At UFC 135 the Iceman Curse Faces Its Greatest Test Yet: Jonny "Bones" Jones
What is the "Iceman Curse?"
To truly answer that question, we need a short history of the most popular division in the sport.
In the world of mixed martial arts, we find a strange anomoly. In any other combat sport, the most followed division in the sport is always the heavyweight division. But in mixed martial arts it's the light heavyweight division that gets all the love.
It's not too surprising really. The heavyweight division of the UFC has seemed to be cursed for most of its existence and the pool of fighters at heavyweight has always been dismally shallow. Meanwhile, while the light heavyweight has consistently been one of the most talented and stable divisions in the sport.
Frank Shamrock was the first light heavyweight champion and he tallied four successful title defenses before retiring as champion and still undefeated in the UFC.
The next champion, Tito Ortiz, one-ups Shamrock by tallying five successful title defenses before losing his title to Randy Couture.
After a brief back and forth between Vitor Belfort and Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell was the next man to seize the title belt. He would go on to successfully defend four times.
Even in Pride FC, Wanderlei Silva—champion of Pride 205 lbs division—was the the most exciting and popular champion in their entire organization. Wanderlei Silva absolutely dominated that division for most of it's existence. In an organization that was mostly focused on tournaments, Wanderlei Silva still managed to tally four successful title defenses.
The light heavyweight division's key to success has always been the absolute dominance by one fighter over the most talent-rich division in the sport.
Rampage Jackson Ends the Iceman's Dominant Reign
The Iceman's reign of absolute domination at light heavyweight ended on May 26, 2007 at UFC 71, when Quinton "Rampage" Jackson knocked Liddell out in the very first round.
This was the second time Rampage had done this to The Iceman. The first time was back in 2003 when Dana White brought Chuck Liddell to fight in the Pride tournament in hopes of seeing him fight Wanderlei Silva in the tournament final.
Rampage shocked everyone by knocking out Liddell and preventing the dream match up of Iceman vs Ax Murderer from occurring that day.
When they fought again at UFC 71, Rampage Jackson was the only unavenged loss on Chuck Liddell's resume, and the champ came looking for some vindication.
Vindication and his title had slipped away in an instant, and Quinton Jackson had proven that the first time was no fluke.
The strange part? For no explainable reason, there has not been a dominant champion at Light Heavyweight since that fateful day.
No light heavyweight champion has posted a dominant victory in a title defense since.
No light heavyweight champion has successfully defended his title more than once.
In short, nobody has dominated the UFC's most popular division since that day four long years ago: the day that the The Iceman" Chuck Liddell lost the title and the Iceman Curse began.
Rampage Jackson Unifies UFC and Pride Titles
Later on in 2007, following the collapse of Pride FC, the UFC purchased the dying Japanese promotion. The decision was made to finally give the fans what they'd been begging to see for years: having the UFC champions fight the Pride FC champions.
It didn't work out nearly as well as Dana White and company would have liked. Of Pride FC's four champions, two of them refused to sign with the UFC. Only Dan Henderson—champion of two divisions —came to the UFC.
And in spite of the UFC's best efforts to hype the fight, the match up did not draw much interest. Both Quinton and Dan had just dethroned one of the most popular and dominant champions in MMA history in their last fight. Both champions were too unfamiliar for most fans.
The UFC held the fight in England and didn't even bother putting on Pay Per View in the USA. They were that sure it wouldn't sell any Pay Per Views.
Consummate warriors that both Jackson and Henderson are, they went to war for five rounds. After 25 minutes neither man was the clear victor. This writer had the fight three rounds Henderson and two rounds to Jackson, but it really could have gone either way.
The Judges ruled unanimously in favor of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Who would have believed that this was the best showing we would see by a reigning Light Heavyweight champion from that day in 2007 till today.
Iceman Curse 0, UFC Champions 0
Forrest Griffin Shocks the World and Abuses Rampage Jackson's Leg
When it was announced that Rampage Jackson would coach on The Ultimate Fighter opposite Forrest Griffin and that the two would eventually fight for the title, most of us were shocked. Here you have the bigger, better, badder version of Chuck Liddell and you're going to throw Forrest Griffin at him??
Needless to say, there weren't very many MMA faithful who thought Griffin had even the slightest chance. Clearly Rampage would have the overwhelming advantage standing and striking and his elite wrestling skills would be too much for Griffin if the fight went to the ground.
On July 8, 2008 the two coaches finally squared off at UFC 86. Right from the start, you could see that Forrest actually had a brilliant game plan.
Since Quinton Jackson throws kicks about as often as it snows in Miami, just keep kicking his legs and don't let him get close enough to turn the fight into a boxing match.
Even more surprising that this, when the fight did go to the ground, Forrest Griffin actually dominated the fighting there, landing 46 ground strikes to Rampage's 14 and firing off four submission attempts.
Forrest out-struck Quinton in four out of the five rounds. Final tally: Griffin landed 145 strikes to Jackson's 87. Quinton scored one knockdown. Griffin's leg kicks did so much damage to Jackson's leg that he was visibly staggered nearly fell over a couple times. Neither really did more damage than the other, so the guy with the most strikes landed wins.
The resulting unanimous decision victory was a shock, mostly because of how much hype there was behind Rampage Jackson. Nobody could believe what had just happened!
Iceman curse 1, UFC Champions 0
The Ultimate Fighter Knocks out the Ultimate Fighter
After scoring the stunning upset, the original Ultimate Fighter, Forrest Griffin, would face the man who won the second season of the show. They met at UFC 92 on December 27, 2008.
And no matter who won the fight, this would be the ultimate vindication for the UFC's reality show. One Ultimate Fighter winner vs another Ultimate Fighter winner for the championship of the most popular division in the sport, so nobody could question that the show could produce elite fighters.
Brimming with confidence, Forrest Griffin won stand up war for the first two rounds.
Then Rashad Evans remembered something very important: "Wait a second, I'm an elite wrestler. Why don't I just take this guy down and beat him up?"
Rashad shot for the take down and got it with ease. This time Forrest was confronting a higher caliber wrestler and he couldn't mount anything significant from his back.
Rashad Evans passed his guard. Hammering blows started to rain down on Griffin. One of them caught him flush and just like that, the fight was over!
Nobody expected Forrest Griffin to reign as champion for years and years, but it was still a little bit surprising that his reign ended so soon.
And so curse claimed it's second victim.
Iceman Curse 2, UFC Champions 0
Undefeated Challenger KO's Undefeated Champion to Begin "The Machida Era"
UFC 98 was supposed to showcase a title fight between Rampage Jackson vs Rashad Evans. Unfortunately, Rampage had to undergo surgery and was pulled from the card.
Three months earlier, undefeated Karate specialist, Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida had just scored a stunning first round knock out victory over the highly regarded contender Thiago Silva.
The timing couldn't have been better. Machida got the chance of a lifetime, taking Rampage's place in the title fight at UFC 98.
Machida dominated the champion in the first round, looking even quicker than Evans—a man noted for his quickness in the octagon. In the second round, both fighters picked up the pace, with Machida continuing to out-strike the Evans.
About four minutes into the second round, Lyoto Machida did something nobody had done before and that nobody has done since: he knocked out Rashad Evans.
He didn't just knock Evans out, he put the champion to sleep entirely. Rashad Evans lying there completely unconscious with his head turned at a grotesquely unnatural angle against the side of the octagon—that moment is one of the best remembered knockouts in UFC history.
So now the UFC had a seemingly unbeatable champion. At long last, the elite 205 lbs fighters would stop playing hot potato with the belt and Lyoto Machida would reign for a very long time.
Joe Rogan said it best, "Welcome to the Machida Era."
While UFC fans were deliriously optimistic about this new golden age, the Iceman Curse had quietly struck again claiming it's third victim.
Iceman Curse 3, UFC Champions 0.
Resurgent Mauricio "Shogun" Rua Puts "The Machida Era" on Notice
Lyoto Machida was riding high after claiming the light heavyweight crown.
The UFC was now in a tricky spot. They had promised Rampage Jackson the next title shot, then they had booked Quinton to coach opposite Rashad Evans for the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter. So who would fight Machida next?
With no established No. 1 contender to fight Machida, the UFC went with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. The choice was anything but obvious.
Shogun was an absolute terror in the waning years of Pride FC. He seemed unbeatable and many considered him to be the best 205 lbs fighter in the world.
Then Shogun had lost his debut UFC fight to Forrest Griffin by submission.
Shogun had rebounded with back to back knock out victories. The problem? The first was against an absolutely ancient Mark Coleman, and Shogun looked like crap in that fight.
For an encore, Shogun became the third guy in recent memory to find Chuck Liddell's newly discovered glass jaw with their fists. It seems like anyone could KO Chuck Liddell at that point.
Two big name wins, but not really very impressive.
With no better option available, the UFC booked Shogun to fight Machida anyways and did their best to hype the fight. Rua still had a lot of accolades and fame from his Pride FC days, but almost nobody thought Shogun had the slightest chance of beating Machida.
Then at UFC 104, somebody showed up that almost nobody expected to see: The Shogun Rua of old. Shogun the guy that had made many elite fighters look like amateurs. Shogun the single greatest knockout artist in MMA history. That Shogun.
The champion proved he would be no easy mark and put up a good fight. The two warriors pummeled each other for 25 minutes. It was a great fight, but Shogun clearly won it. Rua had out struck Machida 89 to 50 and probably did more damage.
Then the judges did what judges do to make MMA fans everywhere want to hunt them down and strangle them: All three awarded the win to Lyoto Machida.
Machida's win was about as controversial as Forrest Griffin's win over Rampage wasn't controversial. But the big news was that Shogun had proven that Machida was mortal and quite beatable.
The Iceman Curse had struck again, only to be stopped by horrible judges.
Iceman Curse 3, UFC Champions 0
Shogun Did What Shogun Does Best: Knocks out Lyoto Machida
With such a controversial win, there could be no doubt who The Dragon would fight next. He would fight Shogun again at UFC 113, and the two Brazilians would put the controversy to rest once and for all.
The fight started out looking like a continuation of the war at UFC 104. Neither man was dominating the fight and both men were very game.
Then at the three-and-a-half minute mark of the first round, Shogun caught Machida flush to the side of the head, Machida dropped, Shogun swarmed on him and the fight was over quick as you could blink.
A lot of people were surprised but they really shouldn't have been. Shogun has fought the best fighters in the world and beaten most of them the same way he beat Machida.
Shogun has 20 career victories and 17 of those wins came by knockout. Most of the guys he knocked out were the top fighters. Simply put, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua is the single most proficient knockout artist in MMA history.
So the controversy was over, and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua's reign over the UFC's light heavyweight division began.
The Iceman Curse would not be denied this time, claiming it's fourth victim.
Iceman Curse 4, UFC Champions 0
Young Prodigy Jonny "Bones" Jones Mauls Shogun Rua and Takes His Title
In 2008, a very young and very talented fighter named Jon Jones entered the UFC at just 21 years of age. Very few fans took notice at the time. Little did we know of the storm that was brewing in the 205 lbs division.
A very raw and very inexperienced Jones won his first two fights by judges decision. It was the second of those fights where people really started to take notice of Jones. He dominated Stephan Bonnar in every area, showcasing beautiful Greco-Roman throws, Jones easily threw Stephan Bonnar to the ground over and over and over.
Later that year, he did something nobody dreamed possible: he completely manhandled Matt Hamill, tossing the elite wrestler around like a child's toy. And though the one-sided beating ended as a disqualification loss for Jones, this was the fight where "Bones" truly put the light heavyweight division on notice.
Right before the Bader fight, the injury bug had struck again. No. 1 contender Rashad Evans suffered a knee injury in training and would not be able to fight Shogun Rua for the title.
Rampage Jackson was offered the shot at Shogun's title but refused.
With an eerie sense of déjà vu, the UFC was once again left without an obvious contender to fight for the title. So they took another wild gamble and gave Jon Jones the shot at Shogun.
At UFC 128 that gamble proved to be a stroke of absolute brilliance. Jon Jones put a beating on Shogun the likes of which nobody could have ever imagined.
Shogun proved he could take a lot of punishment. More than a lot. But the Brazilian Muay Thai specialist couldn't seem to land anything against Jon Jones. Jones picked him apart and made it look far too easy, beating him standing and beating him on the ground. Nobody has every done anything like that to Shogun. Not even close.
Jones out struck, out grappled and outclassed the champion and made it look far too easy. It was one of the most one-sided victories in MMA history.
And so the Iceman Curse struck once again.
Iceman Curse 5, UFC Champions 0
Jon Jones Will Beat Rampage Jackson by Stoppage, Ending the Iceman Curse
Jones is an absolutely amazing fighter. He has every tool he needs dominate the UFC's 205 lbs division for years to come.
But wait a second! We've heard all of that before!
Quinton "Ramapge" Jackson was a bigger, better, meaner carbon-copy of Chuck Liddell. Experts agreed that nobody would beat Jackson, and his dominant reign at light heavyweight would surpass anything that had come before him.
Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida was supposed to be unhittable and unbeatable. He was supposed to defend the title five times minimum.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was finally back to being the fighter he used to be, and there were plenty of fans expecting him to rule at 205 for years to come.
Jon Jones isn't the first light heavyweight to garner such overwhelming optimism. It seems like the script for this one is already written. Jones will either lose to Rampage Jackson tomorrow night, or he will pull off a mediocre judges decision win and lose the title in his very next fight.
Well folks, tomorrow night you're going to see that script torn to shreds. We all know the curse has to end sometime, and Jon Jones is the right man who to do it.
On top of that, Rampage Jackson would either have to get very lucky or come up with something new and surprising in his arsenal—which just isn't something Quinton Jackson ever does. Quinton is a bad, bad dude, but he's also extremely predictable.
Because Jackson is such a ridiculously durable fighter, it won't be till the fourth round that Jonny "Bones" Jones beats Quinton "Rampage" Jackson by stoppage. Whether it's by submission or by strikes, Jon Jones will leave no doubt who won the fight.
Tomorrow night, Jones will break The Iceman Curse, and destroy Rampage's dream of getting the belt back all in one brutal stroke. Count on it.
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