Anticipation is rising as we inch closer to Saturday's UFC 128 main event between UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and fast rising star Jon "Bones" Jones.
With the media circus that has descended on Jones and the health speculation of Rua's surgically repaired knee, we have seemingly forgotten about the style clash that is about to happen at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Rua, an all around talented mixed martial artist, brings menacing and savage Muay Thai to the table, as well as a very rarely seen but proven effective jiu-jitsu prowess. His weakness has always been wrestling, which is where things begin to get interesting.
At 23 years old, Jones has shown the growth of a veteran, improving each time he steps into the Octagon.
Another well rounded fighter, Jones has excelled in the clinch with very strong Greco Roman wrestling skills, as well as showing improving jiu-jitsu skills. His weaknesses lay in his striking, where his footwork and striking is questionable and his arsenal of flashy strikes can lead to consequences.
But for now I want to outline what I think will be one of the biggest factors heading into this fight. Follow me after the jump as I unpack the unique brilliance that "Bones" brings to the table:
Before we start talking about any sort of technique let me start by saying how frustrating it is to watch fighters shoot for takedowns without set up. What sets apart the Rashad Evans' and George St. Pierre's of the world is that they are true mixed martial artists who use a discipline to set up other disciplines. Both guys have shown amazing abilities to mix up strikes and turn on a dime into a takedown. Well it works in reverse, too.
How about setting up takedowns to mix up strikes?
All you have to do is watch Diego Sanchez vs. Martin Kampmann to see how ineffective a poorly set up takedown is, or watch Kenny Florian and BJ Penn to see how ineffective clinching is when you do not use it to set anything else up.
Bottom line: Use skills to bring out other skills. Do not get comfortable relying on a single tool when you have an entire toolbox at your expense.
But believe me, it's easier said than done.
There has been sharp focus put on the spinning back elbow that Jon Jones has thrown in plenty of his fights. On the flip side, his flashiness is the focus of criticism, with people speculating that strikes like that will lead to a Mike Thomas Brown/Urijah Faber type of conclusion.
There is just one problem with that. Jones sets it up.
Unlike the strike that Urijah Faber used, Jones does not just throw it on a whim while being pressed up on the cage with no way out.
You can see when Urijah throws the strike there is nothing setting it up, no distracting Brown with any feints or usage of any sort of footwork or body movement. Brown was able to see it coming with ease. Something as subtle as a feint of the elbow might have broken Brown's focus. For example, if he threw a head kick immediately after the feint there is a good chance it either lands or they separate with no damage to either guy.
But here is the reason "Bones" gets away with such a reckless looking strike.
You can see the similarities between both .gifs, however the one difference is their purpose. When he faced Gusmao, Jones was a relatively unknown fighter and looking to his old fights you can see easily that he is a young, explosive and powerful fighter.
In the Gusmao .gif (on the left) you can see that Bones is pressing forward and Gusmao has his hands very high defending. Bones changes levels and puts his arm down as if he was to reach for a single leg, which is where his considerable reach becomes a distinct advantage.
Being able to reach so far with his arms without committing momentum and weight to a takedown makes the feint that much more effective. He reaches down and Gusmao begins to sprawl to defend the single leg, Bones immediately uses that momentum to plant his lead foot and begins to spin his body to deliver his "over the top" spinning elbow.
In the .gif with Jake O'Brien (on the right) he uses this set up just slightly different. O'Brien is standing nearly straight up in a very bad stance and Bones again feints the single leg. Since O'Brien is out of position he immediately panics into defending the single and drops his hands completely. And just like the Gusmao clip, Jones comes over the top and wobbles O'Brien.
This elbow is so dangerous for a number of reasons. First, it has alot of momentum behind it, which makes the strike very powerful. Secondly, it lands often times in bad places like the forehead or temple. It can not only cut opponents, but can also ruin their equilibrium and send them off balance.
Before anyone says it was an illegal strike, save it. We have heard it before. In this clip Jones absolutely crushes Stephan Bonnar to the canvas with the momentum of the elbow alone. Bonnar was able to survive, but consider him lucky after hitting the canvas so hard.
Jones is able to land this after he catches a Bonnar low kick, he has Bonnar balancing on one leg and hopping while also changing levels to duck a strike. He lands the elbow on the ducking Bonnar's head and sends him straight to the mat head first.
Am I saying Jones will land this clean on Rua? No, I am not. But the unique strikes and set ups are far from just flashy ... they are effective.
Having a striking coach like Mike Winklejohn is similar to having Duke Roufus in that he is not afraid to go against the norm in teaching unorthodox strikes, but with well thought out set ups.