Newark, N.J. ó When Jonny (Bones) Jones woke up Saturday morning, he was a UFC fighter on the verge of the biggest bout of his life.
But by mid-afternoon, the 23-year-old was elevated to hero.
And if things go his way at UFC 128, heíll be a champion before he closes his eyes to go to sleep again.
All expectations are that Jones will beat light heavyweight champ Mauricio (Shogun) Rua when they meet in the octagon, even though the 29-year-old Brazilian has way more experience than the Rochester native.
Even Jones himself has been acting like he has already won, days before squaring off with Shogun.
Signing autographs as the ďlight heavyweight champion 2011,Ē Jones wrote this message on Twitter 24 hours before stepping into the cage:
ďGod I thank you for what youíre doing in my life, I thank you for the Victory.Ē
Of course the more stunning tweets came Saturday afternoon when Jones broke the news that he and two of his coaches had helped nab a crook in a park just outside of Newark.
The thief snatched a GPS from an elderly womanís car and the trio gave chase.
The young phenom used a leg sweep to take the bad guy down and then he and his coaches held him until cops arrived.
Thus Jones becomes a hero.
Even though The Douce was at the Prudential Center, sitting five metres from the octagon, I canít tell you yet whether or not Jones is a UFC champion because the fight with Rua didnít get started until the wee hours of Sunday morning.
I can tell you about the undercard though, which started hours before the actual pay-per-view.
And I can say that the atmosphere in the Prudential Center leading up to the main event was absolutely electric.
At times you couldnít hear yourself thing because the 17,000 or so in attendance were cheering so loudly. And at other moment you could have heard a pin drop in the arena as fight fans focused on the action, afraid to even blink for fear of missing the next big knockout.
Thatís the way it is with mixed martial arts, fights are often finished in an instant.
That much I knew before attending my first live UFC event.
What I didnít know, and couldnít have known without seeing it first-hand, was how mind-blowing the entire show would be.
It really is quite something to see.
When the bell rings at the outset of each fight, the lights dim around the arena while shining brightly on the octagon making the fighters seem somehow bigger ó even the featherweights.
Anyone who is worried about seeing the action in the Rogers Centre next month when UFC 129 comes to Toronto neednít worry.
The event in Hogtown, and every show afterward, will also start an hour earlier, a good move by the UFC.
Sitting in the packed arena, it surprised me how quickly, and how often, the crowdís cheers turned to boos. Any time the fighters spent more than a few seconds apart, catching their breath or sizing up their opponent, there was a chorus boos.
But the boos quickly turned to cheers again, laced sporadically with the odd cuss word, each time a foot smacked off of a face or a body slammed onto the matt. If the early fights are any indication, everything will be bigger and louder as it gets later into the night.
By the time Jones and Rua enter the octagon Iím sure the noise will be deafening.
Jones has won six of his seven UFC fights. And the one fight he lost was a controversial disqualification to Mark Hamill.
He tends to win in spectacular fashion and he was on a three-fight win streak before taking on Rua.
However, his opponents havenít been nearly as noteworthy as those Rua has faced.
Shogun has fought the likes of Mark (The Hammer) Coleman, Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell and Lyoto (The Dragon) Machida and beat them all.
Upset by how Jones has been disrespecting him, Rua appears to have a definite purpose going into the fight.
But subduing a thief in a park hours before the big fight may make Jones even more confidant, if thatís possible, and it could be the edge that makes the difference between contender and champion.
Or should I say the difference between hero and champion.