The bad blood ended with Jon Jones planting a peck on the cheek of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson after the fight.
That was after Jones punished him so bad that Jackson needed stitches to close a wound above his right eye. It’s simply the way respect is earned in the octagon.
Jones defended his light heavyweight title by putting Jackson in a choke hold and forcing the veteran to tap out Saturday night at UFC 135.
The 24-year Jones relied on his quickness and long reach to get inside on Jackson and inflict damage. In the fourth round, Jones put a bleeding Jackson in a rear naked choke hold and Jackson signaled he was done. It was the first time Jackson has tapped out in his UFC career.
The fighters entered the bout in the midst of a squabble. It started when Jackson accused Jones of sending a spy into his camp to steal his secrets, a charge that Jones vehemently denied.
From there, the acrimony only escalated, with Jones and Jackson exchanging barbs up until it was time to brawl.
Afterward, the feud was declared over, replaced by talk of respect. Jones even gave Jackson a quick hug and a peck.
“I told Quinton that I admire him so much, that I respect him so much,” Jones said. “Told him, ‘You’re awesome. It’s such an honor to fight you.’”
The feeling was mutual.
“I thought he was all hype,” Jackson said. “But he’s the real deal.”
In the other big fight of the night, welterweight Josh Koscheck knocked out UFC hall of famer Matt Hughes.
For UFC, this was a return to the city where the organization staged its first championship fight 18 years ago. A capacity crowd filled the Pepsi Center and was largely split in their loyalties to Jones and Jackson, who’s known for his role as B.A. Baracus in the big-screen version of “The A-Team” almost as much as his MMA career.
The charismatic Jackson put in the work to get ready for this fight, giving up burgers and relocating to the Mile High City to train in the altitude. That’s how motivated he was to win back a title he once held.
And while Jackson maintained Jones was the future of the sport, Jackson said he was the present.
It didn’t take Jones long to end that notion. Jones opened up a cut above Jackson’s right eye with an elbow in the third round and it was pretty much all over from there.
With his win, Jones may just be bringing stability back to the division. The belt has switched hands a number of times since Jackson last won the crown in 2007.
Down the road, Jones will face Rashad Evans, who was taking in the fight from the seats.
Evans knows Jones quite well — and there’s no love lost between them.
He was friends and training partners with Jones before a falling out led to some bitter feelings.
The low-key Jones beat Mauricio “Shogun” Rua last March to become the youngest title holder in UFC history. But he was facing probably the hardest puncher around in Jackson.
However, Jackson never had much of a chance to get inside.
“He insulted me, saying I had no punching power,” Jones said after the fight. “We got together and improved my striking.”
Koscheck wasn’t even Hughes’ intended opponent, becoming a late fill-in only when Diego Sanchez broke his hand.
This was Koscheck’s first fight since last December when he had the orbital bone in his eye shattered in a title fight against Georges St. Pierre.
Koscheck showed little signs of rust as he jumped on Hughes early. With a second remaining in the opening round, the referee stepped in and halted the fight.
“I just want to say thanks to Matt Hughes for taking this fight late in his career. He’s a legend,” Koscheck said. “I’m really proud to fight him.”
Koscheck was booed when he entered the ring partly because Hughes is so beloved. The 37-year-old Hughes is pondering calling it a career. But he’s not quite ready.
“I’m not retiring,” Hughes said in the ring. “I’m going to tell the UFC to put me on the shelf.”
Meaning, the former welterweight champion is going to take some time to think about what comes next.
UFC president Dana White said he doesn’t think Hughes will fight again.
In other bouts:
— Travis Browne, who stands 6-foot-7, won an unanimous decision over Rob Broughton in a heavyweight clash.
— Heavyweight Mark Hunt bloodied the face of favorite Ben Rothwell early in the second round en route to a convincing win.
— Lightweight Nate Diaz made quick work of Takanori Gomi, getting the former Pride world champion to tap out late in the first round. Diaz was returning to the division after experimenting at 170 pounds.
— Lightweight Tony Ferguson may have had the heaviest punch of the night, landing an uppercut that broke the jaw of Aaron Riley.
Some of the celebrities at the event Saturday included actor Steven Seagal and Denver Nuggets forward Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who may be paying a visit to the Pepsi Center for the final time for a while as the NBA and the players try to work out the lockout.