Not much was expected of unheralded 21-year-old Jon Jones (6-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) at UFC 87. A late replacement for an injured Tomasz Drawl, Jones was regarded as little more than a sacrificial lamb for highly touted prospect Andre Gusmao (5-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC).
But after 15 minutes in the octagon at UFC 87, Jones had delivered a stunning unanimous decision victory. The win proved to Jones that only four months into his MMA career, the Team BombSquad fighter belonged in the UFC.
"[The win] meant a lot to me," Jones told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). "It showed me that I can do this. A lot of people doubted me. They said, 'Jon's tough, but he hasn't fought anybody.' Now they can't say that."
Jones started the bout uncharacteristically. Despite owning four first-round stoppages in his previous five fights, Jones looked tentative in the opening frame. While much is made of first-time UFC fighters' "octagon jitters," Jones said it was the locker room that caused his challenges.
"I wasn't nervous at all," Jones said. "I was a little unprepared though. Usually before my fights I'm in a zone. My mind and body is one unit. I'm ready to go. My reactions are quick. I've got a great sweat going. My lungs are open.
"In this fight I'm fighting against a Renzo Gracie guy. I've got Wanderlei Silva hanging out in my locker room. Matt Serra's in my locker room hanging out. Renzo Gracie is walking in and out of my locker room. There's all these cameras in my face. I just couldn't really get in my groove."
The wealth of talent surrounding the young fighter was in stark contrast to the smaller stage on which he was used to competing.
"I wasn't as focused as I was if I was at a smaller show," Jones explained. "So when I went out there it wasn't that I was nervous. I kind of had cold feet. I didn't get that mental game together before I came out there.
"So it took me a while to get comfortable. The more I landed punches, and the more I avoided his attacks, my creative juices got flowing. My comfort got flowing. And that's when I started opening up a bit."
Once Jones began to open up, a vast array of strikes followed. Jones peppered Gusmao with unorthodox attacks from every angle. Gusmao claimed a few of those angles ended below his belt.
Much of the crowd in attendance, as well as Jones himself, disagreed.
"It definitely was frustrating to me," Jones said of the situation. "The first knee to the groin was legit. I definitely kneed him to the groin. It was a total accident.
"I'm a lot taller than most of my opponents. When I throw a knee it usually lands to my opponent's face or chest. Him being a tall guy, I kind of caught him a little low. It was a total accident.
"He took enough time and got to catch his breath. All the rest of the knees I think was just acting a little bit trying to get the crowd and the judges on his side. I had no respect for that."
Adding to the frustration was Gusmao scoring an illegal knee of his own below the belt on Jones.
"I definitely remember that moment," Jones said of being hit in the groin. "I definitely felt the knee. But you're in a fight. I felt the knee. It was a legit knee, but it wasn't enough to drop me, so you fight through it. Some guys just don't have that mental edge."
Jones fought through the controversy and delivered the upset victory. The importance of the win was not lost on the New York native.
"I fought a guy who's 5-0 in the IFL, and it showed me a lot," Jones said. "It shows me that I can do this and I do belong in the UFC."
The win also showed two other fighters in attendance that Jones belongs in the UFC. An invitation to train together soon followed.
"Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, his manager contacted me right after the fight, and we exchanged information," Jones said. "I know that Quinton and Cheick Kongo want to fly me out to their gym to give them a different look as far as workout partners.
"So I'm excited about that. I get to work out with one of the best 205-pounders in the game. I'm sure that's going to help me out a lot."
It's a safe bet that Jones will not enter his next UFC bout as such an unknown commodity. Although Jones believes he'll still be the underdog for quite some time, he hopes his performance in Minneapolis has earned him a bit more respect.
"I'm sure there will be lots more cases of me being the underdog," Jones admitted. "But I definitely think I earned the respect of the UFC with the performance I put on.
"Anyone who watches that fight knows that when it comes to stand-up, they don't know what to expect. I think it's going to be hard to train for a fighter like me -- especially when I get my jiu-jitsu a little bit stronger.
"I definitely think I have a lot more underdog fights to come. Especially with me being so young, being so new to the game. But I definitely know that even though I'm going to be the underdog, I'll be the respected underdog."
And for a fighter with six professional fights in just four months, the opportunity to step back into the cage can't come soon enough.
"I'm ready to step into UFC 88 or 89," Jones said. "I'm ready to get in there right away. I love staying in my groove. I don't really like to take too much time off.
"I'm hungry to fight more. Hopefully they throw me back in there as soon as possible."