The fastest rising star in the Ultimate Fighting Championship will headline this Saturday’s UFC 128 pay-per-view, fighting for the organization’s light heavyweight championship.
Some could be overwhelmed by pressure. For 23-year-old Jon Jones, it’s a golden opportunity.
“It’s a dream come true,” Jones said on a conference call that included his opponent Saturday, Shogun Rua, Urijah Faber and Eddie Wineland. Faber’s fight against Wineland is his first in the UFC. He had previously fought for the WEC promotion, which was folded into UFC late last year. Faber has a career record of 24-4.
There have been myriad changes to the card. Initially, Rashad Evans was going to meet Rua for the light heavyweight championship. However, Evans suffered a knee injury during training and was replaced by Jones. Jones, who is friends with Evans — both train with Team Jackson-Winklejohn — grew irritated when asked about the man he replaced.
“Rashad, that’s my boy, but I definitely won’t be thinking about (him) at all,” Jones said. Later, he added, “I absolutely hate when people mention Rashad Evans, especially with this training camp. For people to be mentioning Rashad Evans, I think, is ludicrous. Rashad has nothing to do with my mind; he has absolutely zero to do with my heart. From now on, I won’t be answering questions about Rashad.”
Most recently, Yoshihiro Akiyama pulled out of his fight with Nate Marquardt due to last week’s earthquake that devastated Japan. Whippany, NJ, native Dan Miller will replace Akiyama. Miller’s brother, Jim, was already scheduled to fight Kamal Shalorus on the pay-per-view card.
Jones dominated previously unbeaten Ryan Bader at UFC 126, winning via second round guillotine choke submission. But when he steps into the octagon Saturday, it will only be 42 days between fights. Is that enough time to prepare for Rua and recuperate from the Bader fight? If you listen to Jones, the answer is an unequivocal "yes."
“(His camp) are making sure I peak (Saturday night). I started this camp I’m in phenomenal shape already and have had pretty close phenomenal training. Now I’m just going through my mind to prepare, tactic-wise,” the Rochester native said. “I took some time off to rest my body, and more importantly, to rest my mind. I went to Miami for two or three days. I just sat on the beach and relaxed.”
Despite being the light heavyweight champion and boasting a record of 19-4-0, Rua has been installed as the underdog going into the fight against the 12-1 Jones.
“Being champion is the goal that (I’ve) worked for, for (my) whole life,” Rua said through a translator. “Regarding Jon Jones being the favorite, (I) don’t really care to use that as motivation. All (I’m) obligated to do is (my) best.
“Obviously, at this point I don’t fight for money anymore because (I am financially secure). I fight for my family and I fight for my fans. This is where I get my (motivation) from.”
-- UFC will be an omnipresent presence in the City and Newark this week, beginning with Wednesday’s press conference at Radio City that’s open to the public. Hall-of-Famer Chuck Liddell will march in Thursday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. There will be an open training session involving all of the fighters on the pay-per-view from noon-to-2 P.M. at the Newark Penn Station Hilton. Finally, there is a meet-and-greet with UFC lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar and UFC light heavyweight Stephen Bonnar from 4 P.M.-to-6 P.M. at a Union Square Best Buy. There will be autograph signings, along with a question-and-answer session, at the Prudential Center practice rink Friday from 1 P.M. to 3 P.M., as a lead-in to the weigh-in, which is scheduled to start at 3 P.M. Doors are scheduled to open at 6 P.M. Saturday at the Rock.
-- UFC formally announced yesterday that its parent company, Zuffa, had purchased the MMA Strikeforce promotion. Terms were undisclosed. UFC noted that the contracts Strikeforce has with its fighters and broadcast partner Showtime will be honored.
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