Just 25 months ago at the age of 23, Jon ‘Bones’ Jones won the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s light heavyweight title at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, by destroying the legendary Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua with a ruthless third-round knockout at UFC 128.
Since then, Jones has run through four consecutive former champions in Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort. Only Belfort presented a challenge by nearly finishing Jones with an armbar in the first round.
Jones returns to Newark on Saturday night to face Chael Sonnen in the main event at UFC 159. Most books have installed Jones (17-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC) as an enormous -1000 favorite (risk $1,000 to win $100) with Sonnen available for a monster return in the +700 range (risk $100 to win $700).
(For those new to mixed martial arts that are wondering who beat Jones, the answer is nobody. He was issued a ‘loss’ for an illegal elbow while he was busy pounding Matt Hamill into a bloody mess.)
Jones has been un-bettable with the straight odds for more than three years. The only way to back him without eating way too much ‘chalk’ is to find a proposition wager that isn’t too expensive.
As of Friday afternoon, 5Dimes had a prop for Jones to win by KO for a +120 return. For the champ to defend his strap by submission, 5Dimes had Jones with +140 odds. Those are the only ways to make sharp plays on Jones this weekend.
Does Sonnen (27-12-1 MMA, 6-5 UFC) have any chance whatsoever? Truth be told, I don’t think there’s a man on the planet that can beat Jones in the 205-pound division.
And that’s why I find it perplexing that so many MMA scribes are disgusted by the fact that Sonnen has been given this opportunity. When Dan Henderson had to pull out of his scheduled fight with Jones only nine days before the bout, Dana White was left in a bad position.
He made phone calls to Rua and Machida, neither of whom would take the fight. Then White called Sonnen and offered him the fight with Jones in nine days. Sonnen responded, “I’ll fight Jon Jones tonight.”
At that point, White got back with Jones, but he refused to fight and that resulted in the first-ever cancellation of an entire UFC show. Sonnen pounced on the opportunity to mock Jones, saying in an ESPN interview that he “can only assume that Jones is going to a wine-tasting party next Saturday night.”
After Jones beat Belfort by fourth-round submission, White announced Jones and Sonnen as the next coaches for Season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Sonnen hasn’t fought in the 205-pound loop in seven years and that’s why many pundits felt he didn’t deserve a shot at the belt. But Sonnen is the best promoter of fights in UFC history and that’s why pay-per-view buys will be huge this weekend.
And it’s not as if Sonnen hasn’t been performing well in the cage. He isn’t just the only UFC fighter to be competitive with long-time middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva, he clearly dominated Silva in five of their seven rounds in the Octagon.
Sonnen punished Silva for 23 minutes at UFC 117 before falling victim to a triangle choke with 110 seconds remaining. In the first round of the rematch at UFC 148, Sonnen got an early takedown and controlled the 185-pound champ from the top for the rest of the stanza.
In the second round, however, Sonnen missed a spinning backfist and tripped over Silva, who immediately landed a knee to the body and finished the fight with ground-and-pound punishment.
Prediction: Nobody in the world thinks Sonnen can beat Jones with one exception – Sonnen. The same thing was true when he faced Silva for the first time. That belief and his wrestling gives him an ever-so-slight chance, so don’t be surprised in the least if Sonnen gives Jones the toughest fight he’s ever had. But Jones will get his hand raised again with a KO late in the third round.
In the co-main event, long-time middleweight rivals Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping and Alan ‘The Talent’ Belcher will finally collide in the Octagon. Most betting shops are listing Bisping (23-5 MMA, 13-5UFC) as a -170 favorite, while Belcher is the +150 underdog (risk $100 to win $150).
Bisping won four straight fights before dropping a split-decision to Sonnen at UFC on Fox 2. The Brit bounced back with a unanimous-decision victory over Brian Stann before losing by second-round KO to Belfort his last time out.
Belcher (18-7 MMA, 9-5 UFC) saw his four-fight winning steak snapped in his last outing, a unanimous-decision loss to Yushin ‘Thunder’ Okami at UFC 155 four months ago.
Prediction: I like Bisping to get the victory and I’m ok with this play as long as the price isn’t more expensive than -180. If you can get ‘under’ 2.5 rounds at around even money, I’m not against that play, either.
In the heavyweight division, Roy Nelson will take on Cheick Kongo as a -240 ‘chalk.’ Kongo is an underdog in the +190, +200 range.
Nelson (18-7 MMA, 5-3 UFC) is the TUF 10 winner who is coming off back-to-back first-round KO victories. His only losses in the Octagon have come by decision against a pair of former champs (Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir) and Fabricio Werdum.
Kongo (18-7-2 MMA, 11-5-1 UFC) is 4-1-1 in his last six fights, including a first-round knockout of Pat Barry that earned 2011 KO of the Year honors.
Prediction: I like Nelson to win by first-round KO, so any props that fit that result are in play for me.