The question surrounding UFC 128 was simple: Could 23-year old Jon Jones, in his 14th mixed martial arts fight, take the light heavyweight title away from the reigning champion, veteran Mauricio Rua?
The answer was obvious to all 12:23 into the five round title fight: Yes.
Jones decimated Rua for three rounds to become the youngest UFC Champion in the promotion’s history Saturday night at the Prudential Center. The Rochester-bred Jones opened the fight with a spinning back elbow and connected with a punch that Rua never recovered from. Midway through the third round, Jones leveled Rua with a punch, then rained blows down until Herb Dean stopped the fight at 2:37. The win capped an eventful day for Jones. The UFC light heavyweight champion prevented a car theft in Paterson by having swept the thief’s leg before Jones’ trainers held the man down, according to the Associated Press.
“It means the world to me,” Jones said of becoming the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion with a megawatt smile on his face.
Jones’ next opponent will be Rashad Evans. UFC President Dana White announced last week that the winner of Jones-Rua would next fight Evans. Evans, who trains with Jones at the Jackson-Winklejohn MMA camp, had been scheduled to fight Rua, but pulled out due to a knee injury in training. White does not have a time table for the fight, but it seems likely that the two will meet before the end of the year.
New Jersey natives Kurt Pellegrino, Jim Miller and Dan Miller, and Nick Catone had an up-and-down night for Garden State mixed martial artists, as the quartet went 2-2 in their bouts. Nick Catone earned a unanimous decision over Costa Philippou in a preliminary fight.
“I had 250 people here to see me fight,” Catone said. “I heard them up in the stands screaming for me and that gave me the inspiration to keep pushing forward.”
Pellegrino lost a three-round split decision to Gleison Tibau in a fight that was broadcast on Facebook. Dan Miller, who replaced Yoshihiro Akiyama last week when the latter pulled out due to the earthquake and tsunami that devastated his homeland of Japan, dropped a three round unanimous decision to Nate Marquardt. Miller twice hooked guillotine chokes on Marquardt but was unable to cinch the hold to get a submission.
“I didn’t think Miller was as quick as he was and then we started the fight and I realized I needed to be at the top of my game to beat him,” Marquardt said. “I had to shoot at his chest for the takedown because I knew how dangerous he was with the guillotine.”
Dan’s younger brother, Jim, knocked out Kamal Shalorus in the third round with a combination of punches and a knee to the face. The 155-pounder, Miller has won 15 of his last 16 fights and is 20-2 overall. He praised Shalorus’ toughness before stumping for a lightweight title shot. The reigning champion is New Jersey’s Frankie Edgar, but he has a title match against Gray Maynard at UFC 130 in Las Vegas on Memorial Day Weekend.
“Kamal is as tough as a coffin nail. It was just about getting my hands on him, wearing him down and gassing him out,” Jim Miller said. “That’s seven in a row in arguably the toughest division in the UFC. I’m ready for a title shot.”
Brendan Schaub dropped Mirko Cro Cop with a punch to the side of the Croatian MMA legend’s head in the third round of the pay-per-view opener. Schaub moved to 9-1 with the TKO victory. Cro Cop fell to 27-9-2-1 and has been knocked out in consecutive fights. Frank Mir dropped Cro Cop in the third round of their main event fight at UFC 119. White said that he thought the fight was Cro Cop’s last in the UFC.
“The thing with Cro Cop is he puts both feet even before he throws the kick, so I timed it and threw the big right hand,” Schaub explained. “I know Cro Cop is a world-class kickboxer and that’s why I went for the takedowns. I feel like my speed was the difference.”
Former WEC champions Eddie Wineland and Urijah Faber made their UFC debuts in the semi-main event. Faber utilized his speed to win the bantamweight battle in a unanimous decision. Edison Barboza topped Anthony Njokuani, making his UFC debut, in a three round decision. Barboza landed an array of impressive shots early and snapped a vicious kick to Njokuani’s jaw with seconds remaining in the fight. Luiz Cane dominated Eliot Marshall with a flurry of punches and won via first round TKO. Mike Pyle improved to 21-7-1 with a three round unanimous decision over Ricardo Almeida (13-5) in the other Facebook-carried fight. Erik Koch (first round KO) and Joseph Benavidez (unanimous decision) won untelevised preliminary fights.