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Jon Jones; Style of a Champion


Writing about Jon Jones’s poor behavior and personal life is a sport all its own, these days. The three part, multiple hours long Beige Frequency documentary comes to mind as comprehensive and much better than I could accomplish. I’ll only say this; I could find a certain kind of dark humor in Jon Jones’s escapades if they weren’t so profoundly sad. 

Jones doesn’t just get high and act like a clown, he gets high and hits a pregnant woman in his car. He gets drunk and drives, or he gets drunk and assaults his fiancee, or he gets drunk and breaks apart his family, instead of getting drunk and acting like a goof. Jon knew he was cheating against his opponents. He upended an entire card, forcing every fighter that wasn’t him to make mind boggling accommodations for his inability to pass a drug test. This is just a short sample of his tragic behavior.

What it Means to be a Fan

There is a certain kind of intimacy in combat sports fandom. You see fighters in tears over victories even more than in loss. I care about these athletes and their struggles, so watching their failures brings an empathy. You see the pain of a loss directly in the octagon and it’s always a truly vulnerable moment. Then you see other losses play out in real life, not in the cage but through the press and social media, like when Diego Sanchez’s life coach tanked the twilight of his career. A snake oil salesman took what should have been the honorable retirement of an originator of the sport and turned it into a comedic farce.

I feel bad for the people who are negatively affected by Jones’s bad behavior, not as a fan but as a human who knows what it’s like to be disappointed by someone you believe in. I also know what it’s like to disappoint people who believe in me, and so it’s easy to imagine Jones being trapped in a vicious cycle of his own making.  This isn’t written to try to explain away his behavior or to force any empathy, just to say that he knows the asterisk that will always appear next to his name when anyone talks about his legacy. His story will always read, “he was the greatest, but…”

The Nastiness of the Champ

Too many times I’ve heard people write off Jones as washed. Whenever Jon Jones has had to fight from underneath low expectations and bad press, he tends to do so in the smartest, most calculated way possible, using his incredible fight IQ to play defense and retain his championship, or closer to this upcoming scenario, use brutal offense to secure a new title. We might see a return to Jones’s hungry days, figuratively speaking, with his move to heavyweight. There’s a chance that the Jon Jones that shows up to fight at heavyweight is closer to the Jones that head kicked DC into oblivion, or the Jones that guillotined Lyoto Machida unconscious, or the Jones that beat the breaks off of Vitor Belfort with one arm.

Image – Bloody Elbow

The one word you can describe Jon Jones’s fighting style as, is nasty. Jon Jones never misses an opportunity to cause damage. His style relies on using the most damaging strikes at any given moment while advancing position. Takedowns rarely happen to Jon. Pure Jiu Jitsu players have been able to catch Jones in positions off their back (Vitor Belfort’s round one arm bar that broke Jones’s tendons comes to mind), but he is usually able to smother them and cause vicious damage with elbows from the top.


Maximum Damage

Jones has never looked like a clean boxer. Jon’s striking is cultivated for maximum damage. He utilizes elbows over hands, seemingly to protect his hands while slashing his opponent’s face. His entire game is “I hurt you and you can’t hurt me.” Jones will choose to back out of the pocket and fight off of his back foot rather than stand and bang. He protects himself while he is throwing. He uses offense in a calculated way, rarely leaving openings.

Jon Jones will smother his opponent from inside their guard. He throws perfect short elbows from everywhere.  will spin with an elbow and if his opponent moves forward, as most fighters will, the elbows will land behind the ear or on the back of the head. He dropped Stephan Bonnar with an elbow like this in his second UFC fight. Elbows like that helped turn the tide against Alexander Gustafsson in their first fight. He will hold his fingers straight out and let his opponents run their faces into them while trying to close range. This is illegal but rarely penalized.

Jones vs Shogun

It feels silly to type something so obvious, but Jon Jones is a fighter who loves hurting people. Sure, hurting people is something every fighter does, but some fighters look at hurting their opponents as an unfortunate byproduct of being a prize fighter. Jones looks like he relishes the fact that he gets to step into the octagon and harm another living creature. Jon Jones is the Carl’s Junior specialty menu item of harming another human being. Why have one onion ring on your burger when you can have six? Why punch a guy when you could slash his face open with an elbow?

You can see this in full effect when he took the belt from Shogun Rua. Jones would bait a shot from Shogun, and either palm his head or clinch. In his plum clinch, he can keep his hips far back while still throwing knees.  The second thing it does is wear out the low back of his opponent. It is astounding how fast that will wear out the back of your opponent, and without a strong back, it’s impossible to keep base. Jones will use this to trip or throw his opponents.

In the case with Shogun, Mauricio’s guard is dangerous, so more often than not he would initiate a guard pull before Jon could throw him. Once Jon is on top, it’s the same story. He presses forward, smothering the guard, controls the hands, and throws short elbows over the top of his opponent’s guard to cut their faces open.

Subsequent Suspensions

The Jon Jones that we saw through his first title run looked unbeatable. After his first suspension and return, he put on some of the best fights I’ve ever seen. His last resurgence left people doubting. Instead of relying on fast, brutal striking to get into the clinch, Jones would hang out in boxing range and try to throw hands. gone are is Greco Roman throws from the cage and clinch. He didn’t stack up impressive control time or slash up his opponents faces.

The Question Remains

While he technically didn’t lose any of those fights, he definitely lost a step. MMA is a brutal sport, and Jones has been at the top of the heap for over a decade. There is more evidence to support Jon still being in championship shape than would refute it, but we could see a Jones with more miles on him. If he wins against Cyril Gane this weekend, this will be his fourth title reign across two weight classes. I can’t help but wonder, which Jones shows up?

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