UFC 172: Jon Jones proves his championship mettle before record-breaking crowd

Jon Jones retained the coveted UFC Light Heavyweight belt with a  victory over Glover Teixeira. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Moving from the warm glow of a long-held dream to the glaring heat of reality is never an easy transition. But for three of the twenty combatants who entered the Baltimore Arena last Saturday night for UFC 172, moving forward marked an awaited, inevitable passage. Each had basked in the build-up of their pre-fight preparations; now the trio had something to prove to the world.

Jon Jones, the current UFC Light Heavyweight title-holder, had to prove his mettle in the face of persistent doubts that he has truly earned the right to be called Champion.

Brazilian challenger Glover Teixeira had to prove that he was ready to wrest Jones’ coveted gold belt away.

And rising rival Phil Davis, who was slated to fight in an undercard match against Anthony Johnson, had to prove his pre-fight bravado was more than the hype of a hopeful contender.UFC_172_event_poster

When the night was over, Jones had silenced his critics with a convincing title defense; Teixeira showed that he could take a solid beating and somehow remain on his feet; and Davis proved it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove any doubt.

An announced audience of 13,485 witnessed all of the above and more in UFC 172. The sell-out crowd was the largest ever to see a sporting event in the Baltimore Arena. The 2.3 million dollar gate was second only to an appearance by The Rolling Stones.

The 5-round main event, which capped nine earlier bouts, did not go off until almost midnight. But you wouldn’t have known it was that late by the deafening roar of the crowd as the contenders made their way to the octagon. Even at that hour, the enthusiasm remained unabated.

Glover Teixeira entered the ring to the sound of boos and whistles. Teixeira maintained a huge confident smile; appearing like he did not have a care in the world. Then he stood stoically in his corner while the champ kept the challenger waiting. Jones milked every moment of his entrance; even stopping briefly as he made his way into the arena to do Ray Lewis’ signature Ravens dance. The champ slowly ascended the steps to the octagon – paused briefly to drop to his knees and offer a silent prayer – then completed his entrance by doing a cartwheel across the mat.

After the highly entertaining, hyperbolic introductions by Bruce Buffer: The Voice of The Octagon, referee Dan Miragliotta started the fight at exactly 11:55pm.

Jones slowly measured Teixeira with a series of strikes before delivering a roundhouse kick to the challenger’s head. Teixeira countered with dozens of strikes of his own in an effort to knock the defending champion out.

Seconds tending to Jon Jones bleeding right eyelid.  (Anthony C. Hayes)
Seconds tend to Jon Jones’ bleeding eyelid. (Anthony C. Hayes)

The action was stopped briefly in round 2 when it appeared that Jones had gouged Teixeira’s eyes. A series of hard-hitting exchanges which netted Jones a bleeding right eyelid, ended when a solid strike by the champion dislodged the challenger’s mouth guard. This second brief break in the action gave the crowd a chance to see the toll Jones’ hits were starting to take on Teixeira. Absorbing numerous forearms from Jones in the clinch, Teixeira spent much of the remainder of the round wiping a steady stream of blood from his fast-closing eyes.

Early in round 3 Teixeira’s mouthpiece went flying once again; eliciting more boos from a crowd already ensconced in Jones’ corner. From that point on it was clear the challenger was spent. Teixeira also appeared to be in a lot of pain. Blood continued to pour from a cut above his eye, and his punches lacked any degree of punishing power. By round 4, Jones was even goading his luckless opponent to take a swing. Still, Teixeira hung on and Jones never did completely put his adversary away.

The closing minutes of round 5 were mostly a dance reminiscent of Ali’s famous duel with George Foreman, as Jones circled the exhausted challenger with one eye on the clock and the other on the fading fighter. When the final horn sounded, Teixeira grasped his ribs and dropped to one knee.

In the end, the judges scored the fight 50 – 45 giving Jones a unanimous decision in his seventh title defense.

Evening began with thrilling bouts

While most had come to see Jones defend his title against the game Glover Teixiera, the UFC packed the under-card with an exciting line-up of 3-round bouts. The evening began with two thrilling bouts; each alone worth the price of admission.

In the first bout, a Bantamweight duel, Chris “The Real Deal” Beal made short work of Patrick Williams. Williams opened with some solid strikes and then a questionable kick to Beal’s groin, which stopped the fight for a good ninety seconds while the visibly pained Beal readjusted his equipment and regrouped. Beal came back in round 2 with a vengeance, flattening his opponent with a flying knee; knocking the unsuspecting Williams temporarily out.

Glover Teixeira droped to one knee once the fight was over. (Anthony C. Hayes)
Glover Teixeira dropped to one knee once his fight with Jones was finally over. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“I’ve been practicing knees and kicks all camp,” Beal cheerfully explained, “so that flying knee was definitely part of the game plan. I went for it and smashed him in the face.”

In the second bout, Lightweights Danny “Last Call” Castillo and Charlie “The Spaniard” Brenneman appeared evenly matched in the opening moments, before Castillo delivered a crushing round-house right 90 seconds into the 2nd round.  Castillo’s punch sent The Spaniard down quicker than Sir Francis Drake and his privateers dispatched King Phillip’s Armada. Clearing away the barnacles when he finally resurfaced, Brenneman said,

“I didn’t expect this to happen. I don’t know what’s next, I really don’t.”

The lone let-down of the evening was the somewhat tame third preliminary bout between Bethe “Pit Bull” Correia and Jessamyn “The Gun” Duke.

When women mix it up, UFC President Dana White observed, “You usually get a barn-burner.” Such was not the case in this fight, as Duke used her height advantage to keep Correia somewhat at arms length. Judging by her demeanor, Duke clearly believed she had the fight in hand. Conversely, Correia grappled the tall Kentuckian with dogged determination. The fight went the distance, no one was hurt, and Correia won in a unanimous decision.

Perhaps the most gruesome bout of the night was fought by two Lightweights: Tokyo’s Takanori “The Fireball Kid” Gomi against Albuquerque’s Isaac Valli-Flagg. Gomi’s wide-open stance proved inexpedient as Valli-Flagg landed an early bloody facial strike. The pair seemed to be equals on the ground until Gomi landed a strike which produced a cut below Valli-Flagg’s right eye. Both fighters were now bleeding as Valli-Flagg’s facial features began to swell. By the 3rd round Valli-Flagg was bleeding profusely; staining not only his face and upper body but also turning Gomi’s bright orange hair into a crimson sea. When the carnage finally ended, both fighters embraced as Gomi won in a unanimous decision.

Joseph Benavidez beat a beardless Tim Elliott convincingly in their Flyweight bout; ending the match at 0:52 in round 1 with a guillotine choke while effectively pinning both of Elliott’s arms against his own body.

Main Card featured potential contenders

Moving on to the sixth bout of the night (the first bout on the main card), Featherweights Max “Blessed” Holloway and Andre “Touchy” Fili flew into the ring. Fili landed a number of kicks to Holloway’s head early on, but the tide changed in round 2 once Holloway’s strikes began to wear Fili down. The two hit the mat in round 3 where Holloway slipped his left arm under his opponent’s chin; executing a guillotine choke which ended the bout with a submission at 1:21.

The next two fights were over in a flash. In a Lightweight bout, Jim Miller stunned Yancey Medeiros with a strike to the solar plexus. The two grappled for maybe another ninety seconds before Miller wrapped Yancey up in a choke hold, ending the contest at 1:42 of round 1.

In the following bout – a Middleweight match – Luke Rockhold overwhelmed Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch locking the Sunbury, Pennsylvania native up in a triangle which caused the Barbarian to quickly tap out. Rockhold exited the octagon limping with a possible broken toe.

Chick-fil-AAside from the main event, perhaps no bout had the pre-fight ballyhoo of the match between Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. Davis spent the week leading up to his bout looking past his quiet opponent; choosing instead to tout his own shining superlatives as reason enough to take on reigning champion Jon Jones. (At one point, Davis even compared Jones to a Chick-fil-A sandwich.) Davis’ trash-talk proved all for naught, as Rumble Johnson systematically took the dazed Mr. Wonderful apart.

For reasons known only to himself (and perhaps to Colonel Sanders), Mr. Wonderful – an accomplished wrestler – imprudently went toe-to-toe with adept boxer Johnson; becoming an easy, open target for most of the night. Davis missed at least two opportunities to gain a ground advantage in the 1st round, falling away the first time after taking a knee to his chin. By the time he finally engaged Johnson in any meaningful way, late in the 3rd round, time was about to expire. To no one’s surprise, Johnson won in a unanimous decision.

Before exiting the ring, Davis told the TV announcer, “That was obviously not how I planned it going. I fought tough but it is what it is.”

UFC President loves Baltimore

At the post-fight press conference, Johnson joined fellow winners Miller, Rockhold, Holloway and Benavidez, and UFC President Dana White on the dais.

Johnson was asked if he was looking forward to a match someday with Jones. Johnson replied, he is taking his game, “One fight at a time”. Johnson also acknowledged that he is, “A long way from fighting ‘Bones’”.

Each of the other fighter’s commented on their individual wins, with Rockhold revealing that he had sustained the toe injury when his foot got caught in the wire mesh of the octagon cage.

UFC president Dana White offered his own observations of the championship fight, saying, “Jones has a chin. If he didn’t prove it before, he proved it here tonight.” White added that he felt, while Jones is equaling the marks set by previous champions Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, Jones has actually fought tougher opponents.

“I’ve always said that the Light Heavyweight division is the nastiest division in the UFC. Jon went through murderer’s row to get that title and defend it and he did it again here tonight.”

White also complimented Charm City and the Baltimore Arena, noting that Baltimore has, “Real fight fans” who were, “In their seats from the first to the final bout.”

Given the level of enthusiasm Marylanders have for mixed martial arts events, the Baltimore Post-Examiner asked White if he sees the UFC returning to Baltimore?

“Next weekend,” White happily responded with a confident smile on his beaming face.

Teixeira missed the post-fight press conference as he was taken to a local hospital. White said, along with facial cuts, the Brazilian had injured both a shoulder and his rib cage. And Jones was late arriving, as he not only grabbed a well deserved shower but also had to stop to submit samples for a drug test. Drug testing is not common in the UFC, but Jones had requested testing for this fight. White said the series of four tests for the two fighters cost the UFC $45,000.

Luke Rockhold listens as Jon Jones speaks at the post-fight press conference.  (Anthony C. Hayes)
Luke Rockhold listens as Jon Jones speaks at the post-fight press conference. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Jones finally joined the press conference, offering his thoughts on his fight and his future:

“I started running a bit at the end, but I feel like I finished strong.” When asked if he had changed his training routine to counter Tex’s power punching style, Jones said, “I felt great about my boxing. I didn’t work it anymore than in other camps. I just saw things open.”

“I’ve worked so hard, put so much time in the gym to get to this point. I hurt my big toe in the fight, it’s the same one I’ve broke and tangled dozens of times. I was limping just to avoid putting weight on it but I’ll be fine. I have gigantic goals. I already have the record for title defenses in my division but I’m gunning for GSP (Georges St-Pierre) or Anderson Silva’s records next. I had to answer a lot of questions after my last fight; had I lost my mojo? I answered those tonight but there is room for improvement. I started sloppy and ended by running around a little so I can always get better.”

Next up for Jones may be the winner of the upcoming fight between Daniel Cormier and Dan Henderson. The pair will meet on May 24 in UFC 173. Or it could be someone else. The one person who is definitely not in the running is Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis.

As a loser, Davis was not invited to the post-fight press conference. However, that didn’t stop Jones from calling him out:

“Phil was talking all that craziness (before the fight) and now he is somewhere pouting.”