Whenever I cover a mixed martial arts event, I get a kind of tunnel vision. In the week or so running up to the card, I get sucked into focusing on the main event or the co-main events and somewhat lose sight of the rest of the bouts.
Only when the weigh-ins arrive do I return to the reality of a multi-faceted attraction.
The upcoming Ultimate Fighting Championship offering—UFC Live on Versus at the San Diego Sports Arena—is a perfect example. I'm already down here in Saint Diego (or whale's vagina, never cleared that one up) and I'm just now getting amped to see the rest of the card.
With all the ink being spilled and cyberspace being filled in tribute to Jon Jones , it's very easy to get distracted from the other 19 fighters that will share the Octagon on Sunday afternoon/evening.
I'm not exculpating myself by any means here; I'm as guilty as anyone and more so than many.
Although—in defense of my fellow droolers and gawkers—the 23-year-old really is that exciting and soaked in potential.
Nevertheless, the up-and-coming light heavyweight contender is not the only promising gladiator who will strap it up on the Versus Network.
Competitors like James Irvin, DaMarques Johnson (who failed to make weight and sacrificed some of his purse), Matthew Riddle, Takanori Gomi, Tyson Griffin (who'll scrap with Gomi on short-notice as a replacement for Joe Stevenson), Jake Ellenberger, Mark Munoz, and Yushin Okami all merit attention. There are a litany of impressive wins on the combined resume and—where they are lacking—you'll find a healthy reserve of sparkling potential.
However, there are a couple entrants who stand out (along with the headliner) to this observer.
One such brute who might deserve a bit of emphasis is Jones' opponent, Vladimir Matyushenko.
The Belorussian is quite a bit older than "Bones" since he'll turn 40 next January, but he's no slouch.
Fans of the UFC's earlier days might remember "The Janitor" as the guy who battled Tito Ortiz (unsuccessfully) for the Light Heavyweight Championship at UFC 32. He also boasts wins over Yuki Kondo, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and Pedro Rizzo.
Again, Matyushenko is no world-beater, but he's proven up to the solitary task of overcoming comparable youth when he defeated Eliot Marshall at UFC Live: Jones vs. Vera in Colorado.
Obviously, "The Fire" Marshall is older than and inferior to "Bones" so I'm still expecting the younger phenom to emerge victorious. Notwithstanding my expectations, though, "The Janitor" is a grizzled veteran and he looked ready to go on Saturday.
It's best not to underestimate such men.
The other especially intriguing combatant is yet another individual who popped up on UFC Live: Jones vs. Vera—John Howard.
In Colorado, the 27-year-old earned Knockout of the Night honors with a brutal left hand to the jaw of Daniel Roberts . When "Doomsday" turned off the lights on "Ninja," he demonstrated his ample power; the subsequent back flip showed off his athleticism.
But power and athleticism by themselves do not an elite fighter make.
What impressed me about the Boston native and stuck with me were the intangibles. In his fight with Roberts, Howard was not in control at first. He had to weather a pretty sincere storm put forth by "Ninja," and weather it he did before using a slam to turn the tide.
Lots of fighters can finish an opponent when they've got momentum and are dominating. Not so many have the fortitude to reverse a bout going the wrong direction against a substantial adversary.
Howard showed he can—that tells me he has the head and heart to match the muscle and talent.
Furthermore, I chatted with him while we were on the same airport shuttle and he seemed very intent on securing a date with fellow welterweight Anthony Johnson.
If "Doomsday" has aspirations of hooking up with "Rumble" for some hostilities, he must truly believe in himself.
You don't want to step inside a cage with a supremely dangerous mixed martial artist like Johnson unless you (A) have consummate faith in your own abilities; or (B) you're recklessly stupid.
John Howard isn't dumb, not as far as I could tell.
On Sunday, he'll stand opposite Ellenberger, who is coming off a nice victory of his own and will be a challenge. But it's one Howard should be able to handle.
Until something changes, Jon Jones will attract the lion's share of the hype whenever he's slated to fight. When bodies start filling the San Diego Sports Arena, most will be there to see the youngster.
But nobody should be surprised if someone else steals the show.
Because there are plenty of potential suspects.