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Monday, March 21, 2011
Updated: March 23, 8:15 AM ET
Jones passes Rua test with flying colors

By Josh Gross
ESPN.com

Remember the Machida Era, for that brief reign should slow the speed by which Jon Jones is anointed mixed martial arts' next great fighter.

I've no doubt that the new UFC light heavyweight champion has it in him to be worthy of that distinction. As it is, he is newly minted as the No. 1 fighter at 205 pounds and deserves mention among the top 10 mixed martial artists on the planet.

But as Jones told ESPN.com after his third-round stoppage of Mauricio Rua -- who not so long ago was considered the best in MMA -- eras, ages, dynasties and the like aren't where it's at. Going out, day by day, doing what's required to actually be the best -- that's where Jones is appropriately focused.

So I say, if he can take a step back and remain grounded, why not the rest of us?

Let's let Jones, who at 23 is the youngest fighter to win a UFC divisional championship, prove his worth. He seems willing, after all.

Let Jones make good on all that potential by bringing stability to a weight division in which champions Quinton Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Rua failed to defend the belt more than once since Chuck Liddell's reign ended in 2007.

Let Jones' career unfold at light heavyweight before demanding the UFC to put together superfights with Anderson Silva or Cain Velasquez.

Let Jones mature as an athlete, fighter and person.

Let Jones do these things as they come, because only then will we know where he belongs on the pantheon of MMA's greatest fighters. Only then will he truly deserve such accolades.

Let him prove all this out of respect to Georges St. Pierre or Silva.

Let him prove it as a way to differentiate himself from other young champions like Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar, Dominick Cruz or Velasquez.

Safe to say, it will make for great viewing.

For now, let's settle on judging his effort at UFC 128. Taken as a whole -- six weeks to prepare, the pressure, the opponent, his age and relative inexperience, thwarting a robbery the afternoon of his fight, and his superlative effort against Rua -- Jones was brilliant in every sense. He proved on multiple fronts he's ready for what's ahead of him. Now he just has to prove it over the long haul.

From A+ (Jones, of course) to F, here are grades from UFC 128:

Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.