Mel Evans / AP
Sunday, March 20, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
NEWARK, N.J. — Hours after establishing himself as a superhero, 23-year old Jon Jones received the belt to go with it.
Jones started the most important day of his professional fighting career by subduing a crime suspect — a task that turned out more difficult than emerging as the youngest champion in the history of UFC.
“The only thing left to do is deliver a baby on the way out of here,” UFC President Dana White joked. “What else can this guy do in a day?”
Jones could probably throw his gloves back on, climb into the octagon and fight again. That’s how little damage Mauricio “Shogun” Rua inflicted on Jones in their light heavyweight title fight at UFC 128.
Jones had Shogun exhausted and wobbled before the end of the first round. Not much improved in the second for the 29-year old Rua, one of the most accomplished strikers in the history of mixed martial arts. Midway through the third, Shogun was finished.
Jones swelled Rua’s face with a series of elbows from top position and threw a knee moments afterward before the referee rushed in to stop the fight.
“I established in my mind that that was going to be my cage for the night,” Jones said. “I was going to let my body work the way I know it can work.”
Jones made Shogun look like nothing more than another minor obstacle standing in the way of his meteoric rise to the top of the MMA stratosphere. The former UFC and PRIDE tournament champion put up no more of a challenge than the other 13 helpless fighters Jones has faced to this point.
Jones opened the bout by attempting a flying knee and spinning elbow. They are two signature moves of Jones’ glitzy style but ones White and others thought he would refrain from to keep himself out of harm’s way in a fight of this magnitude.
“It’s the only way I know,” Jones said. “I really don’t think it’s being dangerous or flashy at all. I call it more ‘unpredictable.’”
That’s a perfect way to describe Jones’ encounter with a robber earlier Saturday afternoon. Jones and his trainers, Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, went 20 minutes out of town to meditate at a waterfall before the bout.
Right before they got out their car, Jones realized a man had broken into a couple’s automobile and stolen some of their things, including a GPS. Jones and his coaches started chasing after the suspect without thinking twice.
Jones eventually caught up, tripped the guy and trapped him by his feet until Jackson got there and jumped on his back. Jones and Jackson held the man until police arrived.
“The policeman got out of his car and was like, ‘What are you doing here? Aren’t you fighting tonight?’” Jones said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah man, I’m trying to get my meditation, though.’”
Jones described the story in detail for five minutes during the post-fight press conference.
Jones said he felt like he had no other choice but to go after the man in the moment and asked members of the media to imagine what they would have done if it was their sister.
“I just felt really good after that,” Jones said, “and was like, ‘I’ve got to win this fight. I’ve got hard work, dedication and now I’ve got karma on my side.’”
Jones also had superior wrestling ability working in his favor. Rua couldn’t prevent takedowns in each of the rounds and was powerless when the 6-foot-4 Jones got on top of him.
“The strategy was to fight Jon Jones anywhere, wherever the fight goes,” Rua said through a translator in the octagon following his defeat. “I have to congratulate him. He was better than me.”
Immediately after Jones wrapped the belt around his waist, UFC officials brought his teammate and mentor Rashad Evans into the octagon. It wasn’t for celebration; it was to confirm Jones’ next opponent.
Jones and Evans used to say they would never fight each other, but the situation changed with UFC 128. Evans was scheduled to face Shogun but pulled out with an injury, which allowed Jones to take his place.
Now that Jones has the championship, Evans won’t surrender his No. 1 contender standing in the 205-pound division.
“This is my dream and this is everything I believe in," Jones said. “And I know God wouldn’t lead me this far to leave me, so I’ve got to do exactly what I’ve got to do.”
Jones was hesitant to say much more about his immediate fighting future. He wants to take some time off and go on a vacation after winning two fights in six weeks — Jones also beat Ryan Bader at UFC 126 — to claim the title.
He’ll return eventually, and scarily enough, plans to be better than ever.
“I’d like him to stop fighting crime two hours before the fight,” White said. “That would be cool, but he’ll keep growing and becoming a better fighter.”