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The fighters that made Jon Jones great; Alexander Gustafsson and Daniel Cormier

Jones has had every kind of fight except a losing one. In this article, I want to break down the two fights that, in my opinion, are his best performances against his toughest opponents. When a fighter is young, he has the luxury of mystery. There isn’t enough tape to determine what he’ll reliably do next. A massive talent can hide skills for a time, but eventually an opponent on his way up will figure out a way to beat him. Jones is special in that even with years of breakdowns of his style, no one has been able to upset him in the ring.

Image – MMA Junkie, USA Today

The two that came closest during Jon’s peak are Daniel Cormier, older than Jon but almost as mean, and Alexander Gustafsson. Gustafsson was the first to legitimately outbox Jones and make him look beatable.

Prior to UFC 165, Jones looked invincible. He rarely left it to the judges. Jones would use his 84.5” reach to set the range. He would use the clinch to wear his opponents down and rag doll them. What happens when his opponent is someone who he doesn’t have a massive reach advantage over (Alexander Gustafsson) or someone who is all base and built like a fire hydrant full of gravy (Daniel Cormier)?

DC vs Jon Jones 1

Let’s do first fight second and break down some of Jones’s strategy during DC vs Jones 1. In this fight, Jon is faces early testing. DC presses forward and makes it nearly impossible for Jones to land hard straight shots. Jones likes to control range with creative, long strikes. He will open up with a lot of side kicks to the body and knee, but DC walks through all of that shit.

DC is used to being the shorter fighter, so he has adapted a style where he sits in boxing range, draws out shots, and counters with big uppercuts and hooks to the body and head. This works really well against Jones for rounds because Jones can’t initiate clinch without getting punished. Against longer opponents, Jones can feint into the clinch. DC doesn’t bite on his feints, so Jon throws shots, and DC counters. This, coupled with the fact that DC doesn’t stop moving forward, keeps Jon trying to throw off of the back foot where he can’t upset DC’s base. In fact, Jon doesn’t get to implement any ground and pound during this fight.

Image – Cowboys Ride for Free

In those opening rounds, DC nullifies almost all of Jones’s game. Jones does score the first takedown in the UFC against DC in the first round, but it’s a trip after Jon catches a leg kick, and DC is right back up after hitting the canvas. There is a case to make for DC winning rounds two and three. All three judges scored the fight 49-46, with two judges giving DC round two and one judge giving DC round three. Either way, I don’t find anything wrong with this.

The Sketchy Knee

In the third round, he found the key to beating DC. The body kicks he banked earlier paid off with interest. Jones spent most of the round smothering DC against the cage, scoring two easy double legs within the first two minutes. After the second double leg, we see a Jon Jones signature move. I’ve started calling it the, “sketchy knee.” Jones will take an opponent down, and rather than hold them, he’ll press them up against the cage and wait for them to get up. Jon will throw a huge knee at their face at the first possible second they can’t be considered downed.

This can go wrong in a big way if he times it too early, or his opponent doesn’t stand all the way up. Jones learned this in his fight against Anthony Smith. He tags Smith with that knee, but when Smith was still considered downed. If Smith were a more opportunistic fighter, he could have taken the belt right then and there, but he chose the honorable path and continued to get 48-44’ed into the dirt (the final score ended up being 48-44 on a majority of the judges’s scorecards, considering Jones had two points penalized due to the sketchy knee).

Jones Takes Over

We start to see more and more signature Jon Jones moves in the fourth round. Jones presses DC against the cage in a clinch, grip fights until he can extend one of DC’s arms down, and fires a short elbow over the top. For this, Jon will usually dig his fingers in the glove, a dirty and casually illegal move that refs don’t always stop. Jones, keeping with his generally mean fighting style, throws a shoulder strike in the clinch that don’t necessarily hurt DC, but keeps him from resetting and digging to a better position.

In the fifth round, DC get a mostly symbolic victory by catching Jones with his high crotch single leg takedown, lifting Jones up and throwing him over his head. After this, Jones and DC struggle in the clinch a little bit and Jones throws his hands up to celebrate his victory early, and then takes some pot shots at DC until the bell rings. DC fires back after the bell and accidentally tags Herb Dean. This is just another small example of Jones doing the most dick-ish thing possible to bring his opponent down to his level.

Alex Gustafsson vs Jon Jones 1

Jon Jones is not a good boxer. Jon Jones is one of the greatest MMA fighters to ever live, but if you were to list and rank his skills, boxing would be dead last. Alexander Gustafsson, on the other hand, is an excellent boxer, and he used that boxing to stay ahead of Jones for most of the first three rounds. What makes Jones one of the greatest MMA fighters to ever live is his ability to read and adapt in the middle of a fight. By minute three of the third round, Jon has begun to use leg and body kicks to stop Gustafsson from entering the pocket unpunished and start to melt his cardio. By the time the bell rings for the third round, Gustafsson is stuffed against the cage. The swede spends the next two rounds getting suffocated by Jon’s pressure.

Image – MMA Junkie, USA Today

There wasn’t a finish in this fight, which is a testament to Alex’s toughness. Jon Jones found the openings to attack Gustafsson’s body and legs with well timed, vicious kicks, and turned a losing fight into a dominant, championship performance. Jones showed that he can dig deep, adjust, and pull victory out of thin air. There are a few habits forming in this fight, the first being Jon coming into his own in the championship rounds. He starts taking the first two rounds to make reads while his opponent wears himself out. We all know what the other habits are.

The Rematches

Jones would go on to rematch both DC and Gustafsson, finishing both before the fourth round. Neither were able to adjust their styles enough to solve Jones’s, but Jon had them down cold. Aside from those fights, Jon has had a series of lackluster performances punctuated by drug test failures, arrests, DUI’s, domestic assault charges, et cetera, et cetera. Again, I’m not here to run through his personal life with a fine tooth comb, but I will say that his decline in dominant performances seems to have a direct relationship with his legal and drug problems.

Lasting Legacy

The past three years has seen the name Jon Jones pop up every once in a while to announce a possible fight, squabble over the contract details, call bullshit on the UFC, and retreat back to the gym. Despite being one of the few hall of famers still active, he hasn’t been very active. That, plus his last fight with Dominick Reyes has aged like milk. He doesn’t utilize his smothering clinch pressure and athletic takedowns anymore. There was only one takedown attempt in his fight with Thiago Santos. He threw only seven strikes in the clinch. Notably, he barely squeaked by the former middleweight with an unconvincing split decision.

Jon Jones’s future greatness is not a foregone conclusion but the Jon Jones of these fights was legendary. He displayed the true grit of a champion against the best in the world and came out on top. That’s the Jon Jones that I’m a fan of.

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