Coming into this past Saturday’s UFC on Fox card, both the biggest promotional “draw” and the biggest source of controversy focused on who would be getting the next title shot at reigning light heavyweight champ Jon Jones.
Simple enough proposition. But, in this “summer of the injury” — where we half expect Bruce Buffer to blow out his ACL doing the “Buffer Spin” — nothing is that simple.
First, it was announced that the winner of the Vera vs. Shogun main event would be getting the title shot. Fans raged (in 140 characters) at the notion that the two men, who are a combined 2-1-1 since their last respective losses to Jones, could fight for the UFC’s marquee title.
Dana White relented. He declared that whomever was “most impressive” among Vera, Rua, and Lyoto Machida and Ryan Bader in the evening’s co-main event would get the shot. All that was missing was White, sitting cageside, holding up an “impressive” score after each fight. Might as well capitalize on the Olympics, right?
Well, come Sunday morning, we all knew who that “most impressive” man would be: Lyoto Machida. The UFC’s resident karate kid, former world champion and one of their biggest stars who, oh yeah — got trounced by Jon Jones in that ancient era known as two fights ago.
As you can imagine, those same MMA fans were not pleased.
It’s not a perfect solution by any means — I don’t see Superbowl appearances being handed out to whichever quarterback “most impressed” Roger Goodell that season — but it’s undeniably honest. UFC title shots have never been handed out according to a rigid ranking system, and the contender who is “most impressive” is usually the one we will tune in to see.
OK, so there remains the inconvenient fact that all four of the guys in the running for “most impressive” didn’t look all that impressive getting steamrolled by Jon Jones not that long ago.
But it’s Jon Jones. Surely there’s no shame in losing to a guy who’s viewed as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the game, with the potential to be the greatest ever. Sappy stuff I know, but have you watched Jones fight? He trucks everybody, with no exceptions (so far). That doesn’t stop three of the top light heavyweights and Brandon Vera from being great fighters who deserve a(nother) crack at the title.
Lots of folks thought Shogun vs. Machida 3 should have been the Fox headliner instead of Shogun vs. Vera. That would have been a great fight in all likelihood, but it would also have “killed” a viable UFC title contender for the foreseeable future. A loss in the main of event of a Fox card would eliminate either Shogun (two losses in a row) or Machida (1-3 in his last 4) as a title contender.
Not a good idea when Jon Jones is running through title challengers on an almost weekly basis.
But why Machida (I mean aside from the whole “most impressive” thing)? As i said above, he’s now 2-3 in his last 5, which isn’t exactly a sterling record to carry into a title shot.
Ok, so Rua blasted him. No argument there. But he already holds a win over Shogun, so it’s not as big a deal (right…). And the loss to “Rampage” Jackson was a highly disputed split decision loss that many felt should have gone his way. And then there’s Jones – - who Machida honestly looked better against than any of the other top LHW contenders.
In a post-Jon Jones light heavyweight world, there’s not a lot of viable contenders. That’s why in the wake of possibly Machida’s sharpest effort, it makes a lot of sense to see if he can build on the little bit of success he had with Bones the first time around. If Jones just zooms through the Machida “puzzle” like a Mensa member getting down on a Rubik’s Cube again, hey, at least White buys potential top contenders Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira a little time.
Besides, Jones still has to get through Dan Henderson. You never know — Hendo just might have another huge upset in him. If MMA’s elder statesman does pull off the minor miracle, Henderson vs. Machida would be a highly anticipated fight.