While Jon Jones might be well on his way to becoming the biggest star in mixed martial arts, Anderson Silva reminded us all on Saturday night at UFC 126 that when the middleweight champion feels like proving it, he’s still No. 1.
Silva retained his title with almost unbelievable ease over the weekend, using a front kick to the face to knock out Vitor Belfort with a bit more than a minute and a half left in the first round of their main event bout. The kick was the champion’s first substantial offensive move of the fight and was simultaneously ground-breaking and vintage “Spider.”
No one had ever seen a person KOed with a karate-style front kick in an MMA fight before and the fact that Silva effortlessly pulled it off in a televised title bout was at the same time extremely apropos and shocking. It sure surprised the hell out of Vitor Belfort.
For the first three minutes and 20 seconds, the two fighters appeared on their way to making UFC President Dana White’s nightmare of “the worst staring contest in the history of mankind” come true. Silva has become a notoriously slow starter and against Belfort he once again spent the fight’s early moments bobbing and weaving, stalking and even doing some of the same clownish dancing that caused White to threaten to fire him after his debacle against Demian Maia last April.
While also very cautious, Belfort offered the fight’s opening salvos, nicking Silva with a low kick after 1:40 had ticked off the clock and then firing off a couple of punching combinations once he thought the champ started taunting him. Watching at home, the dread started to set in. Oh yeah, we remembered, this is how Anderson Silva fights. It can be painstaking. It can be tedious. It can be like watching a pot slowly come to boil. We started to get mad at him all over again.
Then, boom, front kick to the face. Game over. And we love him again.
Up next, the UFC has promised to set him up with a superfight against welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, if the 170-pound king gets past Jake Shields at UFC 129. That fight will be outstanding, historic even, though some fans are already starting to clamor for a different matchup: Silva vs. Jones at light heavyweight.
For all his talent, Jones has thus far spared us the emotional rollercoaster we sometimes ride with Silva. The 23-year-old phenom has quite simply been great every time we’ve seen him in the UFC. Saturday night’s drubbing of Ryan Bader – followed by Jones unexpectedly receiving a title shot against champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in just six weeks — was no different.
Leading up the fight, I thought Bader might make it competitive. Boy, was I wrong. Through two full rounds Jones simply dwarfed him – both physically and skills-wise – beating him up on the feet and threatening with multiple submissions on the ground. At one point with Bader turtle up on the mat, Jones literally leapfrogged him in attempt to take his back. That move alone was an unnecessary display of just how completely Jones was control.
By the end, he had the previously undefeated Bader so flustered that the former Division I wrestler pulled half guard down the stretch in the second. That turned out to be a bad idea. Jones quickly tapped him out with a straight guillotine choke he later revealed that he’d never trained, but learned just by watching St. Pierre do it in practice.
In the cage after the fight color-commentator Joe Rogan revealed that Jones teammate Rashad Evans was forced out of his March 19 championship opportunity against Rua, and offer it to Jones. The kid fell to his knees with surprise but then shouted into the mic, “Let’s do it!”
On Sunday morning, he opened as the early betting favorite over the champion. In other words, it’s good to be Jon Jones right now.
This weekend, both Silva and Jones made it clear they are capable of doing things inside the Octagon that no one else can do. At times they both seem a generation ahead of the competition. Jones maybe the future. Silva is certainly still the now and with one explosion of dramatic offense at UFC 126, he proved he’s not quite ready to pass the torch.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.