Ben Goldstein, editor of CagePotato.com and UFC expert, walks us through this week's fight.
In the wake of Anderson Silva's bizarre loss to Chris Weidman in July, UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones has become the consensus pick for MMA's #1 pound-for-pound fighter. Even though Jones has only been fighting professionally since April 2008, he's certainly paid his dues to earn that honor: His nine consecutive victories put him behind only Georges St. Pierre on the list of active UFC win streaks, and his title reign at 205 pounds has included wins over five former UFC champions (Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, and Vitor Belfort).
This coming Saturday at UFC 165, Bones will attempt to make his sixth title-defense against Swedish striker Alexander "The Mauler" Gustafsson, who's been undefeated for the past three years. With all due respect, Gustafsson is roadkill. Here's why...
1) As usual, Jones will have a massive reach advantage.
(Jon Jones could probably touch you right now if he wanted to.)
If you watch that "Jones vs. Gustafsson" trailer at the top of this post, the first thing that Joe Rogan mentions about the challenger is that he's taller than Jones. And he is — by a single inch. (Jones is 6'4", Gustafsson is 6'5".) While it's a rare sight to see Jones face off against a taller opponent, height is a nearly irrelevant statistic in the fight game. What's more important is reach, and the ability to use it.
Talent aside, Jones is a truly freakish physical specimen, with an astounding 84.5" wingspan that's ties him at #1 for the greatest reach in the UFC; only seven-foot-tall heavyweight Stefan Struve can claim to have arms as long as Jones. During his UFC tenure, Jones has proven that a significant reach advantage is one of the greatest assets in combat sports. He can keep his opponents at bay with his Dhalsim-esque jab, throw long power punches without fear of being countered, and fire savage elbows (generally used as a close-quarters technique) from ranges where his opponents aren't expecting them.
Gustafsson, despite his imposing height, will be giving up eight inches in reach during this matchup. (The UFC officially lists him at 76.5", though he recently disputed that measurement. Sure, buddy.) For a previous example of Jones clowning an opponent with a 76" reach, watch how he bombed out Shogun Rua with long-range attacks back at UFC 128.
2) Gustafsson will be no match for Jones's wrestling.
Though he's become known for his flashy striking, some of Jones's greatest career highlights involve him tossing around grown men like children. Not only is he a fantastic offensive wrestler, Jones is also an ace when it comes to takedown defense. In 13 Octagon appearances, Jones has never allowed an opponent to take him to the mat — and that includes his fights against fellow wrestling phenoms like Chael Sonnen, Rashad Evans, and Ryan Bader.
Gustafsson's wrestling is good for a striker, but he's simply not on the champ's level, and it's unlikely that we'll see him try to shoot in on Jones or work takedowns from clinch. Instead, the challenger will do his best to keep the fight standing and rely on his crisp boxing. Against any other opponent, that would be a good strategy. But against Jones, you have to pick your poison — do you get lit up from long-distance in a kickboxing match, or do you move in close and risk being catapulted on your ass?
3) Gustafsson has never been in a five-round fight.
(The Mauler's most recent first-round knockout, against Vladimir Matyushenko in December 2011).
As most MMA fans know, standard UFC fights are scheduled for three five-minute rounds, while championship fights and certain non-title main events are scheduled for five five-minute rounds. Jones has been preparing for these grueling five-rounders since 2011; he was forced to go all 25 minutes against Rashad Evans last April, and has battled into the fourth round against Quinton Jackson and Vitor Belfort.
That history with long fights gives Jones a tremendous experience edge over Gustafsson, who's never had to go past the third round in his entire career, and looked like he was starting to gas out late into his decision victory against Mauricio Rua last December.
In fact, Gustafsson hasn't competed at all since that fight, as a poorly-timed cut suffered in training led to the cancellation of his last bout. Preparing for a marathon five-rounder is daunting enough when you've spent the year in active competition. Trying to do it after nine months of "ring rust" puts Gustafsson at an additional disadvantage — as if he needed any more of those.
4) Jon Jones doesn't quit, even when he probably should.
(The horror...the horror...)
Earlier in his career, a common criticism of Jon Jones was that he'd never had to push through adversity. Sure, he looked impressive smashing over-matched competition, but did he have the mental toughness to take an ass-whooping and keep coming forward? Did he truly have the heart of a champion? His last two fights have given us the answer, beyond a shadow of a doubt: Not only is Jon Jones one of the most brilliant athletes to ever step inside the Octagon, he's also a tough S.O.B. who doesn't quit when things start to fall apart.
During the first round of his UFC 152 fight against Vitor Belfort, Jones was suddenly caught in a surprise armbar. Belfort had the hold fully locked, hyperextending Jones's elbow joint past the point of agony. But the champ refused to tap, shook Belfort loose, and fought nearly 15 more minutes with an arm that had gone completely numb. (Jones eventually submitted Belfort with a keylock early in round 4.)
And of course, there was that time earlier this year at UFC 159 when Jones's big toe nearly snapped off during the first round of his fight against Chael Sonnen. As gruesome as the injury was, Jones didn't even notice it until the post-fight interview. (Watch the video above, if you don't mind things that are gross and terrible.) Somehow, Jones was able to focus on the task at hand and finish Sonnen before the the fight was stopped due to injury. Afterwards, Jones tried to play off his jacked-up toe like it wasn't a big deal, then nearly passed out on his stool.
The bottom line is this: You can't outwrestle Jon Jones, you won't outstrike him, and catching him in a joint-lock (or breaking off one of his digits) won't be enough to make him quit. Alexander Gustafsson's only hope on Saturday is to somehow land a lucky knockout punch or put Jones to sleep with a choke-hold — which would require Gustafsson to out-grapple Jones on the mat, which probably ain't happening either.
As of now, Gustafsson is about a 5-1 underdog in terms of betting odds, and if you were thinking about laying cash on the challenger, you might as well burn your money. But hey, anything can happen in an MMA match, right? If you think Jones is losing his belt this weekend, let us know in the comments section.
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