NEWARK, NJ -- Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen was an awkward rivalry, one that came from the ether and left in similarly strange circumstances.
How did it end? With a Jones win in the UFC 159 main event, as expected, but what about the swerves? There was the champ taking the challenger's expected route to victory, a disputed stoppage by the referee, a Jones' injury and Sonnen seeming to announce his retirement.
First came first. As Jones put it, "I wanted to Chael Sonnen, Chael Sonnen." The champ came out with a high-pressure, grinding offense, moving forward, initiating clinches, and taking down the challenger three times in less than a round. The last of those led to the finish, as Jones was able to stack Sonnen against the fence, where he unleashed with elbows and punches from half-guard. At 4:33 of the round, with Sonnen covering up, referee Keith Peterson decided he had seen enough, and called a halt to the action, giving Jones a TKO win and record-tying fifth light-heavyweight title defense.
Just as soon as Peterson pulled Jones away, Sonnen got to his feet in protest of the stoppage.
Minutes later, Sonnen took the high road.
"He's an excellent fighter," he said in the cage to Joe Rogan. "I have no problem with the decision of that stoppage. He's very powerful. He went for the kill and never stopped. I thought I was alright, but he's the better fighter."
Just moments before Sonnen (27-13-1) graciously handled the defeat, Jones had spoken to Rogan and suddenly realized that he'd suffered an injury, a broken toe that was mangled off to the side.
Jones was able to give his post-fight interview, but was clearly in pain. It was unclear if the injury happened during the fight or during his post-fight celebration, which included a somersault. If it was the former, it is likely that he would not have been able to fight on if he hadn't finished.
"I was just glad to beat Chael Sonnen," said Jones (18-1). "He's an awesome opponent. We went through a lot of drama and he motivated me a lot."
Sonnen seemed to indicate that he might have competed for the last time. The 15-year veteran has long said he would hang up his gloves if he could no longer compete for the title, and after losing to Jones, he's 0-3 in UFC championship bouts over two weight classes.
"I'm going to think it through," he said. "I'm not going to be one of the guys who hangs around if he doesn't have a road to the title. I believe that was my last opportunity."
Jones came into the fight as a prohibitive favorite, one of the largest in UFC championship fights in recent years. The line got above -1000 on some online betting sites, setting expectations for a one-sided mauling. It came, but while the result was predictable, it came accompanied by surprises.