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Jon Jones caps remarkable year with a third title fight victory at UFC 140

Lyoto Machida pressured Jones like no one else had in the first round, but to no avail

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Jon Jones walks away from a prone Lyoto Machida, background, during their championship bout during UFC 140 in Toronto on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011.

UFC 140

KSNV coverage of UFC 140 in Toronto, Dec. 10, 2011.

UFC 140

American Jon Jones, left, lands a kick on Brazil's Lyoto Machida during their World Light Heavyweight Championship bout during UFC 140 in Toronto on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011. Launch slideshow »

TORONTO — The only thing left for debate after Jon Jones’ second-round submission victory Saturday against Lyoto Machida was which of the 24-year old champion’s three title fights was most impressive this year.

Was it his adversity-stricken comeback against Machida at Air Canada Centre, his calculated picking-apart of Rampage Jackson in Denver, or his wrecking-ball demolition of Shogun Rua in Newark, N.J.?

In the post-fight press conference after his victory, Jones appeared to cast his ballot for the Machida bout.

“I got the feeling I’ll never be the same after this fight,” Jones said. “I got the feeling that I’m going to grow after this fight.”

Light heavyweights everywhere should run for cover, because Jones already looks on the verge of unbeatable. He emphatically answered the final question anyone had about his ability in the UFC 140 main event.

The one concern pundits had for Jones before the Machida bout was how he would respond to getting hit cleanly. Through nine fights in the octagon, no opponent had ever blasted Jones with strikes equal in power and precision.

But Machida did. The former light heavyweight champion connected square on Jones’ face multiple times in the opening five minutes.

Although Jones grimaced and backpedaled, he succeeded in taking the shots. Machida never came close to knocking him down.

“That’s definitely something that was made up by media — that I couldn’t take a punch,” Jones said. “I just felt it was something I could address to quiet more critics.”

“I knew I could take a punch and I’m glad I got to prove it tonight.”

The deciding sequence of the night, however, started when Jones reverted to his wrestling background. He scored a takedown midway through the second round, and though it didn’t last long, Jones connected with one crisp elbow to Machida’s forehead.

The ground-and-pound strike opened a gash deep enough that the referee momentarily stopped the fight so cage-side doctors could examine it.

“That’s when my confidence really started to skyrocket,” Jones said. “I started to realize that on the ground, I would have success there. And seeing his blood made me think, ‘alright, he bleeds.’”

Opposing fighters often quarrel on what was the turning point in a bout, but Machida agreed with Jones.

“I felt the fight was going great,” Machida said through a translator. “But after the cut on my forehead, my vision got a little blurry. I felt like that was the beginning of the end.”

About a minute later, Machida’s neck was caught in a tight standing guillotine choke. Jones cranked hard and long enough that Machida passed out and fell limp on the floor as the referee stopped the fight.

Jones’ victory goes down as another submission, but it came two rounds before the rear naked choke he finished Jackson with three months ago.

“If he stays on the track and does the right things, this guy could go down as the greatest ever,” UFC President Dana White said. “I just don’t see anyone beating this guy anytime soon.”

That’s a major declaration from White, who has tried to temper expectations on Jones more than anyone. Having witnessed too many young fighters christened “the next big thing” — especially in the light heavyweight division, where no one had defended the belt more than once since Chuck Liddell in 2006 — White was hesitant to mention Jones among the sport’s elite.

After seeing Jones wipe out a trio of former champions within nine months, White can no longer hold back.

“I’m done with the whole, ‘if he gets through this one like the last one,’” White explained. “He’s the real deal, man.”

White said he was convinced of Jones’ greatness because of how motivated and in shape Machida was coming into UFC 140. It seems as if White and others count each of Jones’ victories a shade more memorable than the one preceding it.

Jones wasn’t going to argue against that.

“The battles I had to go through mentally to train my butt off again for the third world title, the battles I had to put myself through to defeat a tricky southpaw who is a dedicated hard-worker, I went through a lot,” Jones said.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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