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Jon Jones fights his way to surprise title shot at UFC 126

Jones takes teammate Rashad Evans’ spot in Main Event at UFC 128 against Shogun Rua

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Justin M. Bowen

Jon Jones holds his hand to his head after defeating Ryan Bader in their light heavyweight bout at UFC 126 Saturday, February 5, 2011 at Mandalay Bay Events Center.

UFC 126 fight night

Demetrious Johnson takes down Kid Yamamoto during their bantamweight bout at UFC 126 Saturday, February 5, 2011 at Mandalay Bay Events Center.  Johnson won by unanimous decision. Launch slideshow »

UFC 126

KSNV coverage of UFC 126 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, Feb. 5, 2011.

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Through 13 career fights in the last three years, no one had brought Jon Jones to his knees in the octagon.

UFC President Dana White and commentator Joe Rogan did the trick Saturday night at UFC 126. After Jones dispatched previously undefeated Ryan Bader in the second round via submission at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, White and Rogan had something to tell him.

They informed the 23-year old that his next fight would be for the light heavyweight championship belt against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128. Jones placed his gloves over his head and fell to the mat when he heard the news.

“I feel it’s my time,” Jones said. “I’m hungry and I’m going for it.”

Jones (12-1) has dominated everyone he’s faced in mixed martial arts, leading some to believe he’s destined to become one of the greatest fighters of all time. His only career loss came when he was disqualified for illegal elbows in a fight where he was on the verge of a knockout.

It was only a question of when — not if — Jones would get his title shot. White answered it Saturday.

White said UFC officials found out today that Rashad Evans, who was scheduled to fight Shogun at UFC 128 on March 19 in Newark, N.J., was out with a knee injury. That opened the possibility of Jones filling in for Evans.

“Literally after he won, I walked into the octagon and told Jon and asked him if he wanted to take the fight,” White said. “He said, ‘Yeah.’ That’s how the fight was made.”

Jones obliterated any doubts in White’s mind that he wasn’t ready for it at such a young age. Bader (12-1) entered the bout hailed as Jones’ toughest competition yet.

He won the eighth “The Ultimate Fighter” and had a storied collegiate wrestling career at Arizona State. The thought was Bader might have an edge in taking Jones down to the mat and out-wrestling him.

That quickly disappeared. Jones slipped away from most of Bader’s takedown attempts and was the more impressive fighter on the ground.

Jones got a deep choke on Bader in the first round but couldn’t get him to tap out. When Jones got another chance in the second round, he finished. He maneuvered for a guillotine choke on Bader and got the submission at the 4:20 mark of the round.

“When you train really hard, there’s no reason not to believe in yourself,” Jones said. “I feel on top of the world right now.”

Adding extra irony to the situation is the fact that Evans is Jones’ training partner and mentor at MMA guru Greg Jackson’s facility in Albuquerque, N.M.

Jones’ immediate plans after the fight with Bader previously involved heading back to New Mexico and mimicking Shogun for Evans’ benefit. Jones said he had already studied tape of Shogun and tried to learn as much as he could about him.

“What I liked about Shogun was he won a PRIDE championship at 23,” Jones said. “Here I am trying to be the best fighter I can be at 23, and he showed me it’s very possible.”

Shogun, who was on hand at UFC 126 to watch training partner Anderson Silva, had equally complimentary things to say about Jones.

“In all of his fights, he’s winning convincingly,” Shogun said through a translator. “I think he’s the guy who deserves to fight for the belt the most right now.”

Shogun knew that if Jones won, he would be his next opponent. White, who said he got confirmation on the Evans injury at 2:30 this afternoon while driving to the arena, told Shogun before the fight.

But White decided to keep it a secret from Jones.

“The kid has enough pressure on him already,” White said. “He has this big fight against Bader and you don’t want to go sit there and say, ‘Hey, if you win this fight, how would you like to fight Shogun?’ This thing literally played out right in the octagon before Jones and Bader walked out.”

Pressure hasn’t bothered Jones to this point of his career, and it’s part of the reason why he’s connected so much with UFC’s fan base. The sold-out crowd erupted when Rogan announced the bout with Shogun was officially happening. White said Ticketmaster sales for UFC 128 immediately skyrocketed.

Jones, who gets his first title shot less than three hours from his hometown of Endicott, N.Y., is ready for all of it.

“My confidence is very high,” Jones said. “I’m already in shape and I’ve got six weeks to make myself better.”

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

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