UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones Before MMA

This rare footage of new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones in a grappling tournament was taken in January 2008, around 3 months before he would make his professional MMA debut.

The footage was taken by Stephen Koepfer aka 'Sambo Steve', founder of New York Combat Sambo and the American Sambo Association as well as a key player in the local movement for MMA legalisation in New York. Koepfer was actually coaching Jones' opponent Doug Fournet in this match at the 2008 Northeastern Grappler's Challenge:


I spoke with Stephen Koepfer this morning about the story behind the video and the grappling event:

The story behind that video, that was January 2008, it was an event called the Northeastern Grappler's Challenge and was hosted by Team Bomb Squad in Ithaca, New York - which was the team that Jon Jones was originally from. It was actually a pretty big tournament and it was the first time that the American Sambo Association had put together its competition team, its grappling team (no gi). We had on the team Doug Fournet who you see in the video, who is a world class grappler who has been in the FILA grappling world championships many times and the Sambo world championships many times. He originally started off in Judo under Christophe Leninger, a UFC guy in the original days (UFC 3, fought and lost to Ken Shamrock) ... we just know each other through the Sambo community and so at that event I was coaching him but he's not my student.

That was the first time I saw Doug get submitted by anybody so it was pretty surprising. Also on our team was Reilly Bodycomb, who's now kind of famous as well in the grappling world. That was Reilly's very first time doing no gi grappling. Also there was Anthony Sansonetti, Jeremy Paiser and Josh Alti, those were the five guys on our team. We were making our debut as Team American Sambo and we did the Pro Team Challenge and some of the guys did individual tournament brackets as well, but in the Pro Team challenge we actually came in 2nd place only because of Jon Jones beating Doug, and Anthony actually lost to Tamdan McCrory who was also young into his career. But it was just great, it was a fun time and I mean obviously we didn't know who Jon Jones was going to develop into. January 2008 was really early into his career outside of wrestling. We had no idea who he was other than he was really good and he beat Doug and Doug is totally a top level guy, you know? So what was cool about the tournament also was for most people it was the first time they had seen Sambo. It was pretty common place for people throughout the tournament to come up and say to us "What the hell are you guys doing?" because you know it's definitely not like a BJJ style as what we did was a very aggressive style.

Over all it was a pretty great day on a lot of levels and it's pretty cool 3 years later to see what Jones has grown into. He's from New York and I think it's important for people to see, especially those battling for legalisation in New York to really see the history of how these guys become who they are.

In this video we can see Jones use his wrestling base as his primary skill; his wrestling shoes, his stance, the way he goes for a take down ... even how he rides Fournet from the back with one hook grape-vining for control as you would with a cross body leg ride. Interestingly he uses a 1-on-1 bar arm not just for wrist control, but as a distraction to get his other hook in which both scores points and allows him to flatten Fournet out with a Rear Stretcher. It shows an ability to think ahead usually found with more experienced submission grapplers, but something Jones likely developed as a competitive amateur wrestler which he was able to bring in to his then new experiences with Jiu Jitsu.

We also see Jones perhaps trying to improvise from the back but as a result it costs him the position and Fournet is able to spin into Jones' half-guard where he is already setting up a pass. Fournet attempts to proceed and Jones uses a stiff arm to try and hold Fournet at bay before transitioning to a 'Kimura' attempt. Usually without a closed guard or half-guard in Jiu Jitsu going for a Kimura this way is a big 'no-no' because if the guy on top has side control he can spin around to the other side and counter with a straight armlock as was the case in the first Georges St. Pierre vs Matt Hughes fight. But in wrestling a Double Wrist Lock combined with a bridge at the right moment is a legitimate way to reverse position so there's a risk and reward in attempting this in a submission grappling environment. Again it shows Jones willing to take risks for a pay-off and combined with any Jiu Jitsu he was learning at the time - in addition to his own strength, length and general athleticism - he was able to finish the lock and get the tap.

Jones and Fournet had another match later on and we get to see a lateral throw Key Lock throw out of Jones from a single overhook with a 1-on-1(AKA a Russian Tie) before finishing the match with another 'Kimura' while on top and in Fournet's half-guard.

For updates on the progress of New York MMA legalisation and to see how you can get involved at the grass roots level, please visit NY MMA NOW

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