On Saturday, 24-year-old Jon “Bones” Jones successfully defended his title against “Suga” Rashad Evans over five rounds. The result was not unexpected, and though Evans performed better than many predicted he would, the result was rarely in question throughout the fight.
The fight may not have lived up to the hype behind it, but the event was nonetheless significant. It marked a changing of the guard, one of the few truly indisputable moments in which a transition from one generation of fighters to another was perceptible.
The main event of the evening saw Jon Jones retain his title in a five round unanimous decision victory. Though Evans had his moments, Jones was able to weather the storm, and returned in kind with standing elbows and takedowns, imposing his will on the former champion. With the win, Jones has virtually wiped out the entire light heavyweight division; with recent victories over a murderer’s row of Evans, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Lyoto Machida, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and Ryan Bader, he is unarguably the greatest champion in the division’s history. His lone test remaining is Dan Henderson, who is always capable of ending a fight with his overhand right, but otherwise has no path to victory. In this sense, Jones’ reign signals the end of an era for the division.
Previously ruled by the aforementioned fighters, success at light heavyweight – along with many other divisions – is now being achieved by younger, more technical fighters. Jones, with elbows, Greco-Roman wrestling, and "ground and pound" is leading that charge. Following in his wake is 25 year-old Swede Alexander Gustafsson, who dominated Thiago Silva a week prior. Fighters like Rua and Machida will undoubtedly remain in the top 10 of the division for years to come; their talent and tenacity will assure them of that. But their time as rulers of the division is coming to an end. They are not alone in this.
While Jones’ victory was perhaps the most significant, Michael McDonald’s knockout of Miguel Torres was the most definitive. Torres was the first 135 pound champion in the history of major MMA promotions. He was among the top 5 pound-for-pound fighters within the past 3 years. And he wilted under the speed and power of a pair of the 21 year-old McDonald’s uppercuts. In the lighter weights, where speed and technique reign supreme, fighters fall at an age when they might rule as heavyweights. The bantamweight division is already years ahead of many other divisions. And it just took another big step forward.
Earlier on the main card, 22 year-old Canadian prospect Rory MacDonald mauled British striker Che Mills en route to a second round stoppage. On Friday, the last remaining one-dimensional fighter in a major organization – submission specialist Shinya Aoki – was stopped within a round by Philadelphian Eddie Alvarez.
There is nothing more honest than combat sports; when you are better, you win. When you aren’t, you lose. The question, regardless of the outcome, is always “why?” The answer, on this weekend, was “the game has changed.”
Is this the definitive end of a generation? Not quite. Former IFL heavyweight champion Ben Rothwell knocked out relative newcomer Brendan Schaub in a heavyweight tilt. Matt Brown bested karate phenom Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson over three rounds. The old guard still has a few tricks up its sleeve. But they are dwindling fast. The march of progress is inevitable in all things, but it is all the more apparent in a sport that is still in its infancy. Granted, not all of the next generation of fighters will sport an 84” wingspan like Jones does. Nor will they possess the power of Michael McDonald. But they will usher in an era of superior technique and conditioning and – yes – youth, to further elevate the sport through their respective triumphs. At least, until the next generation arrives.