Jon Jones faced his stiffest competition yet in Rashad Evans at UFC 145, and walked away with another dominant victory. It was a night designed to showcase some of the UFC's best young talent, and elsewhere on the card, several prospects shined, others couldn't live up to the hype, and some established veterans were upset and will have to go back to the drawing board.
A look at the main card fights:
Jon Jones defeated Rashad Evans via Unanimous Decision
Jones improved to 16-1 in what's becoming a historic MMA career Saturday night by thoroughly outclassing his former teammate and friend, Evans (17-2-1). Jones exploited a nearly ten inch reach advantage throughout the five rounds, landing successfully from the outside with selective straight punches. Whenever Evans managed to close the distance, or when Jones chose to close it himself, he landed vicious elbows that proved to be the most significant shots in the fight.
While Jones was dominant throughout the fight, it is perhaps a comment on his greatness to say Evans did not perform poorly in the loss. At this point, surviving five rounds with Jones is enough to prove you are a great fighter.
Evans was rocked several times in the fight, but at no point did he appear to be on the verge of being finished. He also managed to hurt Jones with a brutal head kick near the end of the first round, and seemed to have the champion seeing stars later with an overhand right. While he didn't come close to dethroning the champion, he did make Jones appear human. And these days, that's probably enough to call yourself the second-best Light Heavyweight on the planet.
While the victory wasn't as spectacular as we have become used to from Jones, it was still a showcase of the 24 year-old's array of offensive weapons and unprecedented creativity inside the cage. Aside from the short elbows, many of which were thrown after odd games of hand-mirroring, Jones managed to land a flying knee, sneaky body shots, and utilized a strange jumping shoulder-strike (the effectiveness of which is debatable) in the clinch. In the dying seconds of the fight, with Evans desperate for a knockout, Jones surprised him by pulling guard and time ran out while he was on his back. If Jones proved anything new in this fight, it's that he's capable of anything at any time in the octagon. He is the most unpredictable high-level fighter we have ever seen.
What's next for Jones? The ageless Dan Henderson (29-9), possessor of arguably the most lethal right hand in all of MMA. Should Jones prevail that night, there will be few legitimate tests remaining for him at Light Heavyweight.
From there, there is the long-shot possibility that a dream match-up with long-time Middleweight and Pound-for-Pound king, Anderson Silva (31-4), will materialize. Or perhaps Jones will move up to Heavyweight, where he will still have a reach advantage over every fighter the UFC can currently match him with.
From here, Evans greatest test will be himself. He is capable of remaining the #2 Light Heavyweight in the world until Jones loses the crown or vacates the division. Time will tell if that is enough to keep the former champion motivated and hungry. It is the position made famous by former Middleweight champion, Rich Franklin (28-6-1NC), after he was thoroughly dominated by Silva twice and yet remained a step ahead of the rest of the division.
Perhaps it will be possible for Evans, at 5'11, to move down to Middleweight where a host of new challenges would wait. If he remains at Light Heavyweight, there are several intriguing fights to be made, but none that are likely to prove he would fair any better in a second go-round with Jones.
Rory MacDonald defeated Che Mills via TKO at 2:20, Round 2
The 22 year-old MacDonald (13-1) had the biggest opportunity of his young career, given second-billing on a highly anticipated card, and responded with a show-stealing performance. If MacDonald wasn't on fans' radars before, he is now.
Early in the bout, it seemed like MacDonald might be in for a tough fight. Mills (14-5-1NC) appeared to be getting the better of MacDonald in the stand-up, but then MacDonald did what great fighters do when things aren't going their way - he changed gears.
Once the fight hit the ground, it was soon apparent that Mills had little to offer MacDonald. MacDonald smashed him with heavy punches, improved position seemingly at will, leaving Mills so bloody and beaten at the end of the first round that commentator Joe Rogan wondered aloud if he'd be able to continue.
The second round brought more of the same, until MacDonald unleashed a violent flurry of punches, reminiscent of a prime Fedor Emelianenko (33-4-1NC), and the fight was stopped at 2:20 of the second round.
The sky appears to be the limit for MacDonald. While a beatdown on Mills, a decent journeyman fighter (regardless of Rogan's assertions), in no way proves he's ready for the upper levels of the Welterweight division, it will go a long way in raising the talented young prospect's profile.
For better proof of his potential, one need only look to his 2010 tilt against current UFC Interim Welterweight Champion, Carlos Conduit (28-5). MacDonald dominated the fight right up until the then-future champ snatched a shocking TKO victory in the dying seconds of the final round. The loss has haunted MacDonald, but if he keeps on his current track, he'll undoubtedly get a chance to avenge it.
Ben Rothwell defeated Brendan Schaub via KO at 1:10, Round 1
A trimmer Ben Rothwell (32-8)entered the octagon a heavy underdog against Brendan Schaub (8-3), but left with a crushing KO victory and possibly a rejuvenated career.
Schaub looked good to start, landing crisp punches and backing Rothwell into the cage. A moment later, the tables turned - Rothwell cracked Schaub with a crushing left hook behind the ear and finished with a heavy hammerfist that left Schaub unconscious, with his eyes open, looking like he was having a nightmare about either swimming or climbing a ladder.
This is a devastating loss for Schaub, not only because it's his second in a row, but because it is now apparent that he might not possess the chin needed to deal with the heavy-hitters in the UFC's Heavyweight division. His three losses have each come by brutal knockout.
Michael McDonald defeated Miguel Torres via KO at 3:18, Round 1
McDonald (15-1) made a resounding statement to the UFC's Bantamweight division by disposing former WEC Bantamweight king, Miguel Torres (40-5), just 3:18 into the first round.
McDonald's striking looked crisp from the outset, and soon he landed a devastating uppercut that sent Torres to the canvas. The rest was a formality, and McDonald walked away with the biggest victory of his young career.
Eddie Yagin defeated Mark Hominick via Split Decision
In a clash of striking styles, Yagin (16-5) upset Hominick (20-11), securing a Split Decision victory in a bloody fight that was arguably the most entertaining and competitive of the night.
Yagin came out throwing wild hooks while Hominick landed precise, technical strikes from the outside. Yagin dropped Hominick in each of the first two rounds, and Hominick picked Yagin apart in the third.
With the first round being clearly won by Yagin, and the third by Hominick, the fight was decided by a second round that saw Hominick dropped, but otherwise clearly win with accurate striking. Two judges saw the round for Yagin and the third believed Hominick had done enough to outweigh his scary moment, resulting in the Split Decision.
Bocek defeated John Alessio via Unanimous Decision
Mark Bocek (11-4) scored another impressive victory, this time over John Alessio (34-15) who came in as a late replacement.
Bocek fought well on his feet, but dominated when he brought the fight to the ground, where he showed off why he is one of the sport's best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners. He thoroughly out-grappled Alessio, landing punches from the guard and searching for the occasional submission, on his way to a Unanimous Decision win.
Bocek is an interesting case. Three of his four losses have come against the very top of the division, including a loss a year ago to current Lightweight Champion, Benson Henderson (16-2). Bocek appears to be a handful for anyone in the Lightweight Division, and could present an intriguing foil for many would-be contenders.
Heavyweight: Travis Browne (13-0-1) defeated Chad Griggs (11-2) via Submission, 2:29, Round 1
Welterweight: Matt Brown (14-11) defeated Stephen Thompson (6-1) via Unanimous Decision
Catchweight (158): Anthony Njokuani (15-6-1) defeated John Makdessi (9-2) via Unanimous Decision
Lightweight: Mac Danzig (21-9) defeated Efrain Escudaro (18-5) via Unanimous Decision
Welterweight: Chris Clements (11-4) defeated Keith Wisniewski (28-14) via Split Decision
Featherweight: Marcus Brimage (5-1) defeated Maximo Blanco (8-4) via Split Decision
Performance of the Night: Jon Jones (Honorable Mention to Rory MacDonald, but Jones faced stiffer competition.)
Worst Performance of the Night: Stephen Thompson (Honorable Mention to Chad Griggs, but no one expected him to defeat Travis Browne. Thompson lost a fight he was expected to win, in which Brown proved, once again, that grit beats flash.)