Every time we had a dominant champion, we have been asking ourselves « Could anyone actually beat this guy/girl? ». From Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, to Ronda Rousey and Demetrious Johnson, and now – probably more than ever – Jon « Bones » Jones.
Even though a lot of analysts could see the likes of Ronda Rousey and Anderson Silva fall, it is way harder to imagine someone defeating the current Light Heavyweight champ, and for two main reasons; we barely ever saw him struggle in a fight, and he gets better every time, especially in rematches.
On Saturday, Jon Jones will look to defend his belt against Thiago Santos and the question is still there; is there somebody out there that could defeat him, and is this person Thiago ? Let’s have a deeper look at it.
To establish a strategy against someone when you’re an amateur, or early in your professional career, you usually have a look at your own strengths and how it plays out against your opponent’s weaknesses, right ? Once you get into the UFC, and especially once you’re fighting for a belt, there are not many weaknesses to be found, if any. You’re more looking at habits, patterns and where one is the less comfortable in.
So, what do we have here ?
Moments Jones seemed to be not that comfortable:
- 2011: First round against Lyoto Machida – He needed time to adjust his game, find his rhythm (or distance) and not to rush into a trap.
- 2012: Almost got surprised by Vitor Belfort’s armbar attempt.
- 2013: Alexander Gustaffson first fight – Had a very difficult time with The Mauler’s lateral movement and similar reach.
- 2016: Probably his poorest performance of his career against OSP. Note: it’s an opponent change on very short notice (didn’t train for the profile of OSP a lot).
That’s about it. We don’t have many data of how to make Jon Jones struggles, but 4 things pop out in my opinion:
- Lateral movements: Jon Jones integrated the side kicks to his game, and it helps him with two main points of his general strategy;
- Being able to keep his opponent in the kicking range where he’s arguably the best.
- Keeping the control of the pace of a fight by nullifying his opponents’ attempts to bullrush, or simply attack.
- Unpredictability: For any control-based fighter, or strategist, it is always dangerous to fight a chaotic fighter, or someone who takes a lot of risks.
- Preparation: Jones always comes with a gameplan, a well-established one. It’s important that his opponent fights the way he always fights.
- Reach: Jones’ volume goes down against tall and lenghty athletes. He uses a lot of single attacks against anyone, which makes him a defensively sound fighter as he doesn’t take many risks and doesn’t expose himself to much.
The thing about Jon Jones is that he is excellent at everything and at every range, and he controls the distance, the direction and the pace of his fights. He is difficult to takedown, and hard to keep down. He is difficult to pressure. He is difficult to counter, and it is difficult to touch him with an initiation. And that makes him scary. The only thing that might not be that scary is he doesn’t have a one-punch knock out power that most Light Heavyweights have (that said, his elbows and kicks are a whole other story).
Now, with all that said, if we hope to see Jon Jones in a close fight, it will take someone ready to surprise him; to come with a different style on fight night. That is the first thing. If you fight the way you always fight, he will just be ready for you, with an answer to anything you had in mind. That is why he’s so great in rematches. Of course, it is hard to learn to fight differently in only one training camp, but it is a risk to take.
Another characteristic that we are looking for is someone with a bit of craziness, willing to take risks, to be as unpredictable as possible. In other words, we’d need the LHW version of Tony Ferguson. Letting Jones read you is the worst idea you can have. Doing weird, unpredictable yet efficient techniques and movements will give him a harder time to understand your patterns, your logic, the distance you need, and will give him a harder time to nullify your pace.
Finally, I believe only an athlete with both KO power and killer instinct would be able to defeat the champion. I don’t see anybody win 3 rounds against him. If MMA taught us something, is that one is all it takes. When you’re facing someone who doesn’t make many mistakes, you know you’re not going to win rounds. You’re going to hope that he does one small mistake that you can capitalize on. And the best way to capitalize on a mistake is to have enough power to Knock someone out cold with one hit, or to be opportunistic enough to finish someone once you have him rocked. My take ? Lateral movements lead Jon Jones to stop throwing side kicks, and to force him throwing low kicks. When he doesn’t set them up, he leaves himself open to synchronized counters…
The other option, especially of a rangy fighter, is the delayed counter of a single attack of Jones. As said earlier, he would mostly throw single attacks in general, and even more against guys his size. Looking for delayed counters are always easier against athletes that don’t throw a lot of combo, because you know after the first punch, it’s likely that nothing is coming right after, giving you a short window to attack.
Is Thiago Santos the man to defeat Jon Jones ? Thiago definitely has that KO power and that bit of craziness, but I am afraid he will approach the fight like Anthony Smith did. We saw Anthony Smith being way more patient and hesitant against Jon Jones than against any other opponent, and even though it worked for him, Thiago Santos has shown some composure in his last fight. The kind of composure that would give the champ enough space and time to impose his own game and strategy. It all depends on how he approaches the fight, but I believe the odds of an upset are tiny. Existent, totally existent, but tiny.