By a strike to the jaw or by a submission on the ground, in 25 seconds or 25 minutes, Jon "Bones" Jones was going to win Saturday night. That was the consensus reached as UFC 172 neared, and it was not an unfair one.
He is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the allure of his fights, for as one-sided and almost unfair as they are, now seems to be in what he will say before or after them. His results have otherwise spoken for themselves.
That was the case last week, when UFC’s poster boy, fighting out of Endicott, N.Y., spoke of having a hometown advantage in his light-heavyweight title bout against Glover Teixeira inside Baltimore Arena. His brother, Arthur, the former Ravens star, had made his home and his name in the city, and now Jon was coming to enjoy a family reunion of sorts, to shine on his own under the klieg lights of mixed martial arts’ big night.
With a 19-1 record entering the fight — his lone loss came by disqualification — Jones is seen as untouchable. On Saturday, Teixeira did little to bother him, much less see him. With his awesome reach, the 6-foot-4 Jones would extend his arm into Teixeira’s sightline, blocking what the challenger could see. Oftentimes, it seemed Teixiera did not know what had hit him, even as the announced sellout crowd of 13,500 delighted in what did.
The fight was not short, but it was not close, either.
“It was a lot like we thought it’d be,” Jones said of the fight, a five-round bout scored unanimously in favor of Jones, 50-45.
On the night they again crowned him his class’ king, Baltimore Arena’s soundtrack came from Queen.
Announcing the start of the UFC showcase, the city’s first such pay-per-view event, was the familiar stomp-stomp-clap of “We Will Rock You,” the sporting anthem all but shaking the Octagon canvas to which a fighter named Patrick Williams bounded.
A crowd of wide-eyed kids and cheering couples and super-fans wearing pricy “UFC BALTIMORE” T-shirts stood and watched. They cheered as announcer Bruce Buffer, “the Veteran Voice of the Octagon,” introduced Williams, in the blue corner, and opponent Chris Beal, in the red corner. They oohed when the night’s first hit connected. They jeered as Beal examined himself during an unforeseen first-round respite, the undefeated newcomer checking to make sure everything below the belt was in fighting shape after an errant knee connected where it shouldn’t have. They listened giddily as leg kicks met knees and shins and as the percussive booms of takedowns echoed from the ring floor.
Jones hadn’t even put on his gloves, and fight night already felt right. Then Beal, with Williams running scared and backing against the Octagon’s cage, jumped at his challenger. Williams lowered his head. That was a mistake. Beal’s right knee exploded into Williams’ jaw. His head whipped back like a crash-test dummy’s, and the body crumpled. When Williams peered up at the arena ceiling and then to the referee, he looked as if he’d just woken up from a nightmare.
It was a dream start, an official later called it. The sell-out crowd of 13,500, almost completely filled in a good five hours before the night’s main event, roared deafeningly.
“That was about the best flying knee I’ve ever seen in the Octagon,” UFC commentator Joe Rogan told Beal, after his preening had stopped and the applause had lessened.
The crowd wanted more. It got it quickly. Danny Castillo knocked out Charlie Brenneman cold in the second fight, a lightweight bout. Again, more noise.
“Baltimore came out today in a huge way,” UFC senior director of public relations Dave Sholler said after the second fight. “They proved they’re a fight town.
“In some other cities, you’ll see other fans come in as they get close to the main event. Here, the place is packed, and we’re not even [at] pay-per-view yet.”
Before the night’s first punch, Baltimore Arena teemed with diehards. Outside, on Hopkins Plaza, tailgaters drank beer and talked over the night’s card. Inside, one man walked around the concourse wearing a life-size replica of a championship belt. Others traded shadow punches and laughs.
Fans swarmed to memorabilia. At one stand, a stack of UFC T-shirts plastered with the Maryland state flag went like hotcakes, said vendor John Truzzolinos, 32, of Baltimore.
“Definitely a party atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone’s having fun. There’s an electricity in the air tonight.”
It did not go unnoticed. Sholler said UFC will “absolutely” be back in the city. Castillo, wearing a busted lip and broad smile after his fight, conceded wryly afterward that he didn’t get the enthusiastic reception he was hoping for as he strolled toward the Octagon during his walk-up music. That did not matter as he looked up at the crowd.
“Usually, when you fight earlier in the card, there’s no one in there," he said. "The arena, when I looked up, there were so many people here. Baltimore’s a wonderful city to have fights in. I wouldn’t mind coming back again. When people show up that early for the undercard, you know there’s going to be a packed house.”