silva was so hot under the collar that he jumped at the chance to get Sonnen in the cage a second time -- despite submitting him the first time they met.
It also served to rile up fight fans in a way never seen by UFC officials. And the rematch was a media and financial bonanza.
But after dropping two fights to Silva, it’s clear to Sonnen that no matter how many more wolf tickets he sells a third bite at the middleweight apple isn’t going to materialize.
So Sonnen is taking his talents back to light heavyweight.
But with a crowded landscape at 205, Sonnen can’t count on cracking the top-contender ranks by exacting revenge on Griffin. He must bring something else to the table.
Sonnen, therefore, isn’t arriving empty-handed. He’s brought a suitcase full of taunts and has begun tossing them at Jones.
There’s one major problem: Jones has developed a thick skin.
Sonnen might be the best tongue-wagging, insult-tossing, trash-talking fighter on the planet today, but he’s a Johnny-come-lately to the Jones-bashing show.
The champ has been on the receiving end of some very personal verbal attacks in the past year, especially from former titleholders Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans.
It’s his experience with Evans more than anything that has made Jones nearly immune to verbal attacks. The close relationship they once had forced Jones to look inward and search for ways to ease the emotional pain.
He found it and no one will even get under his skin or inside his head to the point of steering him off course. Luring Jones into a fight with verbal insults simply will not work.
“(Sonnen) the things you say about me absolutely hold no weight,” Jones said on Twitter. “You disrespected Anderson and his country but fought like a child.
“If you’re going to disrespect me out of nowhere, at least disrespect me to my face like a man.”
Jones is a bit ticked off by Sonnen’s verbal antics, who wouldn’t be; it’s why he felt compelled to respond on Twitter. But his mind remains firmly on defeating hard-hitting Dan Henderson at UFC 151 next month.
And there is nothing Sonnen can say or do to change that.
“For everyone who thinks ‘I’m falling into Chael’s game,’ I know exactly what I am doing,” Jones said.
Jones will not fall into the trap that consumed Silva. With Henderson looming he can’t afford to.
"By the way, how long did it take your parents to come up with your name, Jon Jones?" Sonnen said Wednesday on Twitter.
That one stings. And knowing Sonnen it will only get worse.
Good thing Jones has developed thick skin.
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."
For the last few years, visa problems have kept him out of the UFC. Before he defeated Kyle Kingsbury at UFC 146 to point a sudden “I’m coming” finger at Jon Jones, the last time he’d fought in the States was back in 2008 when he punched out Buckley Acosta.
None of that matters now. What matters is Teixeira’s arrived, and we saw it in his dismantling of Kingsbury in just under two minutes. Those in the know knew. Those who didn’t were quickly alerted to what the cult was saying, which was this: Teixeira is a power player who arrives on the UFC 205-pound landscape like a man ready to build condominiums all over it.
And that’s good, because the 32-year old Teixeira brings life to a division where prospects are down. He’s won 16 fights in a row. His last loss was in 2005 to Ed Herman. It’s not that he’s nickel and diming guys, either. Fifteen of his victories during that stretch have come via finishes. He’s not top 10 right now in part because Ricco Rodriguez and Marvin Eastman (the guys he’s beaten) are not Ryan Bader and Phil Davis (the guys he’s hurdling).
More importantly, Glover just isn’t that known to UFC-centric Americans.
As for the Brazilians? Well, they know him. They know him plenty.
And to listen to Dana White, knowing him means to steer clear of him. That’s what happened this past week when fellow Brazilian Mauricio Rua turned down a headlining fight with Teixeira when Thiago Silva was forced out of their scheduled bout with a back injury. When offered Teixeira as a replacement, Rua politely said, “no thanks.”
That sounded like “you must be out of your mind to think I’d fight that guy” to the UFC.
When the UFC threatened to cut Rua if he didn’t conform to the idea, he said he’d rather get canned than mingle with the “Baker.” This was not the expected response. Of course, all of this was how White relayed it to the media. Translations may differ on how things went down.
Since then, muttering has gone on with both sides since, but the bottom line is this: Rua didn’t want to fight Teixeira and he had his reasons. Those reasons, if we’re to be bludgeoned by strong hints, are that Rua wants no part of Teixeira. Either way, turning down fights is not what the UFC wants out of big name former champions who have drawers full of big digit deposit slips.
The compromise was Brandon Vera, a name of utter bewilderment to MMA fans. How does Rua, coming off the fight of the year against Dan Henderson at UFC 139 (a fight that some thought he won), get paired with Vera, who was coming off a lackluster victory over Eliot Marshall? Why, if Rua was only interested in fighting top-10 fighters, did he turn down Teixeira but accept Vera? Was he ducking Teixeira, as was insinuated? Or is this a tactical move, a simple case of Vera is the easier opponent? Why did the UFC accommodate Rua with Vera when the ultimatum wasn’t met? Are UFC matchmakers so hog-tied right now that when fighters dare the promotion to cut them that they are the first to blink?
This last question gets complicated when you look at the case of Quinton Jackson.
But the answer to some of this might be simple. Rua, like Jackson, is the old guard who likes sticking to the old guard. Jackson wanted to fight Rua, Rua wanted to fight Jackson. Vera is old guard. Tito Ortiz, Forrest Griffin, Dan Henderson -- they are old guard, too. They have established names. The UFC’s light heavyweight division -- perhaps more than any other -- is by and large a cast of past glories. Jon Jones has obviously helped render the situation. He effectively eased people into the past tense. He could do the same to Henderson on Sept. 1.
The thing is that Rua wants marquee fights in the twilight of his career. The UFC wants to introduce Teixeira into that space of marquee names. Teixeira is actually older than Rua. But it’s hard to crash a party that’s been raging on without him for so long. Rua, a little over a year ago, was the life of that party. Teixeira, around the same time, was beating somebody named Simao Melo in Shooto. It’s easy to see both sides.
So was it an issue of fear, lack of merit, motivation, desperation, name recognition or simply a matter of shrewd logistics that prompted Rua to say no to Teixeira?
The short answer is: Probably.
At the time, Jones was trying out unusual kicks and punches in a shed in upstate New York, envisioning those spinning elbows and saddle throws that fall under the umbrella of judo. He knew, even then, that he could "dirty box" from three feet out of harm's reach. I remember Tandam McCrory, the lank Barn Cat, preaching Jones’ use of range from back in those days.
The thing is, Jones was never really raw. But, at one point, he was mostly just creative.
Today, Jones is a coachable, maniacal center of poise who institutes and sticks to game plans -- game plans tailored to his overwhelming reach advantage, speed and the eventual surrender of his opponent’s optimism. These days you can visibly see guys lose spirit in a fight with Jones. You see theoretically sound ideas go right out the cage door.
His fight at UFC 145 was no different. Rashad Evans, the former light heavyweight champion, was supposed to close the gap between himself and Jones, and fight on the inside. This was Evans’ criticism of old foe Quinton Jackson, who couldn’t sneak inside Evans' striking range at UFC 135.
Once in, Evans was supposed to dump Jones on to his back like he did Phil Davis -- a lengthy wrestler -- and make it a grueling, grinding affair. Make it boring. It all seemed reasonable enough.
Yet, like Jackson, Evans couldn’t sustain close, and he settled into a stand-up fight with Jones, where he was forced to stay in the champion’s orbit. In other words, the danger belonged to him alone. When Evans did manage to get inside, Jones threw elbows from puncher’s range; when the wrists were locked at his waist, Jones threw shoulders.
As has become the custom, Jones did it his way. The big difference is that he’s traded in the unpredictable for telegraphy and “try and stop me.” Even scarier: The freelance improvisations that we saw against Stephan Bonnar and Jake O’Brien are still in Jones' arsenal, but they’re now situational. His cool dictates the fight.
The Jones of 2012 is a Zen-harnessed version of his already ridiculous self. Before, it was a showcase of a rare and gifted skill set you wondered whether would work on elite competition.
Now Jones is far and away the elite, and everybody else at 205 pounds is left studying the Mona Lisa. He knows it. The guys he fights -- and an increasing number of fans -- know he knows it and want to put a stop to it. They can’t. Even Evans, who had some trade secrets from his days training with Jones at Greg Jackson’s gym couldn’t stop it. Whatever vulnerabilities could be found in sparring sessions have nothing to do with the combined “it” factor that he saw on Saturday night. Jones slows the fight down. He fights without emotional projection, like it’s a casual undertaking to be gotten at with patience and skill and ungodly long limbs. He kills himself in training to make it look easy on fight night. He fights twice as much as Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre.
In MMA, it’s Jones' world right now.
And it’s why at this point a lot of people are sold on the fact that he has cleaned out the light heavyweight division. Dan Henderson lingers, but not many are convinced he’ll bring anything to the table that Jones hasn’t seen. Hendo has that right hand. He has the wrestling pedigree. He has willingness. All of it admirable.
But there will be questions, most common of which will be this: How do you defeat Jon Jones? Plenty of fighters have had their theories handed back to them by Jones with a wink and a "nice try."
So, Dan Henderson -- how do you, at 42, beat Jon Jones, the phenom who’s already fighting to his potential at 24 years old?
Facing an opponent he truly dislikes isn’t something new to top UFC light heavyweight contender Rashad Evans.
Two years ago, he took on -- and defeated -- Quinton Jackson. After his unanimous decision win at UFC 114, it was difficult to imagine Evans ever disliking an opponent more. But Saturday at UFC 145 in Atlanta, Evans will face a guy he seems to despise far more than Jackson -- 205-pound champion Jon Jones. And the feeling is mutual.
A year ago, Evans and Jones were friends and training partners. Today, however, they struggle to look one another in the eye without getting the urge to throw a punch. The disdain between them is powerful and has been on display the past few months leading to Saturday's showdown.
But with the fight only a few days away, Evans is done being angry with Jones. Sure, he'll articulate his dislike for Jones if asked, but he will do so without going off the handle.
It’s time to fight, and Evans refuses to let anything prevent him from being his best at UFC 145. So the former light heavyweight titleholder has put his emotions in check.
“When it comes to having a big fight and the buildup leading to it, emotions are involved,” Evans told ESPN.com. “You have to be able to divorce yourself from your feelings.
“What it comes down to is making it just another fight. Sometimes when guys have so much dislike for one another, it becomes hard to do.
“But at the same time, if you treat it professionally you will be able to do it.”
By taking his emotions out of the equation, Evans is fully prepared to execute his fight plan. And it’s no secret that a big part of that plan involves closing the gap between himself and the rangy Jones.
At 6-foot-4, Jones will tower over the 5-11 Evans. But a five-inch height disparity isn’t much of an issue for Evans; he’s had to look up to just about all of his Octagon foes.
What makes Jones more complicated than others is his 84.5-inch reach. It’s the longest in UFC history.
Evans knows that getting under Jones’ long limbs will be a key factor in leaving the cage victorious Saturday night. And he believes he possesses the technique to accomplish that goal.
“Boxing is my fundamental striking base,” said Evans, who will carry a 17-1-1 pro record and a four-fight win streak into the bout. “I’m a boxer in training. It’s definitely something I will look to implement in my strategy.
“It’s what I do; it’s what I’m comfortable with.”
But boxing won’t be the only technique Evans plans to utilize. Every weapon in his arsenal will be on display against Jones. He's also incorporated a few wrinkles into his offense and defense that might give Jones pause.
It goes without saying that I am going to do what I can to upset the opposition, something a little bit unexpected. If I do everything that is expected, I probably won't win. I've got to mix it up.” -- Rashad Evans, on throwing a curveball at Jon Jones
“It goes without saying that I am going to do what I can to upset the opposition, something a little bit unexpected,” Evans said. “If I do everything that is expected, I probably won’t win. I’ve got to mix it up.”
This will be Jones’ first time competing in such an emotionally charged bout. Jackson tried unsuccessfully to throw him off; they didn’t have enough history.
But the timing of a fight with Evans couldn’t have come at a better time for the 24-year-old champion.
“From his first UFC fight until now, all of his opponents have been pretty good,” Jones’ manager, Malki Kawa, told ESPN.com. “He’s fought Stephan Bonnar, Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko.
“Then you’ve got Ryan Bader, a legend in [Mauricio] Shogun [Rua], another guy who’s probably going to make the Hall of Fame in Rampage, and he turns around and beats a guy most people haven’t been able to figure out in Lyoto Machida.
“They’ve all been good opponents, and Rashad is just the latest in a line of good opponents Jon has faced in the past year or so.
“That he is fighting Rashad now is good because he’s got the confidence and a good mental base that has come along with experience.”
Jones (15-1) will be making the third defense of his light heavyweight belt.