UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones meets Vitor Belfort on September 22nd in an unlikely title bout and even before the fight begins it is fairly safe to assume that at least one standing elbow strike will be attempted by Jones in the course of the match. Jon Jones has cut out a niche for himself in MMA by using standing elbows with a frequency and efficacy that has yet to be matched. While Jones has numerous natural advantages - the 84" reach that he sports means that Jones' elbows may be connected when his opponent is entering their own punching range - none of these would matter if he simply went out and threw elbows at random. Jones' set ups are excellent and they're definitely worth closer analysis ahead of UFC 152.
Today we will focus exclusively on Jones' infamous spinning elbow strikes. Jones typically lands these one of two ways:
- Clinching against the Fence
- Faking the Single Leg Takedown
Clinching against the Fence
Jon Jones doesn't throw the spinning elbow at random for the simple reason that it is difficult to land correctly and if the opponent is stepping in towards him it pretty much gifts the opponent Jones' back. An excellent example of this came in the first round of Jones' bout with Mauricio Rua as the latter was lumbering towards Jones. Jones threw the spinning elbow as Rua plodded forward but missed and gave the injured Brazilian back control. Fortunately Rua's wrestling was not a huge threat to Jones, and instead the champion attempted to drop for a heel hook, giving Jones top position. Notice below how Jones' elbow flies past Rua's head and Jones' shoulder is the only point that contacts Rua with a soft thud.
The actual striking surface on a spinning back elbow is actually remarkably small, unlike Jones' elbows from guard in which if he misses with his elbow the rigid bone of his forearm still does ample damage, if Jones misses the spinning elbow he only connects with the triceps or shoulder. When this is the case very little damage is done for such a high risk manoeuvre. For all the talk of how Jones' enormous reach allows him to take risks without fear of repercussions, Jon Jones' spinning back elbow essentially gives his opponent's their only chance to get in range when he fails to land it correctly and he still uses it in most of his fights.
The variation with which we are now all most familiar is Jones' spinning elbow along the fence. This has proven to be the most reliable scenario from which Jones can place himself in position to spin as safely as possible and line up his target to connect with the point of his elbow. Below is the standard Jon Jones set up for his spinning back elbow. (G)
Notice that Jones has Rua pressed against the fence with his head to the left and keeps control of Rua's right elbow. Every time Jones clinches an opponent along the fence, he frees one arm so that he can spin while using his other hand to drive the opponents head back from underneath their chin. If an opponent holds an overhook or an underhook on either of Jones' arms he is not free to spin - consequently this technique doesn't mesh as well with Jones' takedown game as it appears. If both of Jones' hands are free and he is still pushing his opponent into the fence, a spinning elbow is pretty much assured.
You will also notice the unique position Jones has to assume before he spins - Jones brings his right leg across in front of himself. In every spinning or turning technique, finding ways to shorten the spin by bringing your pivot leg across yourself while distracting your opponent is vital to improving the likelihood of success. Jones' use of the clinch - a position in which he is famed for his wrestling - to conceal the preliminary movements or his turning strikes is a wonderful strategic turn and shows that Jones is willing to give up the prospect of a takedown to inflict one shot damage.
Here it is from another angle - notice how Jones doesn't spin on spot but rather steps far across himself so that he is turning almost next to Rua, allowing him to connect with the point of his elbow. Notice also Jones' familiar grip on his opponent's chin. When we examine Jones' ground and pound we will talk in great depth about this. Jones is also routinely warned (most notably by Herb Dean against Brandon Vera and Shogun) for digging his thumb into the sternal notch and windpipe when using this control.
The main defence to spinning techniques is to move either straight backward or in the same direction as the spin, Jones has removed the two effective evasions by pushing his opponents onto the fence and by ensuring that he ends up almost next to them on the side that they would have to circle to.
Faking the Single Leg Takedown
Another of Jones' most successful set ups for his spinning elbow is to fake the single leg takedown and use the fake to transition into his turn.
Notice here, against Matt Hamill, Jones takes advantage of Hamill's excellent wrestling pedigree by making the latter react to a takedown that Jones had no intention of following through with. Jones steps his left foot across himself, making it easy for him to turn his hips through, and taps Hamil's leg as if he is going to commit to diving on a single leg takedown.
I personally love watching Jones utilize this technique because it is such an excellent way to disguise his turn. The key with any spinning or turning technique is to find ways to cheat and make the turn as short and fast as possible - most of the time this consists of either:
- Hiding a step across yourself as Jones does with his tap of his opponent's thigh, or as many fighters do with a jab.
- Forcing the opponent to circle into the spinning technique, shortening the distance you need to turn.
Jones' opponents react differently to this fake - some try to take the leg out of range as Hamill does - and some drop their hands and their weight to make it difficult for him to take the leg. The latter is a much better reaction for Jones, as it keeps the opponent in range, but as you can see against Hamill - with an 84" reach you can catch men running away too.
Whether we will see spinning elbows from Jon Jones against Vitor Belfort or something entirely new - techniques like these ones make Jones forever an exciting and volatile presence in the octagon.