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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 235’s Jon Jones

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Arguably the best to ever strap on a pair of four ounce gloves, Jon Jones, will face off dangerous finisher, Anthony Smith, this Saturday (March 2, 2019) at UFC 235 from inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Since settling his issues with United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Jones has made his intention very clear. “Bones” wants to make up for lost time, stay active and rack up as many title defenses as possible. Preferably, Jones specified after his crushing victory over Alex Gustafsson (watch it), against foes he had not already handled. Luckily for Jones, the Light Heavyweight division has recently received an influx of talent from both the regional scene with quality new prospects and from the Middleweight division. With Smith on the best win streak of his career and Jones looking for new challenges quickly, it all made sense for Jones to defend his strap just over two months after winning it back.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


Jones is an athlete who understands his strengths extremely well. As a result of his build, athletic gifts, and diverse array of offense, Jones tends to dominate from the kicking range and clinch. As such, Jones sticks to those ranges religiously, doing his best to avoid that middle distance.

Almost all of Jones’ attacks capitalize on his significant height and reach advantage. Jones most often puts that edge to fantastic use by battering his opponent from the outside. 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.

In fact, he invites takedown and clinch attempts, as he thrives there.

Early on, Jones goes to work with his kicks and refuses to allow him opponent time to find their rhythm or range. It’s very difficult to defend against Jones’ offense from this range, as he simply attacks with so many different techniques. Plus, Jones’ opponent is usually too far away to effectively fight back. Many of his kicks are to the legs and body, which are effective at slowing his foe and causing him to hesitate (GIF). In addition, these kicks are often some type of linear kick, driving straight into the body or leg regardless of whether it’s preceded by a spin or stance switch or shift sideways. Linear kicks are much more difficult to catch than round kicks, as the defense to linear kicks is footwork — hardly an asset for most big men of 205 pounds.

To this day, Jones’ most devastating use of oblique kicks came against “Rampage” Jackson (GIF). Jones dismantled his power punching opponent completely. By the third round, Jackson was barely throwing with any power and could do little to stop his opponent’s takedowns.

That fight is something of an exception, as generally fighters are not completely broken apart by the kicks. More often, Jones’ kicks cause opponents to stop trying. Walking into kicks makes them hurt much more, meaning it’s easier to simply hang back and accept the loss then continue getting your knees or liver stomped. Against Ovince Saint Preux, for example, Jones never needed to do much else than to kick from range to win (GIF).

In his second (and most recent) fight opposite Cormier, Jones fought a very smart outside game. It was many of his usual tricks — lots of kicks at range as well as plenty of Southpaw crosses — but with an additional focus on body shots. The success of those body strikes was twofold: Cormier’s early boxing success was waning as the body shots added up, and all the body work caused Cormier to reach down when a high kick soared into his jaw (GIF).

Against a shorter opponent than himself in the boxing range, Jones is much more comfortable. Often, Jones will extend his arms and hand fight with his opponent, or even literally place his palm on their forehead. While it gets him in trouble with eye pokes, it’s nonetheless an effective way for Jones to gauge his distance, maintain range, and even attack.

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 fold his arm over to land a hard elbow (GIF).

Finally, Jones is a terrific clinch fighter. While that close range can be a disadvantage for some lanky athletes, Jones makes full use of his length to leverage takedowns and create offensive opportunities. 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).

In his first bout with Cormier, Jones willingly worked from the clinch for much of the fight. Though he took some shots — which is far more likely at that distance, simply because it’s harder to miss — Jones also went work with his elbows strikes and wore his opponent out from the grueling clinch battle (GIF).

When its on his own terms, Jones can be effective from within the pocket, his “weak” distance (GIF). Rarely are fighters able to force him there, as the only real example came in his first fight with Alexander Gustafsson.

In the second bout, however, Jones proved how much he had grown at managing distance (and he was already amazing at it). Jones did his best work as a Southpaw, which opened up a quadruple threat of offense against Gustafsson, who was trying to pressure inside from the Orthodox stance. Jones’ straight kick to the knee, round kick to leg/body/head, snap kick to the stomach, and spearing left straight were all damaging strikes that came from Jones’ power side, making it especially difficult for Gustafsson to distinguish between them.

Perhaps more impressive was Jones’ defense. Whenever Gustafsson did manage to inch forward into a distance closer to the pocket, Jones’ hands would extend from his chin and reach toward Gustafsson. Jones’ attempts to hand fight thoroughly flustered Gustafsson’s usual offense and combinations, as well as opening up Jones’ counter elbows.


A high school state and junior college champion, Jones has some of the best mixed martial arts (MMA) wrestling 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 takedown 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). On the whole, Jones has been shooting against the fence a lot more recently. Since his clinch game is now more focused on striking, it makes sense that his opponents are covering up and leaving their hips open more often.

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. It’s no longer his go-to strategy, but he historically has been able to manhandle 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.

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 thanks to a brutal elbow (GIF).

If his opponent keeps a tighter grip on Jones — which would be everyone who had the benefit of first 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’ waists to avoid armbars — it allows him to deliver painful strikes that are difficult to block (GIF).

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Jones is a brutal and opportunistic grappler. Though we’ve never seen his bottom game, Jones has pulled off some slick submissions from top position. The best weapon in Jones’ submission arsenal is his guillotine choke. In this week’s technique highlight, we analyze how Jones’ long arms allow him to get extra leverage on the choke and really cut off his opponent’s blood flow.

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 potentially deal with a shredded rotator cuff (GIF). That’s a pretty brutal technique, which is another common trait between the different aspects of Jones’ game. “Bones” is simply a rough and mean fighter, whether it be shoulder cranks, kicking the knee joint, or repeatedly dropping his chin — chin butting? — into Ryan Bader’s mid-section from the north-south position.

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 does take risks 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 higher 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.


Is there any doubt that Jon Jones is an amazing athlete and fighter? The man has nothing to prove regarding his talent inside the cage. However, it would be beneficial to Jones’ legacy for the champion to fight consistently and avoid drama outside of the cage — both legal- and drug test-related.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.

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