‘He should be fighting at heavyweight!’ ‘He’s matched up with fighters passed their prime!’ ‘He’s fighting middleweights!’ ‘He’s too big for this division!’ ‘The UFC is just protecting him!’
Those are just some comments which sum up the general feedback the some members of the MMA fanbase seems to give whenever Jon Jones is up for a UFC PPV defending his light heavyweight championship. Unfair? Absolutely. Jon makes the 205 pound weight limit just like his opponents. He is naturally gifted with a height and reach frame which he uses incredibly well. So well in fact that sometimes his actual skillset is overlooked. At UFC 165 however those ‘haters’ in the MMA community may finally see and realise his full arsenal of weapons as he takes on Alexander Gustafsson, an opponent with equal height (6 foot 4 inches). Much has been made of Gustafsson’s reach coming into this matchup, but the challenger will still be at a disadvantage in that area against Jones. With an 84.5″ reach, Jones still holds an eight-inch reach advantage over Gustafsson.
Gustafsson who is 15-1 in his MMA career has a reputation of finishing his fights with only 3 ever going to decision however this does include his last two (Thiago Silva and Mauricio Rua). His one loss at the hands of Phil Davis was clear evidence that his set of tools were missing a good wrestling game. After his loss he actually has been training with Davis ever since to change this and thus become a more complete fighter. Gustafsson is also the latest chance for Europe to finally claim a UFC champion, something that has eluded this continent ever since the formation of the company. Standing in front of ‘The Mauler’ however is the current light heavyweight champion and number 1 pound for pound ranked fighter in the world. Jon Jones has already tied the number of title defences with Tito Ortiz. A win on Saturday night and he breaks that record. He already has the most consecutive wins in the divisions history and is now looking to continue this streak and get close to the 11 wins in a row currently held by GSP and Royce Gracie and farther ahead 16 wins in a row by Anderson Silva.
The tag line for UFC 165 is ‘Greatness Within Reach’ which is apropos. On one side we have Gustafsson who is just one win away from claiming a lifelong ambition and become a UFC champion as well as Europe’s first UFC title holder. One the other we Jones, a champion who is looking to create a new record for title defences in the division thus creating a new bench mark. We have not seen a more dominant champion in the light heavyweight division since Tito Ortiz and that is a fact.
But is this the year of the upsets? Anderson Silva suffered his first ever defeat in the UFC this past summer which put the ice on any potential super fight with Jon Jones. For the time being his focus is on the 205ers where realistically only Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira stand in his way before he can claim to have truly wiped out the division.
The stare down between the two fighters at the New York leg of the UFC press world tour last month was just electric and it was just amazing to see Jones finally square up to an opponent at eye level. The UFC has promoted this fight in the right way in my opinion. Gustafsson has the height of Jones and is also the same age (26) so if Jones does get the W it will come down to his pure level of skill and technique. Outside of Gustafsson’s skills, the only object of concern for Jones will be the toe he badly dislocated in his April title defence against Chael Sonnen. There have been no reports of setbacks during his recovery from that injury, but it’s still something that could be in the champion’s head as he returns to action. Will we see some foot stomps in the clinch by ‘The Mauler’?
However if Gustafsson does provide us with the second shocking upset of the year just get ready for those haters to come back out of the woodwork to say ‘I told you so!’.