No one's forcing you to like Jon Jones. We still live in a hypothetically free country and it's your right to hate him if you so choose.
But if you can't appreciate the show the UFC light heavyweight champion puts on every time he steps into the Octagon by this stage of the game, well, maybe you should pursue a hobby other than combat sports.
Jones was at it again on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 172, looking like a man among boys, an artist, a maestro, whatever comparison you wish to make.
Elbows. Uppercuts. Shoulder shivers. Shoulder cranks. Axe kicks. Strikes from distance, strikes in close and dirty, strikes from bizarre angles. Jones may have even thrown a kitchen sink at poor Glover Teixeira at one point.
Not only has Jones laid waste to, in UFC president Dana White's words, a "murderer's row" at 205 pounds, but he's hit the point at which he's beating his opponents at their own game just for the sport of it. Such was the case last night, when he took the best a power puncher with a 20-fight win streak could dish out and started fearlessly wading into his wheelhouse and beating Teixeira on his own terms.
There was another UFC champion who had otherworldly skills, but wasn't really appreciated in the early and midpoint of his long title reign. That guy's name was Anderson Silva. The masses didn't embrace immediately embrace Silva, and his lack of drawing power on top early on was such that he was sometimes paired in double-billed main events.
But somewhere along the way, it began to click with the fans that Silva's talents were something special, and his fights weren't to be missed, because you never know what you're going to get when he steps into the Octagon, and you don't want to miss something new and different.
By the time Silva's seven-year title reign was over, he was considered the greatest fighter the sport has ever seen. By the time Jones is done, that honor very well might be his.
The audience in Baltimore showered Jones with the love and affection he's so obviously craved and sought after. It was the first time in awhile Jones wasn't jeered by the crowd. The people who care enough about the sport to pay high ticket prices to go to the fights are usually a couple steps ahead of the casual fans who only pay to see the most popular stars and the biggest fights.
If the audience response Saturday was any indication, then UFC 172 may be looked back upon historically as the night Jones turned the corner with the fans, much as Silva before him did.
UFC 172 notes
"It's a loss and I want to redeem myself. I want to earn my title shot, and beating Vitor is, I think, the best way to do it. Obviously it doesn't sit well with me, going down there and getting caught with a crazy thing. ... I just, I feel a lot more comfortable now and I don't think it told the whole tale of me and him. I'd like a different ending, I want to beat the guy." --- Luke Rockhold, on wanting to redeem his knockout loss to Vitor Belfort.
"It didn't bother me at all. I didn't feel any pressure. He was the one that had to perform and do what he needed to do to win. I was just out there having fun. It is what it is. … I have nothing but respect for him. But I knew I had to make him respect me." -- Anthony Johnson, on all the attention Phil Davis seemed to pay to Jon Jones instead of him.
"I don't know if he's the greatest fighter ever, but he's becoming a man in front of everyone In and outside of the Octagon." -- White on Jones.
"I told him to focus. Keep talking trash, Phil. Phil was talking all that craziness, and now he's somewhere pouting." -- Jones, who took note of Davis' trash talk.
"I don't really want to talk about that kid at all." -- Jones on Alexander Gustafsson.
Up: Anthony Johnson. We saw, during his UFC first stint, little glimpses here and there of what "Rumble" could be if he ever put it all together: The frightening head kicks, the crisp striking, the raw power. Now that Johnson is fighting at the weight class he belongs in, well, watch out. Johnson looked like a machine against Phil Davis on Saturday night. Without an excessive weight cut slowing him down, Johnson has a newfound gas tank. He's putting all his tools together. Johnson put up a division-shaking performance at UFC 172 one that should give everyone at 205 pounds not named Jon Jones pause.
Down: Phil Davis. Then there's the flip side of the equation. Watching Davis get takedown after takedown stuffed was a truly jaw-dropping experience. This isn't like a fighter who learned his MMA wrestling in the gym with no previous experience. This was Phil Davis, former NCAA wrestling champion, who had made his wrestling the basis of his success. This was the Phil Davis who stole a decision over Lyoto Machida on the basis of his wrestling. This wasn't supposed to happen. Worse, Davis seemed to have no Plan B, and carried himself as if he never let the thought Johnson could stop his takedowns even cross his mind. As much as a deserved coming out party as this was Johnson, this also served to expose Davis in a way that few high-level fighters are done so.
Hold: Glover Teixeira. Yes, he lost a one-sided, 50-45 decision. But he was fighting Jon Jones. Teixeira still hits like a truck, still is plenty tough, and is still going to find other guys in the division making excuses to not fight him. He's not going to be champ at 205 as long as Jones holds the title, but that doesn't detract from what Teixeira's capable of against other opponents. If you don't believe me, listen to Jones. "He told me backstage was rib was hurt, and his shoulder was hurt from the elbow clinch early in the fight. The fact, the blood in his eye, that guy is a straight beast, he has the heart of a champion, and a great guy too, I respect him so much."
Down: Tim Boetsch. "The Barbarian" was schooled on the ground by Luke Rockhold in a one-sided loss. That makes it three losses in his past four fights. In the previous loss, Mark Munoz gave him an MMA wrestling lesson. Boetsch is 33 and is 10 fights into his UFC career. Given the UFC's quick trigger finger with guys in his position, I wouldn't be too surprised if Boetsch's next fight is in World Series of Fighting.
You know, since there weren't any over-the-top great calls in this one, let's just take a moment to bask in what was a truly outstanding night of MMA action. It started with a bang at the outset, with Chris Beal delivering the sort of highlight reel knockout flying knee usually only seen in video games and action movies. Then Danny Castillo delivered a whopper of a one-punch knockout. Then Takanori Gomi put on a classic "Fireball Kid" barnburner, with Isaac Vallie-Flagg all too happy to oblige, with both earning their $50,000 Fight of the Night bonus.
But we were only getting started. Joseph Benavidez and Tim Elliott went at each other like a pair of Tasmanian devils for four minutes, putting on exactly the sort of all-action scrap envisioned when the flyweight division was added to the roster. Max Holloway showed heart in rallying to defeat Andre Fili. Jim Miller put on a vintage Jim Miller performance in earning his 13th UFC lightweight win, tying a division record. Luke Rockhold put on an MMA jiu-jitsu clinic. And then the two co-mains delivered in their own way. We saw little, if any, in the way of point fighting or cruising for a decision.
Add in a raucous, knowledgeable Baltimore crowd which was there from the opening matchup, and the whole evening seemed like a throwback to glory era. Given how nowadays, we seem so immersed in talks about drugs, TRT, money, persecuting whichever fighter said a bad word on any given week, and everything except the fights, let's just take a minute to appreciate nights like UFC 172, which remind us why we got into the sport to begin with, for the fun nights they are.
We've gotten through the past two major events without any egregiously bad calls by the referees or the judges. Knock on wood.
Fight I'd like to see next
It looks like we're going to get the main fight I wanted to see coming out of this in Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson 2. And possibly in a stadium in Europe, which could potentially be an event that could be remembered for years, à la UFC 129.
With that all but lined up, how about Teixeira vs. Johnson? Daniel Cormier is already accounted for with Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans is going to be on the sidelines for awhile. Johnson's victory was the sort that should propel him up the rankings. The only reason I can think of that might not make this fight work is timing. Teixeira is likely going to need time to heal; Johnson looks like he could fight again in six weeks if needed. Otherwise, the bout sounds like a winner to me.
Oh, and Miller pretty much called out the entire division last night after his win. Given that he's won three straight (minus a no-contest), he's earned his keep. You wouldn't have to twist my arm too hard to get me to watch Miller vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov, which could be exactly the type of fight the latter needs to finally break through with the masses.