The uncrowned Light Heavyweight kingpin, Jon Jones, makes his return to the cage opposite knockout artist, Ovince St. Preux, this Saturday (April 23, 2016) at UFC 197 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Inside the cage, Jones has been untouchable. He's picked apart some of the division's finest kickboxers, submitted black belts, and most recently out-wrestled a former Olympian.
Outside of the Octagon, however, Jones certainly finds ways to keep attention on himself. Whether it's a vehicular incident, drug related, or both, Jones' troubles in the past few years finally caught up with him and cost him his belt.
Though for the sake of this article, we'll assume it did not have any affect on Jones' position as the most skilled fighter in the world.
Let's take a closer look at his incredible talent:
Whether squaring off with Jones inside the Octagon or trying to concisely analyze the champion's skill set, there's one major problem: Jones has a huge variety of techniques, and he does them all quite well.
Regardless of which specific attack Jones is utilizing, they all capitalize on his lanky build. Jones has pulled techniques and setups from a large number of different martial arts, but a majority of them help him punish his opponent from the outside.
To that end, Jones has become a spectacular kicker. More than that, Jones is a man with fantastic kicks who's entirely unconcerned about the possibility of having his kick caught and being forced to wrestle or clinch.
Those are two other areas where Jones habitually outclasses his opponent.
Early on, Jones goes to work with his kicks and refuses to allow him opponent time to find their rhythm or range. Jones has an exceptionally diverse kicking arsenal. From the end of his kickboxing range, Jones breaks his opponents down from a distance at which they cannot effectively strike back. Many of his kicks are to the legs and body, which are effective at slowing his foe and causing him to hesitate (GIF).
It's the reason so many of Jones' opponents stop trying to win and simply shell up.
Furthermore, many of Jones' kicks are specifically designed to prevent his opponent's attempt to close the distance. For example, both the stomp kick and oblique kick jam his opponent's knee as he tries to move forward, completely halting his forward movement if it lands (GIF).
To this day, Jones' most effective use of these kicks came against "Rampage" Jackson (GIF). Jones dismantled his power punching opponent. By the third round, Jackson was barely throwing with any power and could do little to stop his opponent's takedowns.
The only man to ever have any consistent success against Jones was Alexander Gustafsson, and that success came in the boxing range. Now, the Swede has a similar build to Jones and is an experienced boxer, so that's not to say Jones is a bad boxer.
It's just the one area SOMEONE has found success in.
Despite that exception, Jones has shown some very nice boxing skill that makes good use of his length. Like many Jackson-Wink fighters, Jones likes to pick his shots with short combinations more than engage in longer exchanges. To set up his punches, Jones feints well and usually takes the initiative to close the distance himself rather than wait for his opponent to get inside (GIF). During these exchanges in the pocket, Jones keeps his defense tight and does a nice job defending himself.
More often, Jones likes to extend his arms and hand fight with his opponent, or even literally place his palm on their forehead. While it often gets him in trouble with eye pokes, it's nonetheless an effective way for Jones to gauge his distance, maintain range, and even strike.
For example, Jones loves to reach out and grab one of his opponent's wrists. Since he's controlling one of his opponent's arms, he only really has to be wary of their free hand. At any point, Jones can pull his opponent forward and switch it up with a hard elbow (GIF).
Lastly, Jones has proven to be a terrific clinch fighter. That's commonly thought of as a poor position for the lankier man, but Jones makes full use of his frame and attacks in unexpected ways.
From that distance, Jones makes great use of elbows. He's frequently slicing at his opponent with short, Muay Thai elbows from the collar tie. In addition, Jones will break the clinch with a spinning back elbow, which has been a very effective weapon for him.
Besides hand fighting, one of the smaller details that Jones has mastered is head position. Against Glover Teixeira especially, Jones almost always had his forehead or the top of his head underneath his opponent's jaw. This allowed him to pressure forward and ensure that he was the one landing damaging strikes and exhausting his foe (GIF).
A high school state and junior college champion, Jones has perhaps the best MMA wrestling game in the sport. He makes full use of his physical gifts, attacking with Greco-Roman and Judo takedowns from the clinch or shooting along the fence.
Many tall fighters have difficulty getting low enough to get in on their opponents' hips, but Jones is usually able to get in deep on his shot. Not only does Jones' dangerous striking thoroughly distract his opponent, his kicks often force his opponent to stand a bit straighter.
Jones has a powerful double leg that he likes to finish against the fence. In an impressive example, Jones threatened Lyoto Machida with an inside trip and turned it into a double leg when Machida defended. With his opponent pinned along the fence and his hands clasped, Jones wrenched Machida away from the fence and onto the mat with his entire body (GIF).
For the most part, Jones' takedowns opposite Cormier came via the double leg against the fence. When a lanky and skilled wrestler like Jones gets in on the hips and locks his hands, there's really no clear defense, Olympian or no (GIF).
Jones will also utilize an outside single leg on occasion, and he transitions between the two takedowns well (GIF). After isolating one leg and getting his head on the outside, Jones will slide his inside arm up to his opponents head. From this position, Jones can apply extra pressure to turn his opponent while executing a dump or even a trip.
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 and foot sweeps (GIF). 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.
It's actually been some time since Jones has really relied on his clinch takedowns. Regardless, it's still a dangerous tool that he can fall back on.
Once on top of his opponent, Jones is a devastating ground striker. If he's able to posture up, Jones can dispose of his opponent quickly, even in full guard. Brandon Vera found that out the hard way, as he tried to play guard and wound up with a shattered orbital for his trouble thanks to a brutal elbow (GIF).
If his opponent keeps a tighter grip on Jones -- everyone that had the benefit of seeing him destroy Vera's face -- he likes to control one of his opponent's arms and pin it to the mat or behind his opponent's head. While this is risky from a submission stand point -- grapplers are taught to keep their elbows tight and avoid reaching across their opponents' waist to avoid the arm bar-- it allows him to deliver painful strikes that are difficult to block (GIF).
If Jones is able to ruin opponents from within guard, it should be no surprise that he's nasty once he works into a dominant position. For example, Jones finished Vlad Matyushenko from the crucifix just seconds after securing it. Additionally, Jones' obliterated Matt Hamill with elbows from mount, even if some of them were fairly illegal.
Jones is a brutal and opportunistic grappler. Like the rest of his game, Jones makes great use of his lanky frame and makes his opponent suffer in a variety of ways.
The best weapon in Jones' submission arsenal is his guillotine choke. 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 variation puts his opponent to sleep quickly (GIF).
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, which works just fine. 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 (GIF).
Another devastating technique in Jones' arsenal is the shoulder crank. When his opponent secures an underhook in the clinch, Jones will lock his hands and wrench on their shoulder joint suddenly. Jones used this against both Teixeira and Cormier, forcing the experienced grapplers to yank away from their underhook or deal with a shredded rotator cuff (GIF).
Just another one of the unique techniques that makes "Bones" one of the meanest in the game.
Outside of these key techniques, Jones is able to secure submissions simply by wearing his opponent out. In his bout with "Rampage" Jackson, the power puncher was already fatigued and injured by the time Jones dragged him to the mat. Once there, it was easy for Jones to overwhelm his defense with a rear naked choke. Similarly, Belfort was thoroughly battered prior to getting trapped in an americana.
Still, landing an americana on a jiu-jitsu black belt is quite an accomplishment (GIF).
Defensively, Jones is very risky with his arm placement. Whenever he reaches forward to grab his opponent's head or pin an arm while he's still within the guard, Jones is placing himself in a high risk position. From there, it's easier for the bottom man to set up triangles, secure an underhook, or -- like Vitor Belfort nearly did -- roll up on an armbar.
To avoid those risks, Jones simply needs to make sure his head position is correct. If he's leaning his weight back, his opponent can easily roll and move to any of those options. However, when Jones is leaning forward, heavy on his opponent, and has his head in line with his opponent's skull, he's in a much safer spot.
Jones is primed to absolutely maul his opponent. Judging from training footage, Jones appears to be bigger and better than ever, which is a terrifying prospect. Really, this is Jones' moment to dominate, which will only make his future fights with Daniel Cormier or a top Heavyweight more marketable.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.