Tuesday, 24 September 2013 10:22
No sooner had Jon Jones limped out of the Octagon on Saturday night, his UFC light heavyweight title belt still wrapped securely around his waist and a large piece of gauze perched above his eyelid to staunch a nasty cut, than his legion of online detractors began sharpening their knives.
There seems to be a prevalent opinion among some of Jones' vocal detractors on message boards and news site comment sections that somehow the razor close nature of his title defense against Alexander Gustafsson proves Jones isn't really the once in a generation phenom we all thought he was.
Which of course is not only a pretty hasty conclusion to jump to given the massive body of evidence to the contrary, but an insult to Gustafsson as well. It's almost as if those who are calling Jones overrated still can't reconcile themselves to the idea that Gustafsson proved he's the real deal on Saturday.
Hey, I know how hard it can be to wrap your brain around a new idea that flies in the face of what you think you know. In fact, less than five days ago I wrote that Gustafsson was "solidly above average in the cage but not a killer."
Allow me to officially retract that assessment and state for the record that Gustafsson is a hell of a fighter. I'd eat my hat in a further show of contrition were I not afraid a knit stocking cap would give me indigestion something fierce.
Did Jones take Gustafsson lightly heading into UFC 165? It's possible, maybe even likely, based on the dismissive attitude he had before the fight when asked about what challenges Gustafsson posed for him, but unless somebody inside his camp writes a tell-all book someday we'll likely never know for certain.
What is certain is that Gustafsson gave the champ his stiffest test to date and the result was an epic battle for the ages. It may seem pretentious to dwell too much on the "A" in mixed martial arts when talking about a sport where competitors actively try to inflict subconcussive trauma on one another, but I'll be damned if Gustafsson and Jones didn't come together to produce a work of what the poet Robertson Jeffers once called "divinely superfluous beauty" worthy of being displayed in any museum worth its snooty guards.
Da Vinci may have been able to paint his Mona Lisa all by himself, but just like the art of dance, it takes two to tango in a fight. The beauty that was Jones/Gustafsson wasn't a case of a slightly underrated contender and an overrated champion beating the hell out of one another, it was a meeting of two consummate artists putting on a display of their craft that will reverberate throughout the ages.
Barao proves he's the real champ at 135 pounds
We might as well get this out of the way at the start: yes Dominick Cruz is still the UFC bantamweight champ, and no Renan Barao hasn't defeated him.
Under ordinary circumstances that would make the interim bantamweight championship Barao wears a glorified number one contenders trophy, but these aren't ordinary circumstances we're talking about here. Cruz hasn't fought in just a hair under two years, and it will likely be a lot closer to two and a half years by the time he eventually returns from rehabbing the ACL injuries that have sidelined him for so long.
During that time Barao has distinguished himself as the best 135 pounder in the world. He knocked off perennial contender Urijah Faber -- who is still undefeated in non-title competition -- to earn the interim bantamweight strap and defended his belt with an emphatic submission victory over Michael McDonald back in February. At UFC 165 he put a stamp on his title reign by taking out game contender Eddie Wineland with a highlight reel worthy spinning side kick to the head. Oh yeah, he's also undefeated since May of 2005 as well.
In a lot of ways it isn't fair for Cruz that he's in the position of having to face a killer like Barao in his first fight back after such an extensive layoff, especially since the advantage would likely go to Barao given that he has been actively fighting, training, and improving his craft all that time.
That's the thing with being a champion though: you've got to be the best there is today to hang on to your belt, not the best there was two years ago. Hopefully we find out early next year who the top dog is in the bantamweight division circa 2014.
All we know for certain right now is that for the past year and a half that man has been Renan Barao.
Professor Francis Carmont delivers a powerful lesson in the opening day of "How to Win and Still End up a Loser" 101.
In a way it's easy to feel for poor Francis Carmont. Here the guy obliterated the top ten ranked Costa Philippou by every conceivable scoring criteria for three rounds en route to snapping the Cyprus-native's five fight UFC winning streak and what does he get for his efforts? If you guessed "Dana White burying him on Twitter for being boring" then give yourself a gold star for being perceptive enough to notice the UFC President's SOP in these situations.
Carmont is undefeated in his past 11 fights and has the chiseled physique of the "after" picture in a Bowflex commercial. Ordinarily you'd think that would make the Tri-Star trained Frenchman a no-brainer to push hard as a superstar in Canada, but the only problem is his fights are like fistic NyQuil.
Carmont may be going by the playbook of his teammate Georges St-Pierre and opting for the safest route to victory in his fights, but there's just one problem with that scenario. He's no GSP when it comes to popularity or charisma.
No matter how many wins Carmont can rack up the UFC will be hesitant to put him in a featured position on a card, let alone grant him a title shot, unless he starts delivering some fireworks inside the Octagon. He's just too boring to risk giving a push to in a business based on drawing fan interest.
Might be time to start learning how to spell the name Nurmagomedov from memory
I'll be the first to admit I'm not the world's best speller. I'm even worse with names. In fact, were it not for the miracle of Google I'd probably just mash down my keyboard at random and hope I at least got the first few letters right when trying to spell the names of every non-American or Japanese fighter who has ever competed in a cage, ring, or YAMMA pit (it's probably worth noting here I've been speaking Japanese for over ten years so those names at least are no problem for me).
Which means I either learn how to spell Khabib Nurmagomendov's name now or prepare myself now for a lot of cutting and pasting in 2014.
We knew Nurmagomendov was a fighter with a bright future heading into UFC 165. What we didn't know was how he'd look against a top ten opponent.
The former sambo champion passed his first true test with flying colors as he outworked, out-struck, and out-wrestled the very dangerous Pat Healy.
Now, I realize MMAth is usually fuzzier than the dice hanging from an Elvis impersonator's pink Cadillac, but Healy was coming off a dominant beat down of top lightweight talent Jim Miller in his last fight, which makes the way the smaller Nurmagomendov handled him in all facets of their match so much more impressive.
After he was announced the unanimous winner with a score of 30-27 on all three judge's scorecards, "the Eagle" took the opportunity to channel his inner GSP and, in halting English, gave a heartfelt plea for a title shot. Hey, why not go for broke, right?
It may not have been an effective sales pitch given the state of Nurmagomendov's profile, but considering the paucity of top contenders at lightweight who haven't lost recently, it's entirely likely he's only a couple more high profile wins away from getting his wish. Regardless, he's a talent definitely worth keeping close tabs on.