Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones is set to take on former two-time No. 1 Middleweight title contender, Chael Sonnen, this Saturday night (April 27 2013) inside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
After the UFC 151 mixed martial arts (MMA) mishap (read more here), Jones faced elite veteran Vitor Belfort. Overcoming an early arm bar attempt from "The Phenom," Jones dominated the Brazilian en route to a fourth round submission (via Americana) victory. Next, he signed up to coach The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 opposite new rival, Chael Sonnen, the same man who -- for all intents and purposes -- fueled the aforementioned UFC 151 mishap.
While on the show, Jones grew to respect Sonnen, but it seems the challenger's trash talk has once again perturbed "Bones," who is 10 years the "American Gangster" junior, but light years ahead of him in terms of Octagon accomplishments.
Does the young champion have the skills to beat down the tough talker or will Sonnen somehow be able to find a weakness and score one of the biggest upsets ever in the relatively short history of the sport?
Let's find out:
Jones has quickly developed into one of the most dangerous strikers in the world. Thanks to his training at Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA, "Bones" has a plethora of ways to damage his opponent.
The best aspect of Jones' striking game is his kicks. He uses all sorts of kicks such as spinning and front kicks, but the most devastating are his leg kicks. Jones utilizes standard Thai-style kicks to the thigh, but also utilizes oblique kicks, making it much harder to close the distance, which is something Jones' opponents must do to win.
Thanks to his long legs, Jones can stand far outside his opponents' ranges and damage them. It is almost impossible to get inside once Jones finds his range and begins to pick his opponents' apart. This causes a reaction that is quite extraordinary, but now expected, whenever Jones fights:
His opponents stand and watch as they are slowly whittled down to much weaker versions of themselves.
Jones' ability to wear down his opponents with kicks was never more apparent than his fight against Quinton Jackson. "Rampage," a skilled wrestler with powerful hands, was quite intent on getting close to Jones and trying to take off his head. Instead, Jones kicked Jackson every time he attempted to get close.
In fact, Jones threw dozens of kicks, but his oblique kicks did the most damage -- "Rampage" was limping and had given up by the end of the match.
In his fights with Evans and Lyoto Machida, Jones showed off his boxing. Jones intelligently uses long punches, namely the jab and straight right hand, to further enhance his range-fighting game. Jones also has very nice hooks, which he throws from unique angles. He will frequently throw hooks to the body, further looking to chip away at his opponent.
Additionally, Jones has started to utilize the "Superman" punch. As his opponent becomes more and more passive, "Bones'" boxing gets even more effective as his feints become much more effective.
As Jones gets closer to his opponents, he likes to use knees to bust them open. Since he was already a skilled wrestler from the clinch, knees are a natural addition to his game. In addition to his knees from the clinch, Jones frequently throws flying knees. Against Mauricio Rua, Jones landed a brutal flying knee five seconds into the first round. According to the Brazilian, this hurt him badly and took him out of the fight.
Likely the most unique aspect of Jones' MMA game is his use of elbows. Again, because of his incredible reach, Jones is able to land devastating elbow strikes from far out. Jones likes to trick his opponents into thinking they are boxing, before exploding forward with an elbow. One way he does this is to hand fight with his opponents then grab their wrists, yanking them forward and landing a crushing elbow to the skull. Jones also utilizes elbows in the clinch very well, breaking away and throwing a standard elbow or a spinning version.
Jones doesn't allow his opponents to hit him without retaliation. His most common counter punch is the straight right hand. Thanks to his build, most opponents are forced to charge forward with combinations. When they do, Jones greets them with a hard right hand. Jones also uses this punch when his opponents try to kick him.
One important thing to note about Jones' striking is his aggressiveness. Jones doesn't land a single shot and then back away; on the contrary, he ties all of these weapons together into brutal combinations. Once Jones has his opponent hurt and tired, he doesn't let up, picking away until he collapses to the floor.
In addition to his dynamic offense, Jones has spectacular defense. He is aided by the fact that his arms are so long that he can cover more of his face than most by shielding with his forearm. Additionally, his range control makes him hard to reach. When his opponent pressures, "Bones" likes to evade him with a stiff arm.
While Jones' stand up does have holes, they aren't easy to find and are even harder to capitalize on. In addition to a suspected weakness to leg kicks, Jones leaves openings when he leaps in with punches. However, because of his gamut of attacks, it isn't easy to figure out which he is using, making countering quite difficult.
Jones was a state champion wrestler in high school and won a junior college (JUCO) national championship while attending Iowa Central Community College. Jones has one of the most unique style of takedowns in MMA, mixing together Judo and Greco-Roman techniques better than anyone else.
In addition to a variety of clinch attacks, Jones has some seriously nasty double leg takedowns. When "Bones" is in the midst of finishing a takedown he generally finishes in one of two ways.
The first way Jones finishes his double legs is to force his opponents into the fence and then suck up their hips. As they resist, Jones will throw his whole body into the takedown, making it much more effective. One example of this style of takedown is the one he hit on Machida in the second round of their title fight. After that takedown, "The Dragon" was cut open, shaken and finished not long after.
If Jones doesn't try to pull his opponents' hips out from under them, he'll try to trip them as he turns a corner. Jones is phenomenal at pushing his opponent one direction before abruptly turning and tripping him as he goes to adjust to the new movement.
Not many wrestlers have both a powerful shot and excellent transitional game, but Jones is one of them.
Against Olympic wrestler Vladimir Matyushenko, Jones demonstrated his sublime transitional wrestling game. Ducking under Matyushenko's right hook, he shoots for a double before switching to a single leg. Jones attempts to step inside and trip Matyushenko, but the Belarusian maintains his balance. However, before "The Janitor" fully recovers, Jones switches to a knee pick by grabbing his shoulder and forcing it down while pushing his knee inward.
To make his wrestling even more complex, Jones has sneaky throws from the clinch. When Jones uses Greco Roman-style takedowns, he likes to slam his opponent with suplexes and lateral drops. This is another area where Jones' length benefits him because it adds extra leverage to his throws.
While Jones is very good at these takedowns, he's even better with his trips. Like his double legs, Jones is an expert at manipulating his opponents' movements before switching directions and tripping them to the mat. Jones excels at inside and outside trips, knocking his opponents' feet off the ground while ripping them down toward the mat.
As spectacular as Jones' takedowns are, they aren't nearly as devastating as his ground and pound. While Jones gets some power into his punches, it is his elbows that do the most damage.
Jones' elbows on the ground are so effective for two reasons: his long arms and his setups. Since "Bones" has such long limbs, he can land elbows where most can't, such as guard. Additionally, he gets a lot more torque without using as much space. For his setups, Jones likes to either pin an arm with his legs or hand fight with his opponent. Obviously, pinning an arm makes landing strikes much easier, and Jones' elbow hooks work on the ground just like they do on the feet.
So far, Jones' takedown defense has been impregnable. No one has been able to take him down, mainly because they can't get inside his range. If a fighter could get inside of Jones' range, it would be interesting to see how he would defend their takedowns.
Jones recently began training with Gracie Barra, one of the most respected teams in the jiu-jitsu community. Despite his white belt, Jones has showed some dangerous submission skill.
Jones' main submission is his guillotine. Before famously dropping an unconscious Machida on his face, Jones easily forced Bader to submit. Jones does a variation of the guillotine that is one of the quickest chokes in MMA. The choke attacks both sides of the carotid artery without affecting the windpipe, making it nearly painless yet very effective.
This guillotine is essentially a rear naked choke. Instead of being behind his opponent, Jones is in front while still keeping his elbow in line with his opponent's chin. A much more common variation of this choke is to use a rear naked choke grip to finish from the front.
Instead of using the rear naked grip, Jones utilizes his long reach to wrap around the neck and then some. A person with normal sized arms has to push into the neck, but Jones' arms are so long that he can push in and down into the neck. This added leverage makes his guillotine even more formidable and made it possible to finish Bader from half guard.
A majority of Jones' submission attempts come from the top position. In addition to his guillotines, Jones has recent submissions over "Rampage" and Belfort. While entirely different techniques, a rear naked choke and americana, respectively, the way Jones got them was the same. He pressured his opponent until he got a dominant position and then took what his opponent gave him.
There are very few occasions in Jones' UFC career where he ended up on his back; when he chooses to put himself there. Near the end of the second round of his title fight against Jackson, Jones clinched with the former Pride Fc star. Then, he pushed Jackson's arm back, leaped into the air, and dragged Jackson to the mat, cinching up a triangle choke. While he waited until the final ten seconds of the round and thus it was rather pointless, it was still a nice display of technique.
As I mentioned earlier, Jones joined Gracie Barra. According to the young champion, he believes that jiu-jitsu is his biggest weakness. As odd as it is sounds, considering his submission wins over black belts, I agree with him. While his submission game is deadly, the way he positions himself while on the ground can be a bit sloppy.
While we have seen so little of his bottom game that it's impossible to tell it's depth, there are examples of error with his top game. The biggest flaw is his hand placement from the guard; it's very important to always keep one's elbows tight and on the body.
Instead, Jones occasionally allows his arms to lay on the mat or, even worse, wrap his hands around his opponent's head. This opens him up to submissions, such as kimuras, omaplatas, and, of course, armbars. Notice in the below .gif where Jones is keeping his hand before Belfort snatches his arm. He did most of the work for the Brazilian; all Belfort had to do was swivel his hips and arch.
Jones' ability to shell shock his opponents into passive, almost scared versions of themselves is extraordinary. He's able to do this because all of his opponents enter with a game plan of closing range and doing damage, but are unceremoniously shut down.
The way Jones' uses his range differs from fight to fight. Against "Shogun" he'd blast the Brazilian with long range strikes. If Rua got too aggressive with his punches or kicks, Jones would throw him to the mat and mangle him with elbows. Throughout the entire fight, Jones was completely safe, while Rua was absorbing dozens of devastating shots.
In his next fight, against "Rampage," Jones couldn't punish Jackson's aggression with takedowns because of Jackson's stellar takedown defense. Instead, Jones kicked Jackson at every opportunity. This weakened both Jackson's power and takedown defense, eventually opening up the rear naked choke.
Before their grudge match, Rashad Evans claimed he wouldn't wait at the end of Jones' strikes. Yet, like all of his opponents, Evans submissively ate shots and returned very few strikes after the first round. While he managed to survive until a decision, Evans had stopped trying to win long before the final bell, thanks to Jones' discouraging dominance.
Until a fighter offers up some answer to Jones' range, he will continue to win. Takedowns are a possible solution, one Sonnen will most likely try repeatedly, there is a reason Jones has yet to be taken down. The kind of fighter that will give Jones trouble is one who can technically close distance and threaten with takedowns.
Best chance for success
Jones doesn't really need much of a gameplan for this fight -- he is as high as a 11-1 favorite on some betting sites ... and for good reason. With a huge size advantage, deeper MMA game, youth and range on his side, it's the Jackson's MMA product's fight to lose.
If Jones feels like playing it safe, he should utilize his length to jab and kick Sonnen from far out. If the Oregon native attempts a shot, he must sprawl heavy and make him pay for it. By landing elbows, reversing position and attempting submissions, Jones can make Sonnen abandon his only chance at success: Takedowns.
Eventually, this will wear out Sonnen and he will be ripe for a finish of Jones' choosing.
Should Jones feel like proving he's on another level, I'd recommend he try to take down Sonnen just because he more than likely can with relative ease. Indeed, there is a very good chance Jones can take down Sonnen, whose takedown defense is historically less than perfect at Light Heavyweight. Once he has Sonnen down, he is probably just a few elbows and a submission attempt away from a quick paycheck and another dominant performance to add to his superior legacy.
Will Jones mangle Sonnen as most expect or can Sonnen somehow find a way to win?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Sonnen be sure to click here.