Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
Next Big Things come along all the time. It's how we build bridges from what we already know to what we dream is possible.
Some Things hit - hello, iPods - Some Things tumble into the pop culture abyss and serve as cautionary tales for hype machines with a loose cog - goodbye, laser discs.
In the case of UFC Live on Versus next Sunday, we'll see a pair of new Next Big Things, along with a pair of former Next Big Things fighting to keep that status relevant for a few more fights.
Jon "Bones" Jones, 22, has received more hype and praise than any rising star in mixed martial arts in quite some time. He can do it all, they say. The future of MMA, they say.
"I can be God's gift to the world or the second coming of Jesus Christ," said Jones, from upstate Endicott. "And then the next day, I can be nothing."
Well said, Jones. And who would know that better than his opponent, Brandon Vera. The 32-year-old once stood on the precipe that Jones finds himself looking out over now: a young fighter with all the promise in the world. But a few losses at heavyweight and Vera lost some of his shine and dropped to light heavyweight. He is in search of finding that luster once more.
"I stopped believing in the hype," said Vera (11-4), who's coming off a decision loss to Randy Couture. "I stopped worrying about what people think, and I'm going back to just trying to hurt people again, like I used to."
That sounds like fun . . . to watch. Jones vs. Vera is quite possibly the best main event ever offered on free (cable) television by the UFC. Jones (9-1) is the guy everyone wants to see fight, the young buck who can kick high or low, punch high or low, throw spinning elbows in either direction and move with NFL combine speed. Vera is Jones' toughest competition to date, the wise veteran and most dangerous Muay Thai striker in the division.
UFC president Dana White put together a debut card on Versus that should make longtime broadcast partner Spike jealous. The co-main event features the next Next Big Thing: rising heavyweight Junior Dos Santos.
On a four-bout win streak since joining the UFC, including three first-round knockouts, Dos Santos (10-1) is part of the new excitement in the division. In a group with Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Cain Velasquez and Shane Carwin, Dos Santos is the unknown. He hasn't had the type of exposure those other fighters have had.
Gabriel Gonzaga, Dos Santos' opponent at UFC Live, has had more than enough exposure, and not all of it has been good. Once considered a title contender, Gonzaga (11-4) should now be looked at as a stepping stone for other would-be top fighters. Potentially dangerous in the octagon, as any fighter usually is, Gonzaga seems to lose more big fights than he wins, a prerequisite for a former Next Big Thing.