By the end of December, if Jon Jones is still the UFC’s light heavyweight champion, we’ll know that he’s just as centered as he is prolific.
Four fights in 10 months would be tough on anybody not in desperate need of cash and exposure -- but four fights over 10 months with escalating pressures and stakes, inflated expectations and increased scrutiny is something else.
It’s warped. Happening at warp speed for a 24-year-old adjusting on the fly to media demands, stardom, promotional pressures, appearances and all the bodily/mental taxations in between. And these are just the personal issues that he’s been left to deal with since squeezing the chakras from Ryan Bader.
What we see is Jones’ overall hit list in 2011, the more public half of the marvel.
He ran through Bader on Feb. 5; he threw an artisan beatdown on then-light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua after bringing a purse-snatcher down in Paterson, N.J., on March 19; he beat former champion Quinton Jackson in his first defense on Sept. 24. On Dec. 10, he’ll fight another former champion in Lyoto Machida. The process to and through these pairings is too absurd to recount, but suffice to say that somehow, Rashad Evans -- yet another former champion -- factored into every fight without having fought Jones. That fight belongs to 2012 (presumably). The thing is, the pressure and intrigue to each event gets progressively more as Jones goes along.
Remember when people were calling the UFC smart for bringing Jones along slowly?
Somewhere along the way -- maybe when he smashed Vladimir Matyushenko in August 2010 or when he Picasso’d Brandon Vera’s face -- the UFC shifted him in fifth and forgot about slow. That’s where we find ourselves as he goes about cleaning out the division with amphetamine speed. It’s a lot of prospects, defending and former champions to get through in the space of a year without time to reflect on anything.
And that’s why you can’t help but wonder about burnout when he faces Machida in Toronto.
What Jones is doing is unprecedented. Chuck Liddell defended his strap three times in 2006; two of those defenses -- against Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz -- were against former champions. That comes close.
Georges St. Pierre fought four times in 2005, but none of them had title implications. Jones will have fought three former champions and one previously undefeated prospect. The annals of the UFC’s history can’t produce his equivalent.
So far he’s handled the pressure of these events fine, though he’s taking his time more as he goes along. He’s finishing everybody, but chronologically speaking it’s taking him an extra round to do it: Matyushenko (first round), Bader (second round), Rua (third round), Jackson (fourth). Of all of these, Machida is arguable the hardest to solve, and is possibly the best reactionary fighter in the game. The style match-up will be fun to contemplate.
So it’s a dangerous fight for Jones on the basic match-up level. But Jones will have to continue staying hungry through the process just as his belly got full. That new Bentley he just got? It might have to represent things still to come instead of what’s been accomplished so far. That’s a hard mode to keep in, especially when you’re 24 years old.
But give Jones his credit. Never has anybody gained a legacy so fast, only to dangle it out there as often to be snatched away.