At UFC 135 this past Saturday, we witnessed a true passing of the torch.
Champion Jon "Bones" Jones defended his title for the first time when he met with ex-titleholder, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
The two were taking headlines in the weeks leading up to the fight with the verbal barbs they lashed against one another, though in the end Jackson was humbled by a stellar Jones performance, which resulted in a fourth-round submission win for the Greg Jackson product.
We also saw Mark Hunt build up to a two-fight win streak, Nate Diaz savagely reentering the lightweight division and Travis Browne looking overly unimpressive in his decision win over Rob Broughton—so what's next for all fighters?
For Nate Diaz, the win over Takanori Gomi, a former PRIDE champion, was a career defining moment.
Though Gomi has looked to be in championship form since he's joined the UFC ranks in March of last year, he's one never to underestimate, since he possesses true one-punch knockout power—just ask Tyson Griffin.
The kid from Stockton, despite all of his praise of the Japanese superstar, looked mean and aggressive throughout the bout. Diaz dropped Gomi early with a hook and was unrelenting, eventually rocking him a few more times before "The Fireball Kid" took the action to the ground.
Diaz quickly transitioned from triangle to arm-bar, earning the first-round finish.
It was a must win for the season five winner of The Ultimate Fighter, who prior to the Gomi clash was on a two-fight losing streak, albeit to top competitors in the welterweight class.
Now back at his more natural division at 155-pounds, Diaz has proven once again that he is a true force to be reckoned with and will likely earn a top-flight competitor in his next outing, thanks to his incredible performance that earned him "Submission of the Night" honors.
For Gomi, he could be seeing his walking papers from the organization. Since joining the Zuffa fold, the heavy-hitter has gone 1-3 inside the Octagon, with losses to Kenny Florian, Clay Guida and now Diaz accounting for his recent defeats—though all men remain some of the grittiest competitors in the class.
Gomi could see a second-life, as the organization will be making a return trip to Japan come this February, where the 33-year-old remains one of the country's most coveted fighters.
While Travis Browne was quickly rising the heavyweight ranks, he will likely move no further in the division. At least until he has another impressive performance, but nothing that mirrors what happened just last Saturday.
You can attribute it to the high altitude of Denver, Colorado, but Browne abandoned all hopes of finishing the fight where he stands the best chance to: on his feet. Instead, the heavy-hitting Greg Jackson fighter took Broughton to the mat in the later stages of the bout. He was clearly not expecting the touted striker to do so and had no answer for it.
In the end, Browne took home a decision that may have derailed whatever fans were lingering on from his movie-esque knockout punch over Stefan Struve just last May.
Until Browne can either have an exciting match in his next outing or an impressive finish, he will remain in the middle of the pack before he asserts himself as a force to be reckoned with.
While "Hapa" will continue to enjoy a UFC career, Rob Broughton likely will not. The Team Wolfslair fighter was particularly the least impressive of the two. A submission specialist, Broughton had no answer off of his back against Browne and even more so, did not change his game plan once his original strategy was thrown out the window.
In the end, a 1-1 run in the organization now is enough for the UFC brass to cut the Brit, though the lack of depth in the heavyweight class could make them decide otherwise.
The PRIDE veteran proved this past Saturday that there is still some life left in his mixed martial arts career.
An obvious weakness of the kickboxing afficionado's game has been his ground work. However, with his time spent with the Florida-based camp in American Top Team, he has improved his wrestling and submissions skills by leaps and bounds.
Against Rothwell, a near 40-fight veteran, gave Hunt a scare early in the first-round, mounting the smaller man in the "Super Samoan." Hunt kept his composure, worked his way back to his feet and consistently beat Rothwell to the punch, which "Big Ben's" face bore the evidence of.
In the end, Rothwell gassed midway through the bout, while Hunt pushed forward and gutted out a decision victory. One of the biggest surprises was Hunt's willingness to engage the IFL veteran to the mat, taking him down and even searching for a second-round arm-bar, nearly cinching up the submission hold.
The victory moves Hunt to 2-1 in the UFC, despite previously suffering a career worse five-fight losing streak heading into his Octagon debut. The former K-1 World Grand Prix Champion is now on a two-fight win streak.
As for Rothwell, he moves to 1-2 within the organization, with his lone career victory coming over UFC washout Gilbert Yvel, who left the organization on a three-fight skid.
Rothwell has shown to tire in every single one of his UFC contests, especially against Hunt last Saturday, though you could lend respectability to Rothwell's 15-month layoff, which sidelined him due to injury. Regardless, he's a top-contender for the UFC axe.
At UFC 135, Hall of Famer Matt Hughes made a lot of people believer's in a possible comeback that he would have potentially mounted against Josh Koscheck.
During their welterweight affair, Hughes initiated the action, sticking out the jab and snapping it in the right eye of Koscheck—the same eye that current champion Georges St-Pierre bludgeoned this past December, breaking the AKA products orbital bone.
Hughes seemed to move around the cage well, flicking the jab while coming over the top with a left hook that also looked very effective.
In the end, it was Kos' power that proved to be the deciding factor. As soon as Koscheck connected on one of powerful right hands, Hughes was never the same. Koscheck leveled Matt to a knee with the power shot and followed up with a take-down, never letting the farm boy settle.
Eventually, Koscheck worked a few good shots on the ground, earning the first-round knockout finish with just one-second remaining in the bout.
For The Ultimate Fighter season one vet, it proved to be a welcoming home party after the extensive layoff due to the eye injury. It also provided a very respectable name to add to the résumé of Koscheck, who will likely see a future, at least for the time being, in the middleweight division.
A perennial contender, Koscheck has now suffered two losses against GSP, making him a long shot from vying for the title. A bout with Paulo Thiago, who knocked out the 33-year-old AKA star in the Brazilian's organizational debut, could pique the interest of Koscheck if he decides to remain at welterweight for now.
Hughes, now having suffered back-to-back first-round KO's at the hands of heavy-hitters B.J. Penn and Koscheck, will likely retire, despite the former two-time champ refusing to utter the words. He much prefers calling it being "shelved," but at 37-years-old, Hughes has already cemented his legacy as one of the best fighters of all time, and without a doubt one of the most dominant fighters in UFC history.
As the main event of the evening, both Jon Jones and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson had done enough talking leading up to the bout.
Jones has been virtually untested in his career, though prior to his match with Jackson looked every bit the world beater that he is when he defeated former champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua last March, cinching up the 205-pound title with a third-round finish of the Brazilian muay-thai specialist.
Ultimately, Joe Rogan hit the nail on the head post-fight with Jackson, saying "you can't say you've never been tested, that's not the issue. The issue is you keep getting straight A's."
Against Jackson, a former world champion who unified the PRIDE and UFC belts in 2007, Jones dominated the bruiser from start to finish. On the feet, in the clinch and on the ground, this fight went everywhere with Jones dictating the match anywhere he wanted.
In the end, Jones looked fresh heading into the fourth-round, where he eventually sunk in a rear-naked choke on Rampage, submitting the legend in just 74-seconds.
Post-fight, Rashad Evans stepped into the cage to "spoil" Jones' moment, where the two will now meet—most likely in the beginning of the year—in a much anticipated grudge match. Should Jones prove successful against his former friend and teammate, he would most likely solidify his spot as one of the top-five pound-for-pound greats in our sport—that is if he's not already up on that mantle as is.
For Jackson, at 33-years-old, there's still some juice in those legs. It's hard to determine where his skill level lies now since you can't measure it against the performance he put up against Jon Jones, because everybody looks bad opposite the 24-year-old.
But Jackson can take away a few positives from the bout: he defended most of Jones' take-downs, escaped from mount and used some powerful leg kicks that had the New York native limping out of the cage. Rampage still has some tools, but his ultimate goal is set on a return to Japan, where he remains a heavy fan favorite from his days in PRIDE.
Jackson was vocal about his desire to rematch the aforementioned "Shogun" in a bout that will draw a huge crowd and would serve as an excellent return to the land of the rising sun.