Stars aligned propitiously for Jon ‘Bones’ Jones on February 5. His horoscope must have read like an oracular zeppelin that day. Before his modified guillotine choke win over TUF 8 winner and decorated wrestler, Ryan Bader, Jones (12-1) was believed to be within a few fights of a championship opportunity. In the MMA promotion possessing the deepest pool of LHW fighters, no less.
Then, hours before the gifted LHW fighter schooled Bader at UFC 126, two events converged to add to Jones’ eventful day. It was reported that the top LHW contender scheduled to face the champion, Mauricio Rua (19-4), had sustained an injury forcing him off the March 19th card. It was expected that Rashad Evans’ strained ligament would keep him on the disabled list for six to eight weeks.
Faced with the possibility of delaying a much anticipated championship bout, the UFC quickly contacted Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson to offer him that opportunity. Jackson (31-8) was the logical default stand-in for Evans, having won against the former LHW champion Lyoto Machida last November at UFC 123.
Citing a lack of prep time, Jackson readily declined the offer. Had he accepted he would have halved his training camp from 12 to six weeks, something the notorious brawler couldn’t afford in light of the high stakes. Plan B kicked in at that point. Dana White pitched to Rua and his camp the idea of fighting Jones, were he to defeat Bader in the imminent bout. Literally minutes before Jones’ entrance in the Octagon, Rua and his posse agreed to that possible matchup.
In the post-fight interview immediately following his win, Jones fell to his knees upon being informed of the promotion’s plans for March 19th.The rather reserved athlete embraced the challenge and rose back to his feet with a spirited “Let’s do this baby!”, cheered on by the unsuspecting fans in attendance.
The blogosphere was ablaze. Who of Rua or Jones would open as the fight favourite? Betting futures had been heavily favourable to Jones since his second win against Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94, but the size of the challenge afforded until now had never been as high. Surely, being a Pride legend, the current UFC LHW champion, and known as an all-around badass, would cause odd makers to deliberate very cautiously on the value of Mauricio Rua with respect to their initial odds.
The next day, MMAjunkie was the first outlet to take the plunge and declared Jones the favourite (-150) early in the afternoon. Rua, the slight underdog, was valued at +120. From that moment on, money started pouring in on Jones’ lines. A few weeks prior to the event, Jones’ odds currently stand at -210, while Rua’s chances have narrowed down to +165.
Interestingly, money has flowed faster on Jones’ line than out of Rua’s, connoting that fans are wagering on their favourite with confidence, few electing to off-set their possible loss. The widening margin separating the two fighters’ chances can’t merely be rationalized by the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response received from Jones’ thriving fan base.
Although Jones’ brand has drastically increased its reach with every spectacular outing since his debut back at UFC 87, his physical prowess and fighting pedigree render him a formidable opponent for anybody at 205. Of note, Jones will enjoy an unfathomable reach advantage exceeding 8 inches when he steps in to fight Rua two weeks from now.
Still, Jones’ fans face a few nagging questions as their great LHW hope readies for his biggest challenge yet. Will his wrestling suffice to neutralize Rua’s effective BJJ? Will his conditioning allow him to compete for twenty-five minutes, if needed? Will Rua’s leg kicks diminish Jones’ ability to throw his unorthodox strikes and kicks from his customary low and wide stance? Can he take a solid punch?
More importantly, will the 23-yr old phenom fold under the pressure? After the much-touted and short-lived “Machida era” that was expected to frame the UFC’s LHW division for years to come, will Jones deliver on all the promise invested in him?
Two weeks prior to that fight, popular wisdom has him winning. Vox Populi, Vox Dei? Jones might not be walking on water yet, but judging by Rua’s receding lines, marginal betters might want to heed that advice. His unpredictable fighting style is really tough to counter. Who knows, MMA’s newest Christ-like figure might just sport boots and walk on a frozen surface.
Lines by Betus.com
Picture courtesy of Dave Mandel, Sherdog.com