ATLANTA – Three months shy of his 25th birthday, Jon Jones is approaching a point where his most significant opponent will be the history books.
He made the third successful defense of his light heavyweight title Saturday before a sellout crowd of 15,545 at Philips Arena in the main event of UFC 145, routing his one-time mentor, Rashad Evans, en route to a unanimous decision victory. Scores were 49-46 twice and 50-45, though Evans never seemed to be in the fight.
Mixed martial arts is one of those sports that has an odd way of humbling even its greatest stars, but Jones is quickly approaching legendary status in just his fourth year as a professional.
The highly anticipated grudge match between former friends who turned into bitter enemies wasn't much of a competition.
It was obvious from the earliest moments of the bout, when Jones was cracking Evans with elbows, that it would take something extraordinary to beat him.
Jones has held the belt for 13 months and is closing in on Tito Ortiz's divisional record of five successful title defenses. His next defense, against Dan Henderson, will likely be the toughest. If he survives that, he's got nothing but open field ahead of him.
He's already closing in on Anderson Silva for widespread recognition as the best fighter in the world.
Jones handled the pressure of battling his one-time friend flawlessly, coolly using his vast physical advantages to dismantle one of the finest fighters in the sport.
"The thing that I thought was great for Jon Jones is, [it was] his first five-rounder against a tough guy and I thought he fought a great fight," UFC president Dana White said in tribute. "I thought he was throwing elbows like they were hands. I thought he fought a great fight tonight, but I thought Rashad did, too, though."
Evans' best is enough to beat virtually anyone in the world, perhaps with the exception of the man he fought Saturday. He didn't take the pounding that most of Jones' previous title-fight opponents did, but the welts on his face showed the tough night he endured.
[ UFC 145 breakdown: Elbows, length doom Rashad Evans in loss ]
Jones beat Mauricio "Shogun" Rua to win the title at UFC 128 on March 19, 2011. When the fight ended midway through the third of three gory rounds, Rua's face looked as if it had been battered for 45 minutes with night sticks.
Jones became the first man to submit Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and left Jackson swollen and battered.
In his last fight, Jones choked Lyoto Machida unconscious after opening a gash on his forehead.
In those last four bouts, Evans has beaten four former UFC 205-pound champions in one-sided fashion. For all Silva has accomplished, and it is a massive amount, he's never beaten four men of the caliber of Rua, Jackson, Machida and Evans in succession, let alone in such brutal fashion.
"Jon's definitely on his way and he definitely deserves credit," Evans said. "He's still yet to clean out the weight class, but Anderson, they still can't find anybody to really go with him. It remains to be seen if he'll get to that level, but it looks like he's there."
If Jones beats the 41-year-old Henderson, in a bout that will be held likely in late summer or early fall, there will be no one whom Jones hasn't fought who'd be anything less than a 10-1 favorite.
Jones showed his full arsenal Saturday, even pulling guard in the waning seconds because he wanted to show he's "a true mixed martial artist."
He took delight in his dismantling of Evans, though both men said afterward they hoped to put the feud behind them.
It was clear, though, that beating a fighter as talented as Evans with as much riding on the outcome meant a great deal to Jones.
"I felt as if the fight elevated me to a different level," Jones said. "I definitely respected Rashad a lot. I think I was a little intimidated at some points to just believe in my ability and my speed and coordination. As a result, I didn't fight as clean as I would have liked to have. But it was a great fight."
He recalled times during training when Evans "pulled the big brother act on me," but it was the revenge of the pupil on this night.
If Jones isn't the sport's biggest star, he's awfully close. And with more than a decade of fights ahead of him, it's hardly inconceivable that Jones will rewrite the UFC record books before he's through.
The only likely way for Jones to get beaten would be if he lost focus and allowed himself to get caught.
Barring that, expect to see Jones keep racking up victim after world-class victim.
Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
• Video: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III's Wonderlic scores revealed
• Derek Fisher fires back at NBA players' union officials who want him to resign
• Philadelphia Phillies short on firepower, wins without Ryan Howard, Chase Utley