Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight wunderkind, Jon Jones, looks to continue his reign as champion by taking out No. 2 ranked contender, Glover Teixeira, this Saturday night (April 26, 2014) at the Baltimore Arena in Baltimore, Maryland.
Jon Jones is on a mission.
After becoming the youngest UFC champion in history at the age of just 23, "Bones" went on to destroy his first five title challengers. These were no scrubs either, as former champions like Lyoto Machida and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson fell to his punches, kicks, and chokes.
Then, for the first time in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, the Greg Jackson MMA-trained product endured a true challenge. Caught up in a dogfight with Swedish boxer Alexander Gustafsson, Jones barely hung onto his title at the end of five rounds. Now, he'll look to return to prior dominance against Teixeira.
But can he defeat the experienced brawler?
Let's find out.
Trained largely by Mike Winkeljohn, Jones has developed a large arsenal of strikes that benefit from his lengthy frame. Jones has also done an excellent job improvising on his own, experimenting with dangerous techniques that few others can use. By taking strikes and setups from a variety of martial arts, Jones has become an extraordinarily unique and effective striker.
All that said, the basics are basics for a reason. It may be abnormal for me to jump directly to a critique, but Jones has looked almost unstoppable on the feet since he earned the title. Now that he has shown that holes in his game do exist, it makes sense to examine them early.
Against someone with a similar build to his own, Jones showed that he is an inexperienced boxer. Namely, he was not able to use his jab consistently against Gustafsson. When Jones did turn to the jab, he was often able to disrupt Gustafsson's attack. A veteran boxer would have picked up on that and continued to work with it, but Jones did not use it frequently enough to shut down Gustafsson's offense.
On defense, Jones did not react well to Gustafsson's punching combinations. He did a good job keeping his guard high against "The Mauler's" body jab, but he began planting his feet and bracing for the impact. This allowed Gustafsson to extend his combinations. Additionally, when Jones was hit, he often showed his greenness by turning away from punches.
None of this is to say that Jones is a bad boxer.
Jones' jab works well when he throws it, and his hooks pack a decent amount of power for a tall, thin fighter. The best part of his boxing is likely his ability to put together combinations. "Bones" often starts his combination with long, straight punches and then looks to land hooks on his opponent as they try to circle away.
With both kicks and punches, Jones feints quite well. For example, Jones landed a hard right hand on Rashad Evans by throwing three straight jab feints. By switching his target between the head and body while feinting, Jones had Evans squirming to cover up and open to his actual punch. Plus, his hips and shoulders are often moving, which forces his opponent to stay on edge.
In all honestly, Jones could pick apart a majority of the light heavyweight division with his kicks alone. Jones throws an absurd number of kicks, including but not limited to round, teep, front, side, and spinning kicks. The champion further makes himself difficult to predict by frequently switching his target.
In particular, Jones is absolutely vicious towards his opponent's lower body. With his oblique and stomp kicks, Jones is able to completely halt his opponent's forward movement and do damage. He's round kicks to the thigh are also quite strong, but they do not stop his opponent in his tracks lack oblique and stomp kicks.
Of all the fighters in the UFC, Jones might be the very best at forcing his opponent into a defensive shell.
This normally rare occurrence is so normal in Jones' fights because of his lanky kicking game. Almost every opponent in Jones' career has come in with a game plan of closing the range and either landing punches or takedowns. For most of them, this plan goes out the window when Jones drills his shin and foot into them. Once the idea of closing the distance seems impossible, his opponent stops trying, and the fight belongs to "Bones."
The very best example of this situation is his match with "Rampage" Jackson. A couple rounds of long kicks to the leg and body slowed down the normally hyper-aggressive puncher and made him extremely hesitant. Jackson was no longer able to even threaten Jones with his hooks, leaving Jones in complete control.
By the end of the third round, Jackson was tired, limping, and had lost interest in the fight. Jones' previously stuffed takedown came much easier, and he was able to slip in a rear naked choke without much resistance. His submission game may be the official record of victory, but his kicks won Jones the fight.
One of Jones' riskiest -- and potentially damaging -- strikes is his flying knee. His height makes it easier to land the knee, and Jones makes it harder to counter by starting his leap outside of his opponent's striking range. When "Bones" first fought for the title against "Shogun" Rua, he managed to land a hard jumping knee in the opening seconds of the bout.
After the fight, Rua said that the early knee did a lot of damage and really took its toll on him.
Jones is one of the best at using elbow strikes at well. From the boxing range, Jones likes to extend his arm out towards his opponent to establish his range. Some fights, such as Rashad Evans, will grab or paw at his extended hand. When this happens, Jones will grab at his opponent's arm, pull forward, and swipe downwards with an elbow.
Another elbow strike that Jones likes to use is the jab/jab feint to left elbow strike. He'll also attack with elbows to exit the clinch, often including a spin. These elbows are not impossible for average sized athletes to use, but Jones' length does make landing them much easier.
The most vital elbow in Jones' arsenal is the spinning back elbow in the center of the cage. His original setup was to feint towards his opponent's leg with a takedown then spin. However, he utilized this strike as a counter against Alexander Gustafsson.
Gustafsson's body jab and the combinations coming from it were plaguing Jones, and he needed to do something. Either Jones or his coaches recognized that Gustafsson had to lower his head to throw the body jab and realized that the spinning elbow, which requires his opponent to lower his level a bit, would work perfectly. The strike landed and severely hurt the Swede in the fourth round; a round Jones was clearly losing prior to the elbow.
That spinning elbow quite possibly won him that fight.
While all of these strikes are dangerous on their own, Jones' ability to put different kinds of strikes together seamlessly takes him to a different level. His ability to shift between a series of unorthodox strikes makes him incredibly unpredictable.
In addition, it throws his opponent's timing off, which makes him more difficult to counter.
Unlike many elite fighters, Jones is a very aggressive striker. He's not afraid to throw long combinations filled with risky strikes. A large part of Jones' ability to be aggressive is his aforementioned habit of forcing fighters into defensive shells, as it's easier to swing wildly at a fighter that's unlikely to return fire.
For the most part, Jones has defended himself well. His range control, often backed by his stiff arm defense, is more than enough to avoid most of his opponent's punches. When his foe is close enough to land, Jones does a good job using his long arms to cover up while he moves out of the way.
Jones was a state champion wrestler in high school and won a junior college (JUCO) national championship while attending Iowa Central Community College. Like his striking, Jones has taken techniques from different martial arts -- primarily Greco-Roman wrestling and Judo -- to develop a complete takedown attack.
Though his best takedowns come from inside the clinch, Jones is very strong with his double leg takedown. Some tall fighters have a difficult time changing levels for the shot, but Jones' so thoroughly distracts his opponent with strikes that he usually gets in on his opponent's hips.
When he has his opponent pinned against the fence with his double, Jones' finish is very straight forward. Using his entire body, he yanks backwards and drags his opponent's hips up and in. In an impressive display of power and transitions, Jones shifted directly from a clinch trip attempt into a double leg. From there, he put every inch of his body to work and forced "The Dragon" to the mat.
In the center of the cage, Jones will turn the corner and throw in a trip. Skilled wrestlers are accustomed to defending a switch in directions, but the additional trip is often enough to catch them off guard and complete the takedown if done smoothly.
One of the cleaner examples of Jones' excellent transitional game came early in his match with Olympic wrestling veteran Vladimir Matyushenko. Ducking under Matyushenko's right hook, he shot for a double before switching to a single leg. Jones attempted to step inside and trip Matyushenko, but the Belarusian maintained his balance. As he hopped to defend the trip, Jones left hand slides up to "The Janitor's" shoulder as he whipped Matyushenko around, forcing him to the mat.
Very few wrestlers have both a power double and solid transition game from that position. Even fewer have both of those things and are primarily clinch wrestlers.
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. Plus, he mixes in swift trips. As he often does with his double leg finishes, Jones forces his opponent in one direction only to suddenly switch which way he is pressuring towards.
On top, Jones' build and experience with elbows makes him extremely dangerous. Even within his opponent's guard, Jones can finish the fight with ground striking quickly. If he's able to posture up or his opponent allows him to in a misguided attempt to play a loose guard (Brandon Vera), then he's able to get fully extension on the elbow. The fact that gravity is now on his side only further adds to the potential damage.
Even if Jones is not able to posture up, he's still able to do significant damage and potentially finish. It can be risky from a jiu-jitsu stand point, but Jones like to control one of his opponent's arms with one of his own. Then, it's Jones' elbow verse one of his opponent's arms.
It may not always be his priority, but Jones is even more dangerous after he passes guard. It took just a few seconds to pound Matyushenko out with a serious of elbows from the crucifix, and Jones was putting a beating on Matt Hamill before he threw illegal strikes.
In his last fight, Jones was taken down for the very first time in his career, showing that he can be taken down if one accomplishes the extremely difficult task of getting inside his range. However, he quickly returned to his feet, taking away a bit of the significance of that takedown.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
After nearly getting his arm snapped by Vitor Belfort, Jones began to work his jiu-jitsu with Gracie Barra, one of the largest and most respected teams in the sport. Officially ranked as a white belt, Jones has skills that far exceed his ranking.
The most effective technique in Jones' submission arsenal is the guillotine. Thanks to his long arms, Jones can use a variation of the guillotine that attacks both sides neck, fully cutting off the carotid artery. Like a rear naked choke, this guillotine puts his opponent to sleep quickly and almost painlessly when fully sunk in.
If Jones' guillotine is fully sunk in, his elbow will be directly underneath his opponent's chin. Fighters who are less lanky will finish the choke with a rear naked choke grip. Instead, Jones finishes by pushing the hand of his choking arm down and in with his other hand. This adds in extra leverage, allowing Jones to finish the choke from fairly rare positions like half guard or standing.
Against "Rampage" and Belfort, Jones pressured his foe until submission opportunities arose. By staying heavy and working ground strikes, Jones found himself easily able to take dominant positions. From there, it wasn't difficult to work in a submission. Though the submission themselves were different, both were the result of Jones ability to tire and consistently punish his opponent.
While he's on top, Jones does take risks with his arm placement.
Whether that's a conscious decision or inexperience is anyone's guess, but it's still a weakness. When the fighter on top fully extends his arm, it creates openings. The bottom man can more easily sneak in a triangle, secure underhooks, and, as Belfort demonstrated, roll up on an arm bar.
It would be more beneficial for Jones to focus on posturing up and then doing damage, rather than trying to hurt his opponent first. Jones does more damage when he can freely move anyway, it's not as though he's sacrificing anything. In this situation, a bit more patience would be recommended.
Best chance for success
Jones already has his game plan for this fight. He's fought shorter, heavy handed punchers before and just needs to make minor adjustments for the particular habits of Teixeira (see the breakdown for G-Tex here).
Teixeira absolutely loves to whip his right hook over his opponent's jab. Though Jones could probably land his jab from a safe distance, it wouldn't be smart to risk getting clipped. Instead, Jones should rely on the left hook, which Bader landed almost every time he threw it as a counter.
Outside of that, Jones should focus on his kicking game. If he can hurt Teixeira's body and legs with kicks, he'll slow him down and make that power punch easier to avoid. Additionally, Teixeira may charge in if he gets frustrated, opening up easy takedown opportunities.
Taking down Glover should be Jones' end game. From the top, Jones can work his elbows and seek a ground-and-pound finish. Not much is known about Glover's bottom game in MMA, but he doesn't have the build of a guard player. Therefore, Jones should be safe to actively attack and can always stand back up if he feels threatened.
Will Jones continue to defend his title, or can Teixeira pull off a major upset?