Friday, September 20, 2013

Looking for a Fight @ UFC 165: Jones v. Gustafsson

Jon Jones launches a jump kick against Ryan Bader. (mirror.co.uk)
Two and a half years ago Jon Jones fought Ryan Bader. Both were undefeated, both had a lot of hype and potential behind them, and the winner was pegged to be a pretty big deal in the UFC. Jones won convincingly, and he's certainly become a big deal.

With combination of some issues outside of the ring, dominance in it, and a luke warm relationship with fans, Jones has become the UFC star that has the potential to sign the brightest. Deals with Nike and Gatorade (?) have given him the two biggest "on shorts" sponsors in the UFC, and surely he must be in the running to be on the cover of the new EA Sports UFC game.

As we've followed the career and watched the development of Jones as a fighter in the UFC and as an entity in media, it has always been interesting to see how Jones continually tries to develop his media persona. He wants to fight and be the best fighter ever, but at the same time it's confusing how a man who - when he's not trying - comes off as very aware, intelligent, and captivating. When he is at his most distant is when he tries to be someone other than himself or live up to the image of what he thinks he should be.

He's gone from aw shucks, to cookie-cutter fighter mode, to cocky and arrogant, to comfortable in his own skin, to slightly awkward at times, and where we stand today a man at peace looking for new challenges.

Surely, though it must be difficult to restrain any hubris when your job and your success has come from beating up the toughest guys on the planet. Georges St-Pierre certainly does that and does it well. And despite many less fan pleasing performances than Jones, is the most beloved fighter the UFC has. With all due respect to GSP, the UFC does not want another version of him.

The UFC is looking for that marketable star that wants the limelight and can become the guy that everyone and their mother knows. In Jones they have that, and he wants to be that. While his in-ring product might be approaching a polished product at 205, his out of ring persona is far from complete.

What the UFC wants is Floyd "Money" Mayweather. The undisputed champ of boxing and pay-per-view, excuse me May-per-view. Money is as big as the sport itself, maybe bigger. His persona is every bit as perfect as his boxing ability. While Mayweather is a devisive figure, what he does is get a whole lot of people's attention. People want to see him fight whether he wins or loses. People are drawn to him because the idea we all have of Floyd Mayweather is compelling, but honest. You may not like or agree with how he carries himself or lives his life, but what you see is what you get. With Jones, you don't get that feeling. You get the feeling that a part of him would rather be Ronda Rousey.

Jones is beginning to discuss other interests. Whether it's getting into movies or boxing a Klitschko brother Jones is looking for challenge that, frankly, the UFC's light heavyweight divison can no longer offer him. Who knew being the best of the best at something at 26 would be so unfulfilling?

For Jones, the compelling part for him, the challenge is to become an icon and stir an emotion inside of fight fans that compel them to be invested in what he does. To want to watch him. That's a challenge, and that's also a big part of what will bring him the attention, earnings, and fanfare he desires.

Rousey go there faster because she has a crazy story, is an Olympian, is fiery, and is beautiful. People want to know what she's doing.

People are just as inclined to shrug their shoulders when Jones is on SportsCenter.

Jones may be at peace or confident he'll beat Alexander Gustafsson this weekend at UFC 165 in Toronto, and that's fine. But he shouldn't make the fans watching him be indifferent. Talking about how Gustafsson doesn't do anything better than him, or that Gustafsson is mistaken to have a "stick and move" boxing strategy and wax poetic about the art of boxing itself isn't what people want from Jones. He has to make more of an effort, not to be likable, but to just be a person of interest. The answer about what works for Jones is an unknown. Who should he try to emulate? Ah, but that's it, he shouldn't try to emulate anyone at all. It's a matter of how to make yourself as compelling a figure as possible using the tools that God gave you.

As crazy and as mixed up as it sounds, the audience that will be entralled with Jones' pure excellence in the Octagon is much smaller than the audience that is intrigued about a figure or a person (i.e. Kardashian, Kim). There's a part to Jones that seems to think this is all figured out and wins and movies and money and cars and fame and legendary status are all but promised through hard work and dedication, but the truly legendary figures always have a bit more going on than that.

BREAKDOWN

Nitpicking over a champions past fights is never worth it. Fighters fight who is out there at the time. That moments best of the best or best available. Just because Anderson Silva fought Patrick Cote doesn't make him any less of fighter. When you deal with these upper echelon fighters, a lot of opponents they go up against won't seem up to snuff. The names of Rua, Rampage, Machida, Evans, Belfort, and Sonnen are all marquee wins. None outside of Sonnen were complete gimmies, and we all know what Sonnen is capable of. If this was the BCS (RIP!) then Jones would have built up quite the compelling case. Certainly, Jones' severe height and reach advantage has been played up ad nauseum, but it could also be argued that Bones hasn't taken on a fighter at or near his prime since Bader

You can cross both of those items off the list this Saturday when Jones fights Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165. A fighter that is by all means approaching his prime. Again if you want to nitpick, you can say Gustafsson isn't ready yet. Sure, but people didn't think Jones was either when he fought Shogun to win the title on a quick turnaround.

Gustafsson has improved each fight, especially after a submission loss to Phil Davis that exposed his lack of wrestling. Gustafsson actually began training with Davis after that fight to improve. This is an evolving fighter who has showcased a wide variety of skills and a great ability to use his length and body control to give opponents a tough time.

That reach is actually no advantage against Jones who sports the longest reach in all the UFC. Both men will be heading into the fight with, likely, very different strategies. While Gustafsson has worked on improving his wrestling, his game is his boxing and his distance. People are wondering how Jones will handle someone of similar size in the Octagon with him, but I'll be interested to see how Gustafsson does the same.

Bones, will likely want to box and strike with Gustafsson. He doesn't appear to have any doubts when it comes to how good his striking is, and he really shouldn't. Hardly anyone has taken less damage in their fights than Jones. The most severe injury he had was from his own doing against Chael Sonnen when he severely dislocated his big toe pushing Sonnen up against the cage.

We have seen Gustafsson's chin in action, but not Jones'. Undoubtedly, at some point Jones will take this to the mat, where it'll be up to Gustafsson to get back on his feet. These are two major advantages that Jones has.

After the Siva-Weidman fight, there are some extra nerves in the air about champs taking things a little too lightly. While Silva more likely served as a cautionary tale for Bones, it's hard not to wonder if maybe he is a bit more focused on a movie role than a big Swede. I feel it myself, but in all of Bones' fights no matter how big or small he's never been out of control. Never been reckless or in danger. Now, he can't avoid danger at his own behest, but the being in control part is vital.

It's reaching that point where Jones wants the standing KO finish in the UFC. I doubt that'll happen in this fight. I wouldn't be surprised if this fight actually started off rather dull. Jones won't force any engagement and if Gustafsson is too concerned with keeping his distance we might hear some boos early on. Ultimately though, things will start moving, and depending on when Jones moves this fight to the ground, that's probably where it will end.

Jones by 3rd round submission.

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