Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
Take caution in anointing this time in mixed martial arts as the "Jon 'Bones' Jones Era." It was one fight. Winning the UFC light heavyweight title is easy. Defending it, well, that's another story entirely.
We're all quick to heap praise on a new champion and prophesize that this person will rule his specific world forever. But, it's September now, so do your homework.
In the past four-plus years, seven 205-pound men have wrapped the belt around their waists and answered to the nickname "Champ." Only two fighters -- Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Lyoto Machida -- successfully defended the title since May 2007. Machida barely escaped with that win, too. Jackson hopes he'll be the first one to reclaim his title in that time span on Saturday when he fights Jones at UFC 135 in Denver.
"I'm different," Jones said. "There hasn't been me around in the last four years, [someone] that goes to work every day, that has a well-rounded skill set to change things, and that's my goal."
Jones' rise through MMA has been as fast as his potential is unlimited. He's "the future," they say. At age 24, Jones also happens to be "the now."
We're drawn to the appeal of all that is possible with a man that spins, kicks and elbows in ways and angles unaccustomed to our eyes. Heck, there's already talk about Jones one day fighting middleweight champion Anderson Silva, the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. Let's slow down. One division at a time.
If he can beat Jackson, Jones (13-1) will solidify his position among MMA's elite and stabilize a weight class long in need of a fighter that can remain its champion. Maybe then we can legitimately consider this to be the beginning of a nice run atop the class.
"Being crowned the champion is something I do have pride in," said Jones, a 2005 New York State wrestling champion from Union-Endicott High School. "No matter what I say, it's something that [makes] you hold you head up. It's a great sense of achievement. It's one of the biggest things I've done in my whole life."
With that title comes an honor, a dignity, a sense of pride in that no other 205-pound man is as tough, as strong, as mentally disciplined. Jackson (32-8) has already been where Jones is now, and he wants to walk that path once more. At 33, Jackson says he's nearing the end of his MMA career. For reasons including injuries and losing follow-up fights, none of the past seven light heavyweight champions has fought for the title after losing it. Jackson will be the first.
"It's my luck, I'm in the toughest weight class ever," Jackson said. "We're strong like heavyweights, but we're a little bit faster, and some of us are a little more athletic. I want the belt back, and I think I've got a great chance at winning it back."