Jones’ road to top a steady ride

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BROOMFIELD, Colo. – Jon Jones is going to have a lot of fighters heading to the bookstores and getting bleary-eyed searching YouTube for the secrets of fighting like mixed martial arts’ version of a young LeBron James.

Jones did what three former UFC heavyweight champions, one of whom is a Hall of Famer, could not do in a fight against Brandon Vera.

Jones (10-1) decimated Vera (11-5) in a nationally televised bout on Sunday at the 1st Bank Center, stopping him at 3:19 of the first round in a performance that was as brutal as it was jaw dropping.

He tossed Vera around like he was a (not-so) heavy bag. He blistered him with crushing elbows and pummeled him with powerful punches. It was so one-sided that it seemed that Jones was the wily veteran and Vera was the inexperienced 22-year-old prospect and not vice versa.

Jones was relentlessly hyped prior to the first Ultimate Fighting Championship card on Versus, compared to all manner of sports prodigies. He clearly felt the pressure and acted a bit out of character when he was amped and in Vera’s face at Saturday’s weigh-in.

He got the excess energy out at the weigh-in, though, and his performance on Sunday was magnificent, even if he couldn’t wait for it to be over.

“This was kind of like studying for your biggest exam and all your friends are going to know your score,” Jones said, beaming. “I’m just glad it’s over.”

If Jones is glad, how about Vera? He hadn’t won a truly big fight since beating Frank Mir in a heavyweight bout near the end of 2006, but he worked his way back near the top of the 205-pound class with several strong performances.

He was coming off a hotly disputed loss to Randy Couture and had the kind of Muay Thai game that could cause Jones problems.

Seconds into the fight, though, Jones put Vera on his back with a judo throw. A few minutes later, he slammed him to the mat.

It was very much a statement that Couture, arguably the greatest champion in UFC history, could not make in November.

He left UFC president Dana White shaking his head. With a very few exceptions – lightweight champion B.J. Penn is one who immediately comes to mind – no fighter has been hyped as early as Jones or has easily lived up to the billing. “The hype is warranted,” White said. “The kid is incredibly talented. When you see him fight, he looks phenomenal and he’s getting better every time.”

He’s 6 feet 4 inches and has a very big frame, along with the longest reach in UFC history at 84 inches. When he’s 27, he’s probably going to be a heavyweight.

“Oh yeah, no doubt about that,” White said.

For the time being, though, he’s ripping through the UFC in unprecedented fashion. He looks in some ways like a young Anderson Silva, with a similar build and a similar explosiveness.

Silva has gone on to become the best fighter in the world, and it’s hard to predict that kind of success for a 22-year-old with less than two years experience in the UFC.

He sure has the look of a young Silva, however.

“He’s agile, he’s quick; he’s got everything to possibly become another Anderson Silva,” said Ed Soares, Silva’s manager.

The UFC is going to handle Jones carefully, despite his success, similar to the Washington Nationals sending top-pick Stephen Strasburg to Double-A despite his 100-MPH fastball.

The competition level will increase, but White said Jones needs about a year before he gets championship-caliber competition.

Jones, though, has no complaints. He simply wants to use each fight as a learning tool. He’s renowned for studying YouTube videos and on Sunday, he said he reads judo books to learn how to incorporate judo into his game.

The most important lesson he may need to learn is to remain calm and stay within himself. Jones was overly hyped by Vera’s pre-fight trash talk, even though coaches Greg Jackson and Phil Nurse had warned him about it and told him to disregard it.

“In the future, I’ll deal with trash talkers better and focus on what the task is,” Jones said. You have to imagine there aren’t going to be a lot of guys volunteering to fight him. He’s got an unorthodox style that is constantly evolving. He’s a terrific wrestler and he’s a powerful striker.

He showed on Sunday after ripping Vera with an elbow that he also knows how to finish. In his only loss, he was seconds away from finishing Matt Hamill in December when he was disqualified for throwing an illegal elbow.

If he could be criticized for that performance, it would be for failing to get Hamill out when he had him in a bad way.

On Sunday, he didn’t let Vera off the hook. Vera, who landed zero punches, was essentially out after the first elbow he ate from Jones in the guard. Jones followed with another elbow that grazed Vera’s face, landed three hard punches until Vera rolled away.

Jones kept up the assault, but referee Herb Dean quickly jumped in to save Vera. If the fight went much longer, Vera would have been seriously injured.

There are going to be a lot of nights like that and a lot of fighters being scraped off the canvas if Jones keeps progressing like that.

“Dude,” White said, beaming, “this kid is awesome. That was one amazing performance.”

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Mar 22, 2010