Jon Jones will have a number of major tasks on his plate this weekend and UFC 140.
First, he’ll attempt to defeat Lyoto Machida. Second, he’ll vie to become the first UFC light heavyweight champion since Chuck Liddell’s reign ended in 2007 to successfully defend the title more than once. Third, he’ll try to cement the final leg of what may be the greatest year for any individual fighter in MMA history.
If Jones tops Machida this weekend in Toronto, he’ll run his 2011 record to 4-0, including claiming the 205-pound title in March with a win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. The final three of those wins will have all come over former champions and the other, against the previously undefeated Ryan Bader. Pulling off the last piece of the puzzle vs. “The Dragoon” would not only further justify the 24-year-old titlist’s billing as perhaps the best talent ever to transition to the UFC, but make him seem all the more unbeatable as 2012 dawns.
If he doesn't, well, what’s the opposite of all that?
UFC 140 after all goes down without a ton of prefight hype, caught as it is in what company president Dana White describes as a “weird transition period” between the end of its broadcast deal with SpikeTV and beginning of a new arrangement with Fox. Likewise, Machida comes in just 1-2 in his last three fights and fell backward into this title opportunity when Rashad Evans didn't fully recover from a hand injury in time to make the date.
In other words, this is one Jones really, really doesn’t want to lose if he wants to keep his sterling reputation and sky-high future prospects intact.
Currently, most bookmakers see Machida as more than a 3-1 underdog to the 14-1 champion, owing to a recent stretch of inconsistency interrupted only by his jumping front kick knockout of a retiring Randy Couture earlier this year at UFC 129. His elusive, counter-striking style was suddenly rendered beatable during 2010 after he’d used it to befuddle opponents while rattling off a 16-0 record over the first seven years of his career.
Machida got KOed by Rua in the first round of their rematch at UFC 113, then looked listless and unmotivated during a split decision loss to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson six months later. People had begun to wonder if something was ailing the former champion or if the competition had just caught up to him prior to his gravity defying performance against Couture. Now, he gets the chance to right the ship in one fell swoop.
The exact opposite could be said to be true of Jones, who just seems to get more and more dominant the more we see him. His own title defense against Jackson at UFC 135 turned into something of 16-minute sparring session after it became clear that the elder statesman had nothing for him. This after Jones began the fight crawling around on his hands and knees just to throw Jackson off his game.
For him to lose it all in one shot – his title, his momentum, his invincible aura – it would have to go down as one of the most costly defeats in the company’s history. So maybe either way, Jones is aiming for the record books this weekend.