DENVER – One of the year’s most-anticipated and heated grudge matches didn’t fail to deliver.
UFC light-heavyweight Jon Jones choked out bitter rival Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and one of the sport’s pound-for-pound kingpins and biggest talents notched his first career title defense.
The championship bout headlined Saturday’s UFC 135 event at Denver’s Pepsi Center, which aired live on pay-per-view after prelims on Facebook and Spike TV.
Jones (14-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC) ultimately stopped Jackson (32-9 MMA, 7-3 UFC) with a fourth-round rear-naked choke, but his dominance started well before then.
Jones, in fact, started off things on a bizarre note when he immediately moved into a praying-mantis/three-point crouch and stalked after Jackson. But after a few punches and getting stuffed on a takedown attempt, he gave it up. The fighters then traded some short shots from the clinch before Jones created some distance and worked kicks, including some effective low shots, from varying angles. He then landed a spinning back elbow and ducked under Jackson’s haymakers to notch his first winning round of the night.
The fighters jockeyed for a takedown to start the second round, but Jones soon created distance with a sidekick. The champ then mixed in lunging straight punches with more kicks as Jackson struggled to find his range. As “Rampage” continued pushing forward, he was slowed with low kicks and constantly forced to maneuver around spinning and side kicks as Jones changed angles.
With the champ’s 2-0 lead heading into the third, Jackson finally worked some of his own leg kicks. Jones, though, quickly answered, grabbed a single leg, and smoothly took the fight to the mat, where he quickly moved from side control to full mount. Jackson, though, controlled the wrists and then bucked his way free. Once up, though, Jackson absorbed low kicks, a front-kick/foot-slap to the face, and damaging one-two combinations. Frustrated, Jackson unloaded haymakers, but Jones easily avoided them and spent the final 90 seconds of the round picking him apart with a variety of shots.
The first championship round would prove a quick one. Jones scored a drag-takedown, delivered knees to the body, and then took Jackson’s back once on the mat. Once he secured his hooks, Jackson was forced to tap out from the deep rear-naked choke.
The stoppage came 74 seconds into the fourth round.
“My coaches told me he was starting to break … so they said if I wanted to finish the fight, that was the round to do it,” Jones said. “The game plan was proving we could hang with Quinton Jackson. I was insulted he said I had no power.”
Jones and Jackson had a heated build-up to the fight, and their media appearances often resulted in insults and threats. But after the fight, even Jackson admitted his amazement.
“I’m in the best shape of my life,” he said. “I expected to come out here and close the distance and overthrow Jon Jones. But he’s great, guys. … My hat’s off. My hat’s in my hand.
“This is the best ‘Rampage’ ever, and he had me mesmerized.”
After the bout’s conclusion, Jones’ next opponent, top contender Rashad Evans, was brought into the cage. If Jones and Jackson are heated rivals, Jones and Evans – former training partners at Greg Jackson’s camp – are scorching.
Jones, though, said he’s staying quiet until they enter the cage.
“I’m done talking,” he warned Evans.
Koscheck KOs Hughes into pseudo-retirement
He didn’t technically send Matt Hughes into retirement, but Josh Koscheck defeated the UFC Hall of Famer in what likely will be remembered as Hughes’ final career bout.
Although competitive early, ex-welterweight-champ Hughes couldn’t keep up with Koscheck’s power and speed as the round wore on, and he ultimately found himself knocked out with just one second remaining in the first round.
Between them, Hughes and Koscheck entered UFC 135’s co-headliner with 44 career UFC fights. By the time they left the fight, Koscheck had restarted a campaign for a second title shot, and Hughes likely took his first step into retirement.
Koscheck landed a nice combo early, but with good head and footwork, Hughes presented problems. The MMA legend landed a big jab and a nice uppercut, but Koscheck answered in kind. But Koscheck’s quickness and accuracy soon turned the tides. Koscheck, who’s been sidelined since December after breaking his orbital bone in a title loss to champ Georges St-Pierre, landed two big rights. That prompted Hughes to shoot, but when he failed, Koscheck hovered over him and rained down punches and hammerfists that ultimately knocked out Hughes cold.
Hughes quickly regained consciousness, but dazed, he forced the ref’s intervention at the 4:59 mark of the opening round.
“I want to thank Matt Hughes for taking this fight late in his career,” said Koscheck, who replaced injured Diego Sanchez on just 19 days’ notice. “He’s a legend, and I’m fortunate to get to fight [him].”
A rejuvenated and re-energized Koscheck admitted his time away from the cage proved fruitful.
“It was nice being on the shelf,” he said. “I got to work on a few things.”
Before UFC broadcaster Joe Rogan even got to Hughes for an interview, the Pepsi Center crowd began cheering and sensed that the 37-year-old would announce his retirement. But the veteran Hughes stopped just short of that.
“I’m not retiring,” he said. “I’m just going to tell the UFC to put me up on a shelf for a while, and we’ll see what happens after that.”
Koscheck (16-5 MMA, 14-5 UFC) improves to 4-1 over his past five while Hughes (44-9 MMA, 18-7 UFC) drops his second straight.
Hunt outlasts quickly fading Rothwell
By the third and final round of their bout, Mark Hunt and fellow heavyweight Ben Rothwell could barely stand, and both appeared in zombie mode.
Luckily for Hunt, he had just enough energy to outwork a completely and utterly exhausted Rothwell for a unanimous-decision victory.
Rothwell jumped out to an early lead with crisper striking and a few key takedowns. Hunt, though, showed an improved ground game, which greatly helped the kickboxer in the next two rounds.
With Rothwell sucking wind, the fighters soon resorted to heavy (but sloppy) punches. In fact, Hunt used the shots to set up some of his takedowns, including one in the second round that allowed an onslaught of punches and a submission attempt that nearly forced Rothwell to tap out from an armbar. Hunt didn’t get the submission, but Rothwell was spent; trainer Duke Roufus had to pick him up off the canvas and drag him to the corner for a much-needed rest and treatment for his cuts and a likely broken nose.
In the third round, Rothwell had no legs, and his hands dangerously hung by his hips as he staggered with each step. Not much fresher, Hunt wrestled his opponent to the mat and spent much of the round delivering a slow but steady stream of punches and elbows.
It was enough for Hunt to win the final two rounds of the fight and take the decision via 29-28, 29-27 and 30-27 scores.
“Look, I knew he was tough,” an exhausted Hunt said.
Hunt (7-7 MMA, 2-1 UFC), who also violently knocked out Chris Tuchscherer earlier this year, now has won back-to-back fights since a four-year, six-fight losing streak.
Rothwell (31-8 MMA, 1-2 UFC), fighting for the first in 16 months due to injuries, falls to 2-3 over his past five.
Browne tops Broughton in workmanlike performance
The performance won’t make any highlight reels, but it will allow undefeated heavyweight Travis Browne to continue his steady climb up the heavyweight ladder.
The Hawaiian took on British big man Rob Broughton and wore him down for a clear-cut – but far-from-flashy – unanimous-decision victory.
The taller Browne had success from the clinch, and his low kicks proved effective. His reach also made it tough for Broughton to land just about anything other than countershots early in the fight.
Browne also dominated the action on the mat. His takedown and mount position were cut short by the end of the first round, but after a nice sustained attack of lunging punches and knees from the clinch, he also closed out the second in top position on the canvas.
With a tiring Browne slowed, the action stalled a bit in the third. However, Browne scored a takedown and spent much of the round on top before surviving Broughton’s late-fight kimura attempt.
In the end, all three judges scored it 30-27 for Browne, who scored a violent KO upset of Stefan Struve in his previous bout.
“People thought this was a step down in competition from Stefan Struve, but that dude took my best,” Browne said.
After 10 stoppage victories, Browne (12-0-1 MMA, 3-0-1 UFC) posts a decision win for just the second time in his career. Broughton (15-6-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC), fighting for the first time in a year, snaps a five-fight win streak.
Gomi no match for fiery Diaz
Nate Diaz saved the most impressive performance of his career for a time when Team Cesar Gracie needed it the most.
After brother Nick was pulled from a UFC 137 headliner following a high-profile clash with UFC management, and after fellow teammate Jake Shields lost both his father and a recent UFC Fight Night 25 headliner within a few weeks’ span, the pressure was on Diaz to score a much-needed victory for his once-high-flying camp.
He did so against lightweight Takanori Gomi, and he did it in amazingly dominant fashion.
Diaz, who returned to lightweight after consecutive losses at welterweight, simply picked apart the former PRIDE champion with a flashy striking display. He dropped Gomi with a powerful straight left, and then Diaz tagged him with additional body blows once he was back up. A right hand then dropped Gomi again, and Diaz’s infamous taunting began as he teed off with two-punch combos and lunging jabs that rarely were blocked.
Already on shaky legs, Gomi voluntarily dropped to the mat. But once there, Diaz took his back before transitioning from an armbar to a triangle choke and then back to the fight-ending armbar to force the tap-out.
The ref halted the action at the 4:27 mark of the round.
“I’m happy to get the win,” Diaz said. “He’s dangerous. He was the PRIDE champion for a long, long time. … He’s one of my favorite fighters. Thank you Gomi for taking the fight.”
Diaz (14-7 MMA, 9-5 UFC) avoided a potentially disastrous third straight loss with the victory. Gomi (32-8 MMA, 1-3 UFC) suffers his third defeat in four UFC fights and could be done with the organization.
MAIN CARD (Pay-per-view)
- Jon Jones def. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 4, 1:14 (to retain light-heavyweight title)
- Josh Koscheck def. Matt Hughes via KO (punches) – Round 1, 4:59
- Mark Hunt def. Ben Rothwell via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 30-27)
- Travis Browne def. Rob Broughton via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Nate Diaz def. Takanori Gomi via submission (armbar) – Round 1, 4:27
PRELIMINARY CARD (Spike TV)
- Aaron Riley via TKO (doctor’s stoppage) – Round 1, 5:00
- Tim Boetsch def. Nick Ring via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
PRELIMINARY CARD (Facebook)
- Junior Assuncao def. Eddie Yagin via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27)
- Takeya Mizugaki def. Cole Escovedo via TKO (punches) – Round 2, 4:30
- James Te Huna def. Ricardo Romero via KO (punches) – Round 1, 0:47