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Jon Jones One Step Away From Meteoric Rise to Championship

LAS VEGAS -- Mixed martial arts has had its "Prodigy" and its "Phenom." Jon Jones may not have a nickname that so accurately captures his youthful brilliance or rapid ascent in the MMA world -- he goes by "Bones" -- but he appears every bit the next-level talent with the capabilities of dominating his weight class for the next decade.

Or maybe even longer.

"I think this kid has all the tools to be maybe the best ever someday," UFC president Dana White said after Jones handed Ryan Bader his first career loss during a second-round submission win at UFC 126.

That may sound like promoter hyperbole, but it's hard not to get caught up in what Jones is accomplishing, always managing to raise his game as the stakes raise with it.

But before we anoint Jones the chosen one (is it already too late?), he's still got one task ahead of him. He's got to beat current light-heavyweight champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Jones leapfrogged his teammate Rashad Evans for the title shot after Evans hurt his knee.

Evans' misfortune could be the UFC's break, as Jones (12-1) has quickly connected with fans during his recent stretch of dominance. In just a few hours from Jones' win until White addressed the media, White said that the UFC has already received word that ticket sales for UFC 128 had suddenly spiked.

"You see guys that come up and are talented and win and fights, but they never seem to get any traction," White said. "This kid? Not only has he won fights, but people love him. He's become a star. He's the whole package, man. He's got what you call the 'It factor.' You don't know really what it is, but he's got that thing people are attracted to."

You don't really know what it is? We know exactly what it is. It just happens to be a whole lot of things.

Let's see... Jones is young, well spoken, humble, good-looking, dynamic, charismatic, athletic, hard-working, exciting. And oh by the way, he's a winner.

His game seems to build on itself. His standup game gets better and better, his jiu-jitsu has improved, he seems to manhandle grown men with his wrestling. Bader, for example, was a collegiate wrestling All-American, a pedigree that easily surpassed that of Jones. It did him little good. Bader whiffed on both his takedown tries, and Jones easily took him down during the fight.

Jones dominated the rugged Bader on the ground, landing 17 of 21 strikes and softening him up for the fight-ending guillotine submission. Bader had beaten the jiu-jitsu wizard Antonio Rogerio Nogueira -- a black belt -- by staying out of danger on the ground, and Jones taps him out? That math doesn't add up, but a lot of the numbers don't make sense for Jones, the least of which is his ridiculous 84.5-inch reach, which makes him a matchup nightmare for anyone.

He can jab you or kick you from the outside across the cage, and if you try to close the distance and come inside, his Greco-Roman clinch has takedowns, knees and elbows at the ready. It's a catch-22 for his opponents going forward. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

"He went through him," White said. "He almost had a choke in the first round, too. I was impressed with how calm he was. He was really calm, cool and smooth, because I know they were both freaking out, and there was a lot of pressure on both guys. He handled it like a champ."

He's not quite there yet. To do it, he'll have to follow a similar path to the one set by his opponent. Rua (19-4) was a PRIDE tournament champion at 23, the same age Jones is. Ironically, Jones has spent time recently studying Rua in preparation for mimicking him while helping Evans prepare.

"I have a pretty darn good clue what I'm getting into, and I'm excited about it," Jones said.

Doesn't that sound too good to be true? Just like everything about Jones, right? It's like he's the right guy at the right time, sent to us for an express purpose.

You want to know how much of a natural this guy is? He'd never practiced the choke that he used on Bader. He'd watched Georges St. Pierre practice it in training, but his coach Greg Jackson wanted him spending time on other things. From watching St. Pierre, he tapped out a guy that Nogueira couldn't tap.

"You're only as good as the people around you," said Jones. "I have a lot of confidence. I know I'm doing the right things. When you train really hard, there's no reason not to believe in yourself. I feel on top of the world right now."

Six more weeks, and top of the world is well within his sights. He's not "the Phenom" or "the Prodigy," but what's in a name anyway? Jon Jones, a name so simple, an athlete so special.

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