On a night full of top contender fights and a battle between two legendary fighters both holding belts, the most entertaining fight of the night might have been a match between a UFC veteran and a 21-year-old in his second UFC fight.
Stephan Bonnar is best remembered as “that guy who lost to Forrest Griffin,” but this hardly does his skills justice. He was a Golden Gloves boxer and has had a great deal of success in his transition to mixed martial arts.
Bonnar's early career was so impressive it landed him a spot on the reality show "The Ultimate Fighter." Despite suffering a brutal cut during the show, Bonnar made it all the way to the finals, and particpated in that epic bout with Griffin.
On Saturday, Bonnar entered the octagon as a veteran of the UFC, with three years, and seven fights under his belt—although a knee injury had sidelined him for 15 months as he was on the cusp of becoming a contender for the light heavyweight belt.
Opposing him was the tall, lanky Jon “Bones” Jones, a JUCO Wrestling Champion, Greco-Roman wrestling standout, and emerging Muay Thai practitioner. After Jones displayed his fantastic athleticism in an impressive first fight, it seemed Dana White wanted to see him square off against a more weathered opponent.
The action in this bout was fast and furious, and the first round was solidly Jones'. Jones came out and traded strikes with Bonnar, then slammed Bonnar on the ground with a suplex worthy of Kevin Randleman.
Jones showed nice ground skills as he controlled Bonnar, and when Bonnar escaped back to his feet, Jones was able to show off his innovative striking.
At one point in the first round, Jones threw a simple push kick which Bonnar easily caught and looked to counter; but before he could, Jones threw a spinning elbow that caught Bonnar flush along the side of the head.
Bonnar fell straight to the mat.
He was badly dazed. But this veteran has never been KOed and Bonnar wasn't about to start taking canvas naps. Bonnar struggled back to his feet and somehow survived the round.
In the second round, Bonnar came out aggressive, pushing the pace, landing punches, and escaping Jones' attempts at ground work. Bonnar seemed to be in control of the round until he entered a clinch and Jones established double underhooks.
All of a sudden, Jones pulled off an amazing Greco throw that likely saved the round for him.
The final round was very exciting as Bonnar came out looking for the knockout. Jones was clearly tired at this point and seemed unable to stop Bonnar's attempts at “dirty boxing.”
Bonnar rocked Jones on a few occasions in that final round, but Jones was able to take the fight to the ground and do enough damage from the top to secure the win.
Bonnar left the fight with a great deal of respect for Jones, and likely a slight grudge against the UFC brass who gave him such a tough fight after 15 months outside the cage.
I was very impressed with Jones and I was not alone. UFC stars Frank Mir and Kenny Florian gushed about his skills on the ESPN post-fight coverage.
With his Greco throws, excellent ground skills, impressive striking power, and excellent athleticism, all at the age of 21, Jones could be the next GSP-type fighter in the light heavyweight division.