Jon Jones and the Burden of Expectations

At this point, it takes a special kind of obstinance and/or hatred to deny that Jon Jones is, at the very least, amongst the elite fighters in this sport. Since winning a decision over Stephan Bonnar, he has finished eight consecutive opponents (unless you choose to regard the Hamill fight as a genuine loss). But in addition to the accolades Jones has received, there is a significant trend of critical commentary.

Going into the fight with Brandon Vera, the discussion was about Jones's ability to deal with a quality striker (whether or not Vera actually qualifies as such is now moot). Against Matyushenko, it was about his ability to deal with a veteran and a physically powerful grappler with high caliber wrestling. Against Ryan Bader, it was basically about both. Practically every time Jones fights, people consistently ask how he will deal with fighting from his back and how he will deal with being hit.

Now, I'm not denying that these are genuine questions. To date, we still have not seen Jones on his back, except for a very short period of time against Andre Gusmao (if I remember it rightly, Jones failed on a trip or throw and ended up in side control before rapidly reversing or regaining his feet) and the two seconds against Rampage when he pulled guard. And, with the exception of Vera's illegal upkick, a right cross from Bader, and a body kick and those straight punches from Machida, he has not been hit cleanly.

Furthermore, after each of his last two fights- fights which he won handily, and in which he submitted two men notoriously difficult to tap- there has been a significant portion of the interwebs population claiming that weaknesses in Jones's game have been exposed. Interestingly, the Rampage fight and the Machida fight supposedly exposed opposite weaknesses: against Rampage, it was his wrestling which was apparently revealed as unimpressive, against Machida it was his striking game. This despite the fact that Jones has several times outwrestled high quality amateur wrestlers (including the All-American Ryan Bader) and heavily outstruck Shogun Rua. Granted, his striking game does have some shaky fundamentals, but it is very difficult to argue with his results, and if even strikers like Rampage and Shogun can't make him pay for them, it seems doubtful that anyone will do so more than Machida did (which is to say, some, but not even close to enough).

My question is this: why is this such a large piece of the narrative surrounding Jon Jones? When Anderson Silva pulled off what is basically the MMA equivalent of the Catch in triangling Sonnen, the majority opinion was that he had proved his greatness, not been "exposed" as the crappy wrestler he is. Likewise, when GSP couldn't take Josh Koscheck down but shattered his face in the process of dominating him for five rounds, very few people argued that St-Pierre was revealed as an inadequate takedown artist. But when Jones had similar (but, in fact, less) difficulty taking down Rampage, many did just that.

What we have "learned" from Jones's recent fights is that the fighter who beats him will be someone with elite level striking (apparently better than Shogun's and Rampage's, and at least as good as Machida's), and elite level wrestling (better than Rampage's and Bader's and Matyushenko's), and probably also black belt caliber submissions. Okay. And who's that?

I'm not saying Jones will not lose, I'm not even saying that none of the current light heavies can't beat him- I think the best candidate at the moment is Phil Davis a little ways down the road. But I am saying that we apparently demand that Jon Jones be perfect, or at least outstanding, in every single aspect of this sport before we admit that he is probably top three pound for pound (if not already number two, given GSP's struggles to finish opponents). Silva has one of the most obvious holes in this entire sport, but no one argues that he needs to shore up his wrestling before he can be number one.

Just for the heck of it:

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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