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The Pepsi Center in Denver will be the place to be on Saturday, as UFC 135 descends upon the Mile High City with one of the more intriguing main events of 2011. There, in a crossroads fight, reigning light heavyweight king Jon Jones will defend his crown against former champion Quinton Jackson.
Will the man they call "Bones" continue his meteoric rise, or will experience pave the way to another high-profile victory for "Rampage"?
Sherdog.com touched base with a number of professional trainers and fighters to gauge their opinions on the "UFC 135: Jones vs. Rampage" main event:
Jake Ellenberger: I'm going to have to go with Jones. I think it's going to be a really great fight. They are both extremely experienced and they're both champions, but I'm going to give the edge to Jones because he's young, I think a little bit hungrier, and he's bringing a few more tools to the table.
Mike Constantino: I think Jones will win this fight with ground-and-pound. I see Bones mixing up the striking and controlling the distance from the outside with long kicks, mixed with punches. He then gets the takedown after closing the distance, employs his ground-and-pound with elbows, and repeats the process for as long as it takes to get the TKO.
Aaron Riley: Well, I'm going to go with Jon, of course. I mean, he's my teammate. I've seen all the preparation, and he's already a very unorthodox fighter; and just in seeing the improvements he's been making in camp, I think he's just going to build on top of the amazing skills he already has.
Daniel Cormier: I'm picking Jones to beat Rampage by TKO in the second round. I just think Jones is too athletic and physically gifted for Rampage at this point in his career. He's predominantly a boxer right now, but Jon does it all. Jon wrestles, he does jiu-jitsu, he does striking. He's just too much for Rampage at this point in his career.
Nam Phan: I think in this case I gotta root for the less cocky guy. I'm gonna go with Rampage on this one.
Kyle Kingsbury: Jones by TKO.
Erik Paulson: This fight is Rampage working hard to stay on top. He is gonna work to match up with the champ's youth, length and overall unorthodox style. Quinton is a stud with super strong hips, good boxing and great tenacity. Jones has a title to defend and is undoubtedly the king of surprises. He has a spry will and surprising game. Quinton has to win this fight based on his conditioning and proper game-plan implementation. It's gonna be fun to watch the youth fighting the accomplished.
Travis Lutter: I think Jones will win this one. Rampage is always dangerous, but I think Jones is going to be hard to beat. We may finally see Rampage fight off his back.
Jason Lambert: Rampage by TKO.
Gustavo Pugliese: It's going to be an explosive bout while it lasts. Both men have the ability to finish their opponents; however, this is another good fight for Jones to showcase his multidimensional form of attack. This kid can fight going backwards really well. Rampage is going to find himself in a trap when putting pressure and moving forward trying to close the gap. I believe Rampage is going to walk into all kinds of strikes. Jones needs to be careful with Rampage's one-and-done punch. I see an early third-round TKO for Jones. He will drop Rampage with strikes and finish him up on the ground.
Willamy Freire: Jones by KO.
Travis Wiuff: Great fight, but I think Jones wins by referee stoppage in the third round. Rampage has his moments in this fight and pushes Jones like no one has yet.
Eric Pele: How can you bet against Bones? The kid is on fire. I'm an underdog kinda guy, so I'll take Rampage, but he needs to be on point like never before; there is absolutely no room for error against this beast in Jones. Even with all that said, Rampage still might not have enough for the win. Will this be his swan song? We shall see. Whatever happens, I hope it delivers a long and brutal fight, not just a blowout on either side but a back-and-fourth battle.
Yves Edwards: I think Jones is too skilled in too many areas. That being said, Rampage may have a puncher's chance, though we have never seen Jones in any kind of trouble -- ever. Jones should win this one pretty handily.
Javier Vazquez: I love Quinton. I will be cheering for him because I'm a fan, but he has a huge task ahead of him. So far, Jones appears to be unbeatable. I'm not completely sold on him just yet. For one reason or another, he has not been pushed yet. If Quinton can touch Jones' chin and the champ can survive, come back and win, I will be sold on Jones. I think Jones will have too much technically and TKO Jackson in the second or third round. Jackson, in my opinion, is a tough and solid top-10 light heavyweight, but I don't think he will be champion anytime soon. We will see whether Jones is the future in this one.
"Razor" Rob McCullough: It's gonna be dynamite.
Matt Pena: This could be Jones' toughest matchup yet if Rampage decides to exchange with Jon and not let him dictate action and get off first. It wouldn't surprise me one bit to see Rampage upset Jones, but when I'm playing the numbers, I have to say Jones by ground-and-pound. Jones' range and bag of tricks from the striking perspective will freeze up Rampage, allowing Jones to transition into a takedown and finish Rampage on the ground.
Greg Nelson: Well, I think it is a change of the old to the new -- the old out and the new in. Jones will out-slick and outstrike Rampage. Jones' conditioning and continual barrage of straightforward and unorthodox strikes will be a bit too much for Rampage. Jones will also control the takedown game and end up on top and drop the smart bombs. Jones just may stop Rampage.
Fabio Maldonado: Jones on points.
Sam Hoger: Rampage is spending a million dollars, from what I have gathered, on this training camp. He says he needs money, but he is really going to need money after Jones tools him and his boxer-cise style of fighting. Rampage will not be tough enough to win this. I mean, we saw what Forrest did to him, and I beat Forrest in at least one round.
Jorge Lopez: I think Jones will win via stoppage in the second -- Thai clinch and knees to the face.
Mac Danzig: Rampage by figure-four leg lock at 4:37 in the fourth round.
Hector Ramirez: My prediction is Rampage via TKO win over Jones.
Mike Ciesnolevicz: It's only a matter of time until Jones loses a fight in the UFC. Can Rampage beat Jones? I think he can if he gets inside and lands some hooks and uppercuts. Chances are that Jones will use his reach to lure Rampage into a stand-up fight, and, when the time is right, Jones will take him down and make Rampage work from his guard, which has to be his weakest skill. I see Jones winning this fight with elbows, similar to the Brandon Vera fight. The good news is that it sets up the fight everyone wants to see with Rashad Evans.
Andre Pederneiras: Jones by KO.
Pat Healy: I'm going with Jones. I think Quinton seems to be kind of checked out of fighting. He's so concerned with making money and being a movie star, and I think Jones is going to take it to him. I think Jones will stop him in the second round with ground-and-pound.
Elvis Sinosic: This is a fight I'm intrigued to see. I think Rampage has the skills to take it to Jones, but I also think Jones has the skills to be one of the all-time best. Since I'm on my honeymoon, I'll keep it brief for once. Rampage needs to take it to Jones. He needs to get in close, use his boxing to punish Jones, pick him up, slam him down and then show us some of that old-fashioned ground-and-pound Rampage was once so well-known for. Jones needs to mix it up. The fighters who do the best against Rampage are the ones who use a great mix of punches, kicks, knees, elbows and more. Jones has the skill set to do this. If he puts Rampage on his back, he'll have a great advantage. If Rampage puts Jones on his back, we'll all be watching closely to see what happens, as it's a rare occurrence. Rampage has the skills and experience to win this fight. If his heart is in it, he is one of the most dangerous fighters on the planet. If his game plan is spot on, he'll be hard to stop. In the end, though, I'm picking Jones, as I think he has the wider skill set and the drive and determination to continue being champion. I think Jones wants to keep this more than Rampage wants to take it away from him.
Jason Dent: I can't pick against Jones. He is so gifted athletically and is very technical, as well. I believe his knees, kicks and elbows will just be too much for Rampage. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Rampage fan, and if you asked me who I want to win, it's different then who I think is actually going to win.
Roan Carneiro: Jones will control the fight and win all the five rounds, getting a decision from the judges.
Tom Vaughn: I don't see Rampage being able to keep up with the pace of this fight. Jones wins by TKO in Round 2.
Matt Hamilton: Jones is so damn explosive and unorthodox. He takes this one via TKO at about the same time he does all his fights -- whenever he decides to turn it on. That said, Rampage has that puncher's chance, and I do love me some Rampage.
Ron Foster: Man, this is a super-tough fight for Rampage. I'm not totally counting him out because he always has that one-punch KO power. The problem for Rampage is that he mostly won't be able to get inside the long reach of Jones. Jones will remain on the outside early in the fight and blast Rampage with punches and kicks. If Rampage does manage to get inside, he will eat some big knees and elbows in the clinch before being taken down and pounded on. I'm a huge Jackson fan, but it's just very hard to see him being able to figure out the riddle that Jones has become. Should be a great fight, but Jones will remain the champ, stopping Rampage in the second or third round.
Keith Berry: Jones is, to me, like Anderson Silva at 205 pounds. I don't see anyone touching him at 205. Rampage's style will get dismantled, and Jones will remain the champ. I say TKO in Round 2.
Marlon Sandro: Rampage wins by KO in the first round. If he doesn't, Jones wins on points.
Kultar Gill: Can't wait to see this fight. The verbal warfare will be won by Rampage, but the fight will be controlled and finished in the third by Jones.
Soa Palelei: My prediction is Jones. Jones is an amazing athlete, and he's got the longest wingspan in the light heavyweight division. Not only is he unpredictable, but he's swift, fast and ridiculously dominant. Jones has the potential to be one of the greatest fighters of all time. Rampage is an astonishing fighter and he is known for having a chin of steel, but Jones' wrestling skills are outstanding and among the best in the game. He tends to take people down at will with excellent wrestling capabilities. Jones will keep Rampage at bay with his reach advantage and then land something ridiculous with a punch, knee, elbow or kick, or Jones may take Rampage to the ground and beat him. Spinning back elbows, spinning back kicks -- you'll see it all from Jones. Rampage has been in there with some of the best ever. He has brutal strength. In terms of skill set, Jackson is an upper-echelon wrestler, and you don't want him on top of you pounding away. Furthermore, he's a very good boxer with extreme power in his hands. If Rampage hits you with a hook, it's probably sleepy time. He's very experienced against top-flight competition, but I don't think he can outwrestle Jones, nor can he keep up with Jones' wingspan.
Joe Duarte: This is a bad style match for Rampage because Jones can use his reach and takedowns to mix it up. I want Rampage to win, but I think Jones is smart enough to take him down and beat on him. I'm calling Jones by TKO in Round 2.
Andre Amado: Jones will knock out Rampage. Jackson doesn't move well and doesn't defend himself against kicks. Jones will seek out the knockout, and he'll get it late in the second round.
Tom Gavrilos: Rampage is in big trouble. He can't get close enough to work his boxing, and if he does take Jones down, the champ will just pop right back up. Too much reach, too much athleticism. Expect a plethora of kicks from Jones, as well; bad matchup for Rampage all the way around.
Ray Elbe: Jones is going to be everyone's choice, but I'll never pick against Rampage. Rampage wins by hot mustard breath sometime in the second round.
Benji Radach: I'm gonna go with Quinton by TKO or KO. He has a hell of an opponent and knows it. I believe we will see the best of both.
Thiago Tavares: Jones wins by submission. He will use his powerful wrestling to take down Rampage and won't risk himself on his feet.
Gegard Mousasi: Jones wins. He has more ways to win the fight. He has better kicks, knees, he's a stronger boxer and striker, and he has more skills. He has more ways to win.
Ben Rothwell: I like both guys, for sure, and I'm sure you hear this a lot when getting picks. Jones is on fire and Quinton is doing his whole Spygate thing, and he's saying this and that, like Jones can't smash a grape. I think by saying all that it'll just give Quinton bad karma and it'll probably be his demise. I know Quinton can get away with saying a lot of stuff, but I don't know. Something doesn't sound right with what's in Quinton's head, I guess. I think Jones is far more of a threat to him than he's leading on.
Roli Delgado: Rampage doesn't really move well and only boxes, so I'm going to pick Jones by referee stoppage at the beginning of Round 2.
Jose Aldo: The fight won't last five rounds. Rampage has excellent boxing and is aggressive. Jones is strong and comes into the Octagon at an excellent moment in his career. There will be a knockout, but I'm not betting on anyone.Pros Picking Jones: 35