Jon Jones and the Heavyweight Question

Before we get down to the main purpose of this piece, let me just address the Jones-Gustafsson fight as a whole rather than any specifics or storylines that can be taken away. This was perhaps the finest UFC title fight of recent memory, a shoo-in for Fight of the Year and both men displayed tremendous amounts of heart, durability and a true fighter’s spirit. In terms of the result of the fight, the only rounds I scored clearly were the first (Gustafsson), fourth (Jones) and fifth (Jones), the second and third could have gone either way, so when it came to whose arm should be raised, there were no real arguments from me. I’ll be honest, eat humble pie and admit that I never really gave Alexander Gustafsson a chance. How wrong I was. The much hyped and marketed reach and length of Gustafsson along with his movement and fluid boxing posed Jones many questions, questions that he had never had to answer before. However, one question that has followed Jones around for the last couple of years has been, when will we see Jon Jones in the heavyweight division? We now have an answer. Jon Jones should be nowhere near a heavyweight division any time soon.

I have always had my doubts when talk of an inevitable Jon Jones move up to heavyweight arises and I feel that UFC 165 fight fully justified any previous reservations. Jones had tremendous trouble utilising his usually indomitable grappling game against Gustafsson, someone who is not a wrestler by trade but clearly someone who is reaping the rewards of the Alliance Training Center and the work of Phil Davis. You could say that Jones’ inability to secure a takedown until the fifth round, after nine previous failed attempts, was down to a well prepared training camp on behalf of Gustafsson, but this is Jon Jones. Jon Jones has never had any trouble in getting his takedowns off on any previous opponent that he has faced. Chael Sonnen, Rashad Evans, Ryan Bader, Vladimir Matyushenko and Matt Hamill all have lauded amateur wrestling backgrounds yet were unable to stop Jones from taking them down at will and dominating them when down there. I believe that Jones’ failure to get off any kind of wrestling offense and fully exploit his greatest weapon, his ground and pound, lay solely with Jones having never dealt with someone quite as big as him; an issue that would surely stunt any real progress in the ranks of the UFC heavyweight division.

While Jones’ wrestling has tended to be his preferred method of getting to an area where he is most comfortable and likely to cause the most damage, in previous fights Jones has become increasingly comfortable on his feet. Here, Jones, with his 84½ inch reach, is able to dictate a fight and keep any kind of meaningful attack from his opponent at bay due in part to the length of his limbs. That Gustafsson, a fighter with similar rangy arms and legs, was able to tag Jones more than other opponents, probably more than all of them combined, for me, boils down to Gustafsson being able to close the distance quicker than any other fighter that Jones has faced due to his length and Jones having never had to make the kind of adjustments he has before UFC 165. This experience may now prove beneficial to Jones in the long run, as he now has in-fight knowledge of how he can overcome a fighter of similar stature or this could well be indicative of potential shortcomings that would inevitably arise if and when Jones decided to move up. While larger heavyweights naturally move slower, Jones would have to face foes with far more imposing frames than he has ever dealt with before and it would then be quite rare for Jones to be the bigger man in the Octagon come fight night, an advantage he has held and capably exploited for the vast majority of his UFC career.

Perhaps the largest reservation I have held to Jones moving up in weight, even previous to this fight, has been Jones’ one punch knockout power, or lack of it in his UFC career so far. Now, just to make it clear, I am not disparaging Jones’ striking here. Jones’ striking is incredibly effective and has posed many light-heavyweights problems, and would continue to do so should he ever chose to join the big boys. However, while Jones would hold serious advantages in speed and movement over most heavyweights, any successful heavyweight in the UFC requires that one fight-ending strike that Jones does not possess. Yes, Jones has shown that he can wear down an opponent with consecutive strikes (most notably Shogun Rua) and against Gustafsson, the champ did wobble the challenger with spinning elbows and a succession of knees in the fourth, we have yet to see Jones deliver that one knockout blow in the UFC which is an essential tool in any heavyweight’s bag. This would place Jones at a serious disadvantage against the upper echelons of the heavyweight division, as his opponent would be fairly confident that barring any kind of mistake on his part he is not going to be on the receiving end of a flash knockout. This would in turn allow said fighter to take more calculated risks in the hunt for a knockout blow that even the most ordinary of UFC heavyweights is capable of delivering.

In spite of what I feel would be potential limitations to Jones’ success as a heavyweight and why I feel that any move to the heavyweight division for Jon Jones would be ill-advised, Jones now has a reason to stay at light-heavyweight beyond chasing and breaking divisional records, Jones has a challenge. Already the media and the fans alike are clamouring for a rematch in what is Jones’ first fight where the outcome can be legitimately disputed.

This fight was perhaps the best thing that could have possibly happened to the light-heavyweight division and Jon Jones. A division that has been dominated by a force so great that he makes all other competitors seem ordinary now has some buzz back to it. In granting Gustafsson an immediate rematch the light-heavyweight division has a chance to mature, evolve and ready any potential challengers that would have been rushed in to contention had Jones and Gustafsson not fought to such unfathomable heights. With the added time afforded to the other 205lb’ers should Gustafsson receive a rematch, current #1 contender Glover Teixeira now has the chance to further hone his craft and be tested against higher level competition than he has so far before being exposed to a title opportunity. Daniel Cormier, a long rumoured opponent for Jones, will now have the time to cut weight properly and fully adjust to a new division, should he so choose to, before facing off with whoever is the champ at the time. A Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson suits more than just Gustafsson, but the entire division.

UFC 165 has changed the light-heavyweight division even though on paper it has stayed the same. All talk of Jon Jones and a move to heavyweight should have been quelled, as the former peerless champion will now face challenges rather than formalities in the 205lbs division.

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