Jones (18-1-0) enters the Octagon at UFC 165 against Alexander Gustafsson (15-1-0) this Saturday, blessed with the opportunity to further cement his legacy as the most dominant mixed martial artist the sport has seen, up to this point. In the last decade, two other men have been given the opportunity as well and in their own way, transcended mediocrity in to a world where mainstream brands like Nike and Usher grace their presence.
While Anderson Silva evolved in to a vicious finisher with a penchant for leaving himself open, Georges St Pierre developed in to a strong wrestling based points fighter, who currently exhibits low risk and highly technical maneuvers, ad nauseum. Both fighters have held the top two spots of everyone’s pound-for-pound rankings list until Chris Weidman recently stopped Silva at UFC 162.
Both Silva and GSP went in their respective directions out of necessity. It only took GSP one TKO from Matt Serra (back in 2007 at UFC 69), to realize he needed to adjust his strategy to ensure he maintained control of the welterweight division.
Silva had to deal with wrestlers taking him down and taking him out of his natural striking environment through implementing a wrestling style of the sport, that was essentially unfamiliar to the muay thai and jiu Jitsu fighter. Therefore he adapted as GSP had. He chose to throw fighters off their game by taunting them on their feet, leaving his face and body seemingly exposed, as if to encourage his foes to fall for his deadly ploy of misdirection. While standing with his hands poised, yet resting well below his hips, he succinctly planted a highlight reel of unpredictable strikes, that hadn’t been seen before, on his opponent’s chins, over the course of his UFC career.
Now Jones has a strong greco roman wrestling base that has helped him rag doll opponents in many of his fights. When he chooses to grapple in the cage, he uses trips, throws, and take downs to secure dominant positions. Where his reach is effective when standing, it’s even more deadly when he’s posturing up on the ground, while raining elbows in to heads that find themselves trapped against the canvas, unable to avoid concussive blows.
Jones has stated before that he enjoys defeating fighters in the manner which they are considered the most strategically effective. Therefore he out-strikes strikers, and out-wrestles wrestlers. In his last title defense against fellow TUF 17 coach Chael Sonnen, he infamously stated that his strategy had been to Chael Sonnen, Sonnen.
By choosing to defeat fighters at what they are good at, he avoids predictability. Just because someone is striking or wrestling based, it has no bearing on where Jones will take the fight when he steps in to the cage. On the other hand, it also generates a source of confidence for him that will be hard to overcome for anyone stepping in to the Octagon, opposite the light heavyweight champ at this point.
Yet all men age, even champions. Eventually when Jon Jones starts to feel his opponents gaining speed and athleticism in the cage, what type of strategy will he adopt to overcome the next wave of competition? Will he become a points champion like GSP, or attempt to get inside his opponents head with an unpredictable striking based style like Silva?
It will come down to what Jones faces when he doesn’t have size on his side. It may require a few more years to pass until Jones ages a bit and more super-athletes begin to trickle in to the top echelons of the light heavyweight division, to really test Jones in ways that don’t allow him to power through his opponent’s techniques, or simply stand outside their reach and deliver power shots of his own, without incident.
What is important is that Alexander Gustafsson is a good start for the UFC in finding men that will push the young champ. Don’t recycle fighters from past era’s like Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, and Dan Henderson. Instead, find champions that rival Jones in size and athleticism.
He may not have a decisive advantage in this one. In fact, put in a position he is uncomfortable with, Jones’s natural instincts will reveal what type of fighter he really considers himself.
In the event he runs in to trouble, does he go for the take down, or the elbows, to fight his way through adversity? Most of these types of pieces end with an open ended statement or question. This one’s too easy though. Great fighters always go back to the fighting style they had spent most of their life perfecting, before they found a knack in mixed martial arts and began picking up other skill sets along the way.
In Jon Jones’s case, I believe he will eventually go back to his wrestling roots. He’ll stand up for a bit, then opt for taking fighters down and throwing strikes to end fights, or to set up submission attempts. If I’m being honest, this will become his MO eventually.