UFC 135: Jones vs. Rampage goes down tomorrow night from the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
FightLine.com writer Dana Becker (@DanaBecker), head writer Mark Wayne (@_MarkWayne), and President Raj Giri (@RajGiri_303) preview the top fights and offer their predictions for the show. Also, don’t forget to check back at FightLine.com Saturday afternoon for our live, ongoing coverage of UFC 135: Jones vs. Rampage.
Jon Jones vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
Newly-minted UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones will attempt to make the first defense of his title tomorrow night at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado against veteran and former champ Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
After defeating Chuck Liddell to earn the title back in 2007, Rampage Jackson unified the UFC and Pride FC 205lbs. belts by defeating Dan Henderson. He would then lose the title to Forrest Griffin before knocking out old rival Wanderlei Silva and then stagnating. With his focus more on his budding acting career, Jackson turned in uninspired performances against Keith Jardine and Rashad Evans before winning the decisions over Lyoto Machida and Matt Hamill which earned him a shot at Jones’ belt. Though some would say that Jackson has reverted to a less dynamic and less motivated version of the fighter he once was, the word out of Rampage’s camp is that he’s trained harder for this fight than he has in years and is poised to upset Bones.
Seen as the herald of a new evolutionary step in MMA thanks to his endlessly creative and effective style, Jonny “Bones” Jones became the toast of the 205lbs. division before he ever challenged Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the belt. Though Rua was Jones’ most decorated opponent at the time, he was widely forecast to walk through the former Pride superstar – and that’s exactly what he did. He beat Rua down thoroughly until Shogun finally wilted in the third round, making Jonny Bones the youngest champion in UFC history (he was 23 at the time). Possessing a lengthy frame, unpredictable timing and unorthodox, all-around technique, Jones has proven to be too much for every fighter that’s stepped in the cage with him so far – and the oddsmakers are predicting that this fight against Jackson will be no different.
Mark: Though the gulf is a bit wide, oddsmakers are not off-base in casting Jones as the favorite in this fight. Based on their latest fights, Jackson doesn’t seem to possess the footwork or a dynamic enough style anymore to dethrone the supremely talented champion. However, something about Jackson’s behavior this week as well his reportedly Spartan approach to preparing for this fight have me confident in his chances to pull off the upset. And hey, you only go around once. Jackson via third-round TKO
Dana: It is hard for me to be partial on this pick because I am a huge “Rampage” fan. He was one of the first fighters I started watching when I really got into MMA. And, I have actually covered Jones when he was a wrestler at Iowa Central Community College. The “fan” side of me says Jackson, but the “business” side says Jones. For “Rampage” to win, he needs to wait for Jones to come in with a kick or a spinning elbow and catch him solid. That’s only going to happen early in the fight, in my opinion. If Jackson can do that, get on top and work some ground and pound, he’ll pull it out. But, if the fight goes past the second round, I think Jones will be in control. “Bones” hasn’t even started to show us all that he has, so expect something crazy and new from him in this fight. Jackson via second round TKO (punches)
Raj: When this fight was first made, my gut reaction was that Jones would have his way with Jackson. However, the more and more I thought about it, the more I realized that Jackson has the type of knockout power to defeat Jones. Jones’ chin hasn’t really been tested, so we don’t know if he could take the kind of power that Rampage has. But I think Jones will be able to take Rampage down and soften him up en route to becoming the first man to finish Jackson in the UFC. Jones via second round submission
Matt Hughes vs. Josh Koscheck
In tomorrow night’s co-main event, UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes will look to pick up his nineteenth UFC victory (that’s a record folks) when he takes on Josh Koscheck, a late replacement for Diego Sanchez.
Since losing his long-held UFC welterweight championship to Georges St-Pierre in 2006, the 37-year-old Hughes has gone 4-3. In his most recent bout, he was defeated by BJ Penn in just twenty-one seconds; that loss, coupled with Hughes’ own non-committal stance on the future, fueled speculation that The Country Boy’s career could soon be coming to an end. But, being confessedly hyper-competitive, Hughes couldn’t let himself walk away on a loss and agreed to fill out the last fight on his current contract against Diego Sanchez; with Sanchez injured and out, Hughes will square off against the returning Josh Koscheck.
After facing welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre for the second time and coming up short again, Josh Koscheck finds himself well outside of the title picture, but still one of the best fighters in the division. Even though he’s returning from a long injury layoff (owing to the busted eye socket St-Pierre left him with) and taking this fight on short notice, the former four-time NCAA Division-1 All-American is confident that he has what it takes to defeat one of the sport’s legends in Hughes.
Mark: It’s hard to tell where Koscheck’s head is at, but he should possess enough skill and athleticism – even on nineteen days notice – to be able to take out Hughes. If his head isn’t in the game, or he’s taking Hughes lightly, the former champ certainly has what it takes to make Koscheck pay for it, but I don’t think I see it happening. Koscheck via second-round TKO
Dana: I don’t think this is a good match up for Hughes at all. Koscheck is fast, has knockout-power and is a great wrestler. All those things take away exactly what Hughes has – Koscheck is better at them at this point in the careers of both men. I think this fight is a lot like the main event, where Hughes has to catch “Kos” early and knock him out, or else Koscheck is just going to control the action and wait for the right time to pounce. It has been a long time since both of these men fought in the cage, so rust is to be expected. Koscheck via third round TKO (punches)
Raj: If this was the Josh Koscheck who came into the fight with Georges St-Pierre, I would predict an easy win for the former top welterweight contender. However, he was injured badly in his bout with Georges St-Pierre last December and wasn’t able to train for a long time. I’ve heard that Koscheck hasn’t been able to do much substantial training heading into this fight, so that could be a factor. However, I still see him winning the fight, it just might not be the blowout that many are expecting. Koscheck via unanimous decision.