Sean Ross Sapp here, the driver of your worldwide Jon Jones bandwagon.
To say that I thought Jon Jones would be UFC Light Heavyweight champion, safe to say. To say I thought he’d knock off three legends over the course of 8 months before turning 25? No way.
I was drawn in to MMA by seeing Rampage Jackson’s huge pro-wrestling like slams in the PRIDE FC organization. When I saw a then 21-year old Jon Jones doing much of the same to established UFC veteran Stephan Bonnar, I was convinced he was destined for greatness.
I first noticed Jon Jones in mid-2008, when I first started covering mixed martial arts. As I checked local results around the nation, it seemed as if every other week I was seeing the name “Jon Jones”. I dismissed it as being a common name, until I noticed all of the fights had been in the Northeast. Six wins and zero losses over the course of three months, including four wins in his first month as a professional.
I assumed Jones, who was a national JUCO champion in wrestling, would catch the eye of Strikeforce, but I was stunned to see, shortly after becoming familiar with his name, he would be replacing an injured Tomasz Drwal on UFC 87 against Andre Gusmao. This was the first fight I ever gambled on, with Jon Jones being an underdog. I haven’t looked at Jones as an underdog since.
Now the UFC Light Heavyweight champion, Jon Jones hasn’t lost a round in his MMA career. While it looked like he lost the first round to Lyoto Machida (that’s how I had it scored), however it was later revealed that two of the three judges awarded Jones the round.
Can Jon Jones be defeated in the 205 pound division? Everyone says they have a style matchup Jones has yet to see. Karate (Machida), Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu (Vera, Shogun), Wrestling (O’Brien, Hamill, Bader), Boxing (Rampage Jackson), even crafty veterans (Matyushenko, Bonnar) have all been stifled by Jones’ style.
Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson look to be the top two contenders, with a possibility of Phil Davis (in the event that he beats Evans) for Jones’ next fight after he returns from his well-earned vacation. I don’t see either of these two taking the light heavyweight crown from Bones Jones. Hendo, in my mind, has a much better chance, and is a much more complete fighter.
Jon Jones doesn’t have the best striking in the division, or even top 5 in the division, but his unpredictability and absurd reach (longest in the UFC) make his striking the most effective in the division. His submission game, which is very innovative due to this reach, allow him to utilize creative chokes, managing four victories by choke in the UFC. Saturday, he put the once dominant Lyoto Machida to sleep with a sick guillotine against the cage, giving Machida absolutely no room to escape. The size advantage and insane wingspan gives Jones leverage on chokes in which we’ve never seen in the division before.
His clinch game is also becoming a go-to tool, and for good reason. As he often has at least a ten inch reach advantage over his opponents, any time they engage, they are easily within his clinch range. How do you beat a guy who you can’t reach? Machida was able to land a few first round strikes, but met the same fate as so many before him.
Rashad Evans claims wrestling is the way to beat Jones, saying he was able to control him in many training sessions, but Matt Hamill, Rampage Jackson, Matyushenko, and Jake O’Brien were all dominated on the ground by Jones, so his wrestling doesn’t seem to be the way to expose him.
Will his ego get him in trouble? Jones has become progressively more confident over the course of the past year, and rightfully so. This has earned him some enemies within MMA among fighters and fans alike. His coach, Greg Jackson was overheard saying “Check on Lyoto and get some fans” after the UFC 140 bout, which caused a level of controversy.
Jon Jones has no glaring weaknesses. My original thought was that he would get lazy in someone’s guard and get caught with an arm bar or triangle choke. After thinking about that scenario more, given his reach, I don’t see him allowing his posture to be low enough for something like that. It doesn’t appear as if he’ll be outwrestled, or in a position to get defeated standing. Given his camp, Jackson Submission Fighting, I don’t think the cast of all-stars their team possesses will allow his increasing confidence to become a problem (they learned their lesson with Melvin Guillard).
For all of the hate Jon Jones receives, at this point, he is the most complete explanation for a mixed martial artist. Innovative stand up, excellent wrestling, a great submission game, and he fights to finish. Since his ass-kicking exhibition over Stephan Bonnar, he hasn’t been to a decision, something many people forget, many of the same fans who complain about boring championship fights.
We are in a unique, Fedor-like situation here. A dominant champion, with one questionable loss on his record. However, at Jones’ age, Fedor was only getting his career started, and wouldn’t become PRIDE FC champion until age 26, where Jones has already defended his title twice. As the legends of Noguiera, CroCop, and Mark Coleman fell to defeat at the hands of Fedor, so too have Machida, Rampage and Shogun by way of Jon Jones.
I have no problem saying this, as Anderson Silva won’t be in the sport in a few years. Jon Jones is Michael Jordan, Ken Griffey Jr, Peyton Manning, Wayne Gretzky. He will be the name in which this sport is identified. We are all witnesses.
My next column will have my 10 predictions for 2012. I went 5 out of 10 for 2011, lets’ see if I can’t go ten for ten this year, I loved hearing all of your picks, send me yours on twitter!
I will also hopefully soon be debuting a video segment of “Pro Wrestling for MMA”, an instructional segment showing you pro wrestling fans some effective pro wrestling moves that can be used in MMA, and how to do them.
Follow Sean Ross Sapp on TWITTER