Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight Champion, Jon Jones, looks to defend his 205-pound title once more against Swedish superstar, Alexander Gustafsson, this Saturday (Sept. 21, 2013) at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.
It was a short and relatively easy road to the belt for Jones; however, everything he has done since is nothing short of spectacular.
Most mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters spend a few years cutting their teeth on the regional circuit before entering the Octagon, but Jones needed less than six months to make his Octagon debut. A little less than three years later, the then-23-year-old had a championship belt slung around his waist.
Unlike most champions who fight approximately once every six months, "Bones" fought four opponents in little more than one year, decimating the division so badly that it looked to Middleweight stars to bolster it. A systematic destruction, albeit with one tense moment, of Vitor Belfort left Jones without any worthy challengers. Perhaps to give the upper echelon of the weight class some time to sort itself, Jones was made a coach on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) opposite Chael Sonnen.
The show ratings were decent, the actual fight was a farce.
Now, considering the number of new contenders champing at the bit -- Glover Teixeira and Daniel Cormier, among others -- it seems this promotional strategy to build up "Bones" might have worked. Indeed, Gustafsson is a worthy challenger who is confident that he can take the belt. Does Jones have what it takes to stop him?
Let's take a closer look:
Jones has been working a long time with expert striking coach Mike Winkeljohn. Winkeljohn did a brilliant job helping Jones fully utilize his reach as well as provide him with more offensive tools than any other fighter.
"Bones" could probably out-strike most of his opponents with kicks alone; he's that talented with them. His kicking diversity is quite impressive, rotating between standard round house, teep, front, side, and spinning kicks, while frequently switching between the head, body, and legs. Jones most devastating kick may be his oblique kick, which is more than capable of stopping opponents in their tracks.
An important effect of his kicking game, a trait that's unique to Jones, is his ability to force his opponent into a defensive shell. Due to his extraordinary length and knowledge of how to use it, Jones can stand well outside his opponent's ranges and batter them. All of his opponents come in with a game plan of dodging strikes and closing the distance. When "Bones" unceremoniously shuts this plan down, it's incredibly demoralizing.
This mental and physical domination was never more apparent than in Jones' fight with "Rampage" Jackson. Jackson, who managed to prevent Jones' early takedowns, is a powerful puncher, so boxing with him was an unappealing option for the young champion. To avoid this, Jones repeatedly kicks Jackson's body and legs, attacking his famously inconsistent cardio and injuries.
It could not have worked better.
By the end of the third round, Jackson was tired, limping, and had lost interest in the fight. Jones' previously denied takedown came much easier, and he was able to slip in a rear naked choke without much resistance.
Jones is one of the divisions better boxers. Possessing a stiff jab, hard hooks, and creative combinations, Jones may not be a one-shot knockout artist, but his punches can finish the fight. Jones likes to rely on straight punches until his opponent either misses his counter or is retreating, where he will attack with hooks, often capitalizing on unique angles that his height provides.
One of the interesting things about Jones' boxing, and the rest of his MMA game, is his quickness. Jones is not the fastest fighter in the division, but he moves very well for large, gangly light heavyweight. This advantage is further strengthened when his opponent is sore and hesitant from his kicks.
Jones sets up both his kicks and punches well with feints. He's constantly twitching his hips, making it more difficult to predict when a kick is coming. In one beautiful combination he landed on Rashad Evans, Jones completely fools Evans on three straight jab feints before coming in with a hard right straight that whips Evans' head back.
The jumping knee is a risky strike, but Jones uses it rather well. He manages to quickly cover distance, often beginning the strike from outside of his opponent's range. Against "Shogun" Rua, Jones landed a devastating knee within the first ten seconds of the fight, which Rua later said seriously affected his ability to fight.
Jones utilization of elbow strikes is another fairly unique aspect of his striking. He repeatedly used Evans' willingness to hand fight against him, getting a firm grip before stepping in with a hard elbow. Another devastating elbow strike in Jones' arsenal is his jab/jab feint to step in elbow, which is very hard to recognize, let alone defend. Jones likes to throw elbows on the exit from grappling exchanges, with or without a spin.
Jones' expert use of length does not disappear as he closes the distance. Rather, his understanding of leverage becomes more pronounced, as he easily manipulates his opponent's body in order to land hard knees and elbows.
While all of these weapons are dangerous on their own, their volatility increases exponentially when Jones mixes them together. Jones' ability to mix a wide range of strikes into one combination may be his greatest asset, as it greatly increases his unpredictability. Only "Bones" can blend so many unorthodox techniques together in a safe and effective manner.
Unlike some elite fighters, Jones is very aggressive. He's invariably the aggressor, stalking his opponent and landing strikes. Not afraid to throw long combinations, Jones is more than willing to throw risky strikes to harm his opponent. "Bones" doesn't allow his opponent to simply lose rounds, he punishes them until he gets the finish.
Jones' deep bag of attacks wouldn't matter much if he was easy to hit. Jones' arms are long enough to cover most of his head, keeping him safe from looping strikes. Additionally, his range control is more than enough to avoid most strikes, and he'll stiff arm his opponent if he chases too aggressively.
It's difficult to say if Jones' stand up has any real holes. He occasionally leaps in with strikes, which could be countered, but it's so difficult to recognize his attacks that his opponents have yet to capitalize on it.
Jones was a state champion wrestler in high school and won a junior college (JUCO) national championship while attending Iowa Central Community College. Jones does well attacking with a diverse set of takedowns, mixing together Greco-Roman and Judo techniques.
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 uses his entire body to pull them from the fence, making it more difficult to resist. For example, Jones blasted through Machida with a double leg against the fence, yanking "The Dragon" down to the mat in an impressive display of power. This takedown directly changed the course of the fight, as Jones was able to open a cut which flustered Machida and led to a finish.
The other finish Jones will attempt is a quick trip as he turns a corner. Jones is phenomenal at pushing his opponent one direction before abruptly turning and tripping him as his opponent adjusts to the new movement.
Not many wrestlers have both a powerful shot and fluid transitional game, but Jones is one of them.
Against Olympic wrestler Vladimir Matyushenko, Jones showed how smooth his transitions could be. 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. As he hops to defend the trip, Jones left hand slides up to "The Janitor's" shoulder as he whips Matyushenko around, forcing him to the mat.
Jones' use of leverage from the clinch is outstanding. He's able to absolutely manhandle his opponents with Greco-Roman techniques, such as the suplex and lateral drop.
While Jones is very skilled with Greco techniques, he relies on trips more often. Like his double legs, Jones is an expert at manipulating his opponents' movements before switching directions and tripping them to the mat. Capable with both inside and outside trips, Jones' clinch wrestling is very hard to stop.
Jones is certainly a dominant wrestler, but his ground and pound is in a league of its own. Jones may not be a true knockout artist on the feet, but he can finish his opponent's with one elbow on the mat.
From within the guard, Jones is able to do serious damage. His ability to posture up is paramount to finishing the fight, as it allows him to get extra leverage on his elbows. When he's allowed to freely posture, the fight is basically over. Playing a loose open guard is simply not an option, as Brandon Vera learned the hard way.
If Jones can't posture up, he can still finish the fight. He does an excellent job controlling one of his opponent's arms with one of his own, which makes it difficult for his opponent to defend. It's very difficult to successfully guard one's face with only a single arm, even if it is one on one.
Jones may specialize in working from the guard, but he's even more dangerous after he passes. He absolutely destroyed Matyushenko with elbows from the crucifix and was in the process of mangling Matt Hamill from mount before he threw illegal elbows.
It's very difficult to take down a fighter that no one can get close to. Few fighters can shoot for a double from halfway across the Octagon with any success, meaning that closing the distance is vital to taking down Jones. Since no one has been able to successfully do that, Jones' takedown defense is impregnable.
Jones began training with Gracie Barra after his fight with Belfort, one of the most extensive and renowned teams in jiu-jitsu. He may officially be a white belt, but Jones has some nasty submission skills.
The best submission in Jones' arsenal is the guillotine. In addition to letting Machida face plant, Jones wrapped up Bader's neck in his vicious guillotine a few fights prior. 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 variation of the guillotine works the same way as 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.
Since his arms are so long, Jones can forgo that grip and push his wrist downward into his arm. This additional leverage makes the choke even more threatening. The extra leverage helped Jones finish Bader, as it is normally more difficult to finish a guillotine 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. These submissions victories occurred because of Jones' fatigue-sapping striking as much as his submission skill.
There are very few occasions in Jones' UFC career where he ended up on his back. 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. Since he waited until the final ten seconds of the round, it was rather pointless. Still, it was some nice technique and took some guts, considering Jackson's love of slamming his opponent.
Jones has been working on his submission game, but it is the one area where his inexperience shows. It's impossible to know just how good, or bad, his guard game is with the little footage available. However, on top within guard, he occasionally takes unnecessary risks.
Avoiding submissions from within the guard is pretty simple, but still quite difficult. In order to stay out of submission attempts, keeping good posture, elbows tight with the body, and staying even with the bottom man's hips are vital. Jones does a fairly good job with two of these things but struggles keeping his arms in tight.
Look at the finish of Sonnen in the wrestling section. Jones' arm is fully extended behind Sonnen's head, controlling him so he can land shots. It's a dangerous technique for both parties. Sonnen is no guard specialist, but even he rolled for an arm bar. Similar arm placement nearly lost Jones his title against Belfort and DID lose Ben Henderson his belt not long ago.
Best chance for success
Jones is a 10-1 favorite on some betting sites. Frankly, he has so many routes to victory it's almost pointless for me to choose one. Even though Jones more than likely can comfortably out-strike Gustafsson, it would probably be better for him to take the fight to the ground.
Since Gustafsson is a pretty talented clinch wrestler, "Bones" should being with double leg takedowns. Gustafsson avoids most takedowns by staying out of range, so Jones should work him into the fence before shooting. Even if he doesn't succeed on the initial shot, he can transition to other clinch takedowns. From there, it's strictly a battle of strength and leverage.
That's a battle Jones will win.
From the top, Jones should remain patient and work to pass to half guard. From there, he can posture up and drop powerful strikes. There's no reason to risk position; Jones has twenty-five minutes to create a finishing opportunity, be it submission or knockout.
Will Jones eliminate one of the few remaining challenges to his belt, or will Gustafsson overcome the odds and take a belt home to Sweden?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Gustafsson be sure to click here.