The boos — most of them directed at the challenger, Rashad Evans — began midway through the third round. Still, they missed the point.
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Evans was overmatched. Two of the judges actually gave him a round. I saw it like the third judge, a five-round shutout.
“I was a little surprised,” said Jon “Bones” Jones, a little disappointed that the fight went the distance. “First time I went five rounds, though, so I proved something to myself.”
In fact, by beating his former stable mate and sparring partner, Jones proved more than that. To see him perform before a full house — 15,545 on a Saturday night at the Philips Arena — was to see how much the sport has evolved in just a couple of years. Maybe it’s not what fans want. But it represented a higher form of combat now than it had been when Chuck Liddell was throwing eager haymakers in contests that looked too much like bar fights.
Jones offered none of that in UFC 145. Rather, he brought an unaccustomed tactical elegance to a blood-and-guts sport. If the fans didn’t like it, well, that’s too bad.
He didn’t beat a nobody. A record of 22-1-1 qualifies Evans as a great fighter in a division whose champions typically don’t reign for long. Then again, Jones made Evans look typical. Jones, on the other hand, represents something new. At 205 pounds, he doesn’t resemble any of his predecessors. He was unmarked after five rounds. There’s a nimble, spidery quality in his game.
“Give him props,” conceded Evans, who developed a great personal animus for his former partner. “He was creative. He threw some things he didn’t do in practice. He had those sneak elbows. They kept getting in.”
Ah, those elbows. “Throwing elbows like they were hands,” said Dana White, the UFC impresario.
I’ve never seen anything quite like those elbows. From a standing position, he did in fact shoot them like jabs. Perhaps that’s why Evans couldn’t gauge the distance. They couldn’t have felt like jabs, though. That much seemed certain, judging from the ridge of swollen tissue that gathered above Evans’ right eye.
Perhaps more impressive was Jones’ composure. Whatever his insecurities going up against an older, more experience fighter, he kept them hidden. Jones would admit to “slight insecurities,” saying that Evans “did big brother me a few times when we worked out.” Still, he refused to be suckered by any of Evans’ provocations.
“I hit him with a couple combinations and said something,” Evans would recall, “but I couldn’t get him mad.”
“I didn’t feel the cleanest on my feet,” said Jones, the son of a preacher from Endicott, N.Y. “But who I beat was very important to me.”
Still just 24, he does things no one else does. At 6-foot-4, with an astounding 84.5-inch wingspan, he has astounding reach with both his hands and feet.
As it began Saturday night, with both fighters bowing to caution, Jones reached out with a right roundhouse, smacking the older man across his cheek. Just to show that he could.
It wasn’t a bar fight. It was a thing of beauty. There were no boos. Only gasps.