One of the least dramatic title fights in UFC history will take place tomorrow night (April 27, 2013) as Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones takes on blown up middleweight contender Chael Sonnen in the main event of UFC 159 in Newark, New Jersey.
Jones has not competed since injuring his arm against Vitor Belfort last September. He coached opposite Sonnen during season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and will finally get an opportunity to get his hands on the mouthy realtor this weekend.
Sonnen has not competed at light heavyweight since a 2006 loss to Jeremy Horn via submission. After losing his grudge match against Anderson Silva, he announced a return to 205 pounds. After the UFC 151 fiasco, Sonnen was the only fighter willing to take on Jones on short notice and he was gifted the opportunity to vie for the title as a reward despite not even being ranked in the top 10 in the weight class.
Record: 17-1 overall, 11-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: None
How he got here: Jon Jones' path from can't-miss prospect to world champion has been very fast. Just five months into his professional MMA career, he was already 6-0 and making his UFC debut in place of an injured Tomasz Drwal at UFC 87. He defeated his opponent, Andre Gusmao via decision but his star turn didn't truly take place until his next fight against Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94 where he showcased a diverse array of attacks and all kinds of slams and throws.
"Bones'" star continued to brighten as he began finishing his opponents in increasingly impressive fashion, smashing tough light heavyweights Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko in the first round and after handing Ryan Bader the first loss of his career in quick fashion, he was offered a title shot in place of his injured teammate Rashad Evans.
The young gun took it to the champ, smashing "Shogun" over the course of three rounds and stopping him to become the youngest titleholder in UFC history. If there were any doubts at all about his ability to be a long-reigning champion, Jones answered them with a pair of finishes over former champions "Rampage" Jackson and Lyoto Machida.
Jones finished his feud with Rashad Evans by earning a dominant unanimous decision last year and after some wild and crazy shenanigans with the cancellation of UFC 151, he defended his belt against Vitor Belfort with a fourth round Kimura.
The biggest shenanigans of all was getting pitted against Sonnen as opposing TUF coaches with a seven month guild up for a title fight, but other people have said it far better than I.
How he gets it done: Jones has a plethora of weapons and he's capable of finishing a fight by multiple means. The best plan of attack, at least at first, will be to keep his distance to a point where he can still snap his jab against Sonnen and avoid giving Sonnen an opportunity to get aggressive on the inside.
Jones is capable of utilizing all kinds of tricky attacks like spinning elbows and more, and there's a very real opportunity for him to showcase all the crazy stuff he's been working on in this fight. .
If "Bones" really wants to hurt Sonnen, the best plan of attack is to close the distance and utilize his strong Greco Roman background. If Jones dumps Sonnen on his head with a throw, he will likely be able to finish bloated middleweight on the ground with his devastating elbows or with his wide variety of chokes.
Jones should be confident wherever the fight goes due to his tremendous overall ability. Even if he gets put on his back, he could either potentially sweep or submit Sonnen. This fight is his to lose.
Record: 27-12-1 overall, 5-5 in the UFC
Key Losses: Anderson Silva 2x (UFC 148, UFC 117), Demian Maia (UFC 95)
How he got here: Chael Sonnen has had a long and storied history in mixed martial arts. He was an All-American at Oregon, was a national champion in Greco Roman wrestling and was an Olympic alternate. He didn't take the easy road into MMA either as his first professional fight was against Jason Miller where he ground out a decision with his wrestling.
The story of Sonnen's entire career has been his ability to use his wrestling to defeat opponents while coming up short occasionally to tough submission fighters. Jeremy Horn famously beat him on three separate occasions, twice by submission and once from a cut. Sonnen also fell short to the likes of Forrest Griffin and Renato Sobral in his pre-UFC days.
After dropping a tough loss to Paulo Filho for the WEC middleweight title, Sonnen rebounded to hand Bryan Baker his first career loss and then beat Filho in a rematch, although the champion had failed to make weight (and also saw invisible people).
Sonnen lost his first fight in the UFC to Demian Maia via, you guessed it, submission in the first round but he bounced back strongly with solid victories over top contenders Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt to earn a shot at UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. In his title fight against "The Spider," Sonnen refused to back down and was minutes away from a dominant decision victory before Silva wrapped him up in a triangle choke and forced the tap.
The Oregonian tested positive for testosterone after the fight and dealt with suspension and other issues for a full year before finally getting a crack at Brian Stann at UFC 136. The mouthy ex-realtor stepped up and destroyed Stann, overpowering him with wrestling and actually scoring his first stoppage victory in the UFC with a second round arm triangle choke.
After an injury to Mark Munoz, Sonnen battled Michael Bisping for a title shot. The Brit put up a valiant effort but came up short, losing to Sonnen in a very close battle which earned Sonnen his chance at redemption against Silva. That redemption didn't come, however, as an ill-advised spinning elbow opened the door for Silva to brutalize him with knees and punches in the second round of the rematch.
After an extended layoff, Sonnen lucked into a title shot against Jon Jones and he'll be trying to do the impossible tomorrow night.
How he gets it done: To be completely honest, this is going to be very, very difficult for Sonnen to have a path to victory. He doesn't punch hard enough to really scare Jones on the feet and while his wrestling is solid, Jones has already crushed top light heavyweight wrestlers like Matyushenko, Hamill, Evans and Bader without breaking a sweat.
Sonnen's best plan of action is to hire someone to bash Jones' knee backstage with a baseball bat Tonya Harding-style but if he isn't able to pull that off or if Jones thwarts him superhero style, he'll have to hope that Jones didn't take the fight seriously.
Jones has only gone to his back once in his UFC career and that was voluntarily when he pulled guard at the end of the round against Rampage Jackson. If Sonnen is going to put him on his back, he'll have to get extremely deep with a takedown attempt and power him to the canvas with everything he's got. Much harder than his second round efforts against Anderson Silva last year.
If he miraculously puts Jones on his back, perhaps he could attack with some offensive submissions. Jones showed a slight vulnerability to Vitor Belfort's jiu-jitsu in his last fight so it's at least worth a shot.
Who will come out on top at UFC 159? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!