UFC 94 may not go down in history for being the most exciting MMA card in recent memory (an honor this writer believes goes to UFC 91 or 92), but it was the day that fans got to see two rising stars put on big performances.
After suffering relentless criticism by fans on the Internet, UFC 94 saw undefeated Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida come into his own. To be fair, some of the skeptics made valid points; despite an undefeated record, eight of the Karate fighter’s victories went the distance. Last night, the critics were silenced as Machida made previously undefeated American Top Team fighter Thiago Silva look like an amateur, knocking out the fellow Brazilian at the end of the first round.
The 14-0 Machida revealed that his daily routine changed in the lead up to the fight.
“I changed up a lot in my training,” he said via translator and manager Ed Soares. “I’ve gotten a nutritionist and I’ve trained a lot with my brothers and my father helped a lot.”
UFC president Dana White also addressed Machida’s detractors, and compared the rising “Dragon” to several of the Octagon’s all time greats. “The thing I said about this kid since the first time I ever saw him is if when you think back to Matt Hughes, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and any of the guys who have been the big stars here the past 10 years, they weren’t barn-burners when they first came into the UFC.
“It wasn’t like highlight reels and excitement. What happens is guys get in the UFC. It takes them a little while. They have to feel like this is their home. They have to start to get the feel for it, get some fights under their belt, and I said when Lyoto gets that, he’s going to be very dangerous.”
Dangerous may be an understatement as Machida has never been in any danger of losing a fight during his tenure with the UFC. Those looking to see Machida get the next title shot will have to wait a little longer. White indicated that Quinton “Rampage” Jackson will move to the front of the line if he defeats “The Dean of Mean” Keith Jardine at UFC 96 in March. However, White also stated that Machida is more than likely due for a crack at the crown by year’s end.
If last night is any indication, the fighter formerly known for notoriously going to decision is transitioning to a fighter that will be known for highlight reel finishes.
“Every time I come out I try to get better and better and try to improve and try to finish fights,” Machida said. “It makes me feel good to go out and do the kind of job that I did and the fans are cheering for me. It’s my goal to please my fans.”
With the world looking on, Jon “Bones” Jones put the UFC light heavyweight division on notice. The 21-year-old turn pro nine months ago and put on a dominating fight of the night performance against Ultimate Fighter runner up Stephan Bonnar.
The former wrestler preferred to do most of his talking in the Octagon and seemed shy in front of the lights, cameras and questions from the press. Still, in an era where mixed martial arts is unfairly labeled a sport of barbarians, classy guys like Jones will surely help it break through to mainstream acceptance.
“I’m just staying focused,” Jones humbly said. “I know that the 205 division is one of the toughest in the UFC. Me and my fiancée just moved out to the woods, away from my hometown. I’m just out there with god and reality.” I put several years in [with wrestling] and now it’s starting to pay off.”
Paying off is an understatement. Jones wowed the crowd with a suplex, a spinning elbow, superior speed, and striking against an overmatched Stephan Bonnar. For Jones, fighting on one of the biggest fight cards in history was just another day at the office.
“I do this for my family and I do this to be a provider,” Jones, who made his pro debut in April stated. “With the UFC, I know you have to win to stay in and I believe that every man puts his pants on in the morning exactly the same. I knew I was a huge underdog, but I went in there with a mission and I had to get the job done.”
With the win, Jones exposed a gaping hole in Bonnar’s game—a lack of knockout power.
“In the clinch, he threw a couple of uppercuts that stunned me, but I don’t think he has much knockout power and not much sting on his punches. No disrespect towards him, but I don’t think I got rocked.”
With a dedication to fighting that belies his age, the light heavyweight division is officially on notice—Jon “Bones” Jones is a force to be reckoned with.