Jon Jones (file photo) became the youngest champion in UFC history Saturday. | Terry Goodlad/Sherdog.com
To the naked eye, it appeared that Jon Jones was never in the slightest bit of trouble during his 205-pound title-winning performance against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the main event of Saturday’s UFC 128.
Jones dissected Rua en route to a third-round technical knockout at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Throughout the bout, “Bones” seemed to go wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and Rua seemed helpless to stop him.
However, Jones’ striking coach, Mike Winkeljohn, had a different view of the competition from the fighter’s corner. According to “Coach Wink,” Jones had plenty of adversity to overcome.
“There was a turning point after the second round where we were real scared, because [Jones] was tired,” Winkeljohn told Sherdog.com after the bout. “He had pressed all day long. Well, s--t, the whole last two weeks, [cameras] following him around 24-7. I think all that hoopla got to him, and the pressure got to him a little bit. He was tired after the second round, and I was worried.”
“But you know what he did? He pushed through it, and that is a champion. That is a veteran. At 23 years old, that is incredible. All of a sudden, in the third round, he just decided, ‘Yeah, I’m going to win this thing,’ and he just went to another gear.”
Jones, who unexpectedly apprehended a robber in a New Jersey park just hours before the title bout, opened the fight with his trademark unorthodox standup attack. Though many would view spinning back kicks and elbow strikes as risky maneuvers in such an important fight, Winkeljohn asserts that those techniques did not concern him.
“The spinning elbow and the distraction kicks don’t worry me at all. What worried me was that ‘Shogun’ was trying to counter Jon’s punches. That’s where I thought we might have been in trouble,” said Winkeljohn. “Sometimes Jon stayed in the pocket and didn’t bail out the right direction or the proper defense. That’s what scared me.”
Though Winkeljohn saw room for improvement in his pupil’s performance, the revered striking coach spoke proudly of Jones’ poise and skill under the pressure of the moment.
“I see the progression in the gym. I was telling everybody that he could beat ‘Shogun’ standing up,” said Winkeljohn. “I’ll never say it was easy, though. ‘Shogun’ is very tough, and he was inches away from a few counters in there when Jon was punching. But, for the most part, [Jon] dominated. He stayed long, and he hit him long and often. He [used] angles and he took [Rua] down when he wanted to. It was a great performance. I’m very happy. It’s the beginning of the Jon Jones era.”
Up next for the new champion is a defense of his title against friend and fellow Jackson’s MMA product Rashad Evans. Though the two had stated in the past that they would never clash in the cage, it appears that mentality has changed. Trainer Greg Jackson has vowed to help prepare neither man in the case of such a fight, but for Winkeljohn, the situation is a bit trickier.
“I have to think about it. I have a dilemma in that Rashad kind of left our camp a couple of fights back, and I wasn’t in his corner in his last two fights because he was really training up in Denver. Jon Jones came in and I started working with Jon, so it’s kind of tough. I’ll have to figure that one out,” said Winkeljohn. “I love Rashad to death. I think he’s much better than people even know. He could be scary for Jon. He has the tools to beat Jon Jones. So I’m not sure yet. I have to think about it.”