This Saturday (September 21, 2013) Jon Jones will step into the Octagon at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to face Alexander Gustafsson in the pay-per-view main event of UFC 165 with a chance at history on the line.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight champion Jones currently sits tied with Tito Ortiz for most title defenses in the division with five. Many have already anointed Jones the greatest 205-pound mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter ever, but he’ll have to get past "The Mauler" to make it official.
Much has been made about the 6’5" Gustafsson finally being the fighter who can match the size of the 6’4" Jones. While that remains to be seen, the fact is that Jones still maintains a sizable eight-inch reach advantage over his Swedish opponent. The size issue may not be as close as people think despite Gustafsson being the slightly taller fighter.
Jones was last seen making short work of Chael Sonnen in the main event of April’s UFC 159. While he broke his big toe in gruesome fashion during that bout, Jones is reportedly healed up and in top shape.
"Bones" has enjoyed a meteoric rise to his status as the No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and his hype continues to gain momentum. He’s taken out four former UFC Light Heavyweight champions, a feat not likely to be repeated in the foreseeable future. His only loss as a pro came when he was disqualified for using illegal elbows against Matt Hamill in a fight he was thoroughly dominating.
All that adds up to an extremely tough task for Gustafsson, who hasn’t seen the inside of the Octagon since his unanimous decision win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC On FOX 5 last December. He was scheduled to face off with Gegard Mousasi at UFC On FUEL TV 9, but an unfortunate cut scrapped him from the bout.
If fighting a once-in-a-lifetime champion like Jones isn’t bad enough, ring rust won’t help matters. Still, Gustafsson is a game fighter who has great striking coupled with an improving grappling game thanks to his training at Alliance MMA. His only loss came via submission to his current training partner Phil Davis, and Gustafsson has the talent to be a champion. But, will his time begin this Saturday?
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson.
Record: 18-1 overall, 12-1 UFC
Key Wins: Mauricio Rua (UFC 128), Quinton Jackson (UFC 135), Lyoto Machida (UFC 140), Rashad Evan (UFC 145), Vitor Belfort (UFC 152)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: At this point, it almost seems like Jones can win title fights by simply being himself. His insane reach advantage causes absolute fits for his shorter opponents, who find it nearly impossible to get inside of his range to land strikes. Couple that with his ever-evolving arsenal of diverse strikes, and you have a standup game that no one’s been able to solve as of yet.
True, Machida hit Jones flush, but the tables were quickly turned when "Bones" landed one of his trademark elbows and submitted "The Dragon."
The hits just keep on coming, too.
Jones is a former JUCO wrestling national champion at Iowa Central Community College, and he’s used that knowledge to pay big dividends in the Octagon. He’s never been taken down, and he took Sonnen down at will at UFC 159. Heading into that fight, many thought Sonnen to be the best wrestler in MMA today, but Jones made him look silly.
Gustafsson’s wrestling game, although improving, is nowhere near Jones’. If and when "The Mauler" gets taken down, he’ll need to be on the sharp lookout for a submission attempt. Jones has earned six tapouts throughout his career, none more illustrious than when he choked Machida unconscious. He also finished Belfort with a fourth round keylock last year. Both of those fighters have black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Gustafsson’s only loss was to a submission.
Jones has the confidence, which many think borders on cockiness, to match his incredible skills. There’s a ton of ways for him to win this fight, and Gustafsson will have to fight the battle of his life to even have a chance to win.
Record: 15-1 overall, 7-1 UFC
Key Wins: Mauricio Rua (UFC On FOX 5), Thiago Silva (UFC On FUEL TV 2), Vladimir Matyushenko (UFC 141)
Key Losses: Phil Davis (UFC 112)
Keys to Victory: Gustafsson is a brutally effective striker who has nine knockout wins to his name. His standup game will have to be the best it’s ever been at UFC 165.
It’s far from automatic that the taller Swede can get inside Jones’ reach, but that is his greatest chance to win. He’ll need to get in Jones’ face from the outset and dictate where the fight goes. If he can’t get anything going early on in the striking department, maintaining focus and confidence will be paramount to success.
Getting rattled will only cause the downfall that all of Jones’ recent opponents have fallen victim to. Gustafsson doesn’t seem to be too scared of Jones’ unorthodox striking techniques, saying that whatever Jones will throw at UFC 165 will be something he’s already seen.
Win or lose, that’s the attitude Gustafsson needs to have. He should take a page out of Chris Weidman’s book and look to knock the champ’s block off, because if it turns into a wrestling match, Gustafsson is going to get ragdolled. Gustafsson only has three submission victories to his name, and they were all by way of rear naked choke. Jones has an incredibly offensive submission game that will give Gustafsson headaches on the ground.
If he can defend some takedowns and counter with good strikes, Gustafsson could open up some avenues to shock the world with a game-changing punch. It’s hard to say he only has a puncher’s chance, but Jones will most likely bring a grappling-centered gameplan that looks to negate Gustafsson’s main strength of striking.
He could do the supposedly impossible and show up with an otherworldly wrestling game to match Jones takedown for takedown, but that’s unlikely. Gustafsson has a mountain to climb, and keeping the fight standing will be his best shot to win.
Bottom Line From Toronto: The bottom line of this high-profile title fight is that Gustafsson’s much ballyhooed size "advantage" isn’t what it’s played up to be. Jones having an eight-inch reach advantage is going to come into play here, and he should be able to keep Gustafsson at bay with a variety of jabs, lead elbows, and low kicks.
Somehow Gustafsson’s got to get inside that reach and put some pressure on Jones. We've never really seen the fight brought to Jones in a big way, and that is what "The Mauler" should look to do. Gustafsson seems mentally confident heading into the fight, but we’ll see how that translates to fight day.
Jones owning the official record of most title defense at 205-pounds is kind of an afterthought, because most have already viewed him as surpassing Ortiz long ago.
There’s a chance for Gustafsson to do something truly special at UFC 165, but it’s a small one.
Even if his wrestling game has progressed to new levels, the skills of Jones will still be highly difficult to overcome. The fact that "Bones" took Sonnen down so easily makes him a scary, scary man to contend with on the mat. Gustafsson’s submission defense will also need to have risen to new heights.
That said, anything can happen in a fight, and Gustafsson is dangerous. If he can push the pace early and take Jones out of his comfort zone like no one else has, gold could be within reach.
Or he could be just another name added to the growing list of "Bones."
Will Alexander Gustafsson be the man to finally dethrone Jon Jones? Let us know your prediction below!