Is Jon Jones' Reach An Unfair Advantage?

September 22, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Jon Jones (left) jabs at Vitor Belfort in the light heavyweight championship during UFC 152 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

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The meeting between Jon Jones and Vitor Belfort was in many ways one of the strangest bouts in recent years, but in most ways was exactly what I and most others expected. Aside from Vitor Belfort's early submission attempt on Jon Jones which came close to finishing the champion, the match was exactly the lop sided affair that we anticipated and it once again all came down to Jon Jones' long kicks.

As always after a Jon Jones fight the forums are full of angry fans claiming that Jones only won because of his reach and natural advantages, and that by using kicks to the front of the knee he doesn't fight "like a man". The assertion that "Jon Jones wins fights because of his reach" is completely and utterly inaccurate. If one could win fights because of reach Dan Hornbuckle and Stefan Struve would not be the middling journeymen that they are. Of course to say Jones wins fights in spite of his reach would be pushing the idea a little much but Jones wins fights by using his reach appropriately. While Jones has advantages when his opponent's allow him to thrust kick them in the knee without checking it or doing anything to stop him, he suffers from great disadvantages elsewhere in the game.

Last night gave a fantastic example of just what a disadvantage height and reach can be in the guard. When Jones is postured up he is almost untouchable - to which anyone who witnessed him demolish Brandon Vera can attest - but when he is caught with poor posture he is in as much danger as anyone else. Jones, loving elbows and using his wide base to smother opponents, often spends long periods postured down in his opponent's guard, and against the surprise attack of Belfort this got him caught in an armbar which came very close to ending the fight.

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The disadvantages Jones experiences once an opponent isolates his arm are twofold:

  • The length of his arm means that he has a great deal of upper arm to shake an opponent down if he hopes to get their hips out from behind his triceps and elbow. Also Jones' longer limbs make longer levers, meaning the pressure Jones' can experience on his elbow joint is on paper much greater. The greater the distance from the fulcrum at which force can be applied, the greater affect it will produce. Jones' long forearms mean that Belfort can apply enormous force over the fulcrum, his hips.
  • The distance Jones needs to stand up to slam Belfort is enormous.

There is a reason that most power lifters and olympic weightlifters of Jones' weight are almost two feet shorter than him. Have a look at Jones' posture and notice what a weak position he is in. He is forced to lift Belfort while he is doubled over. A fighter such as Quinton Jackson who is much shorter than Jones has a massive advantage in this position. Jackson has never been submitted from guard as his short limbs make smaller handles (or targets) and his short stature means that he can jump to his feet with ease and deadlift his opponent off of the mat for a slam to free his arm. Notice that if Jackson were in Jones' position he would likely already be stood up straight (requiring far less exertion on his part) and have Belfort off the floor as Belfort would not be so low on Jackson's shorter limbs.

Notice in the famous clip of Rampage slamming Ricardo Arona that Rampage's back is almost straight from the moment that he stands up, rather than stooped while he is trying to get Arona off of the mat. This is of course slightly different, being a triangle choke, but he did the same thing in an armbar against Kazushi Sakuraba. Jackson is able to simply deadlift his opponents due to the fact that his back is almost straight when he stands in guard due to his short stature compared to other light heavyweights.

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(As an interesting aside the only men to submit Jackson were Jon Jones and Kazushi Sakuraba - both by rear naked choke. Kazushi Sakuraba also beat Vitor Belfort up at range with kicks just as Jones did.)

Another interesting example of how Jones' reach can very rapidly turn into a disadvantage was given by Belfort's triangle attempt in the closing seconds of round two. Jon Jones was genuinely in an awful position and could have been submitted if the fight had continued for another 20 seconds. Belfort locked his guard over one of Jones' shoulders, trapping one arm inside of his legs and one outside, from here it is simply a matter of making some adjustments and figure four-ing the legs in order to finish the triangle choke. Jones would have had real trouble escaping this due to the length of his limbs alone.

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As many of the Jiu Jitsu players in my audience will already know the rule to defeating a triangle choke is to get both arms fully in or both arms out, thus destroying the choking action, or to posture up and break the opponent's grip with his legs. Jones has an enormous distance to posture up and as those with a high school familiarity with physics will remember from lessons on moments; the longer a lever is the greater the magnification of force. Jones' long torso means that Belfort, who is weighing down on the end of Jones' spine, will have a much easier time keeping the champion's posture broken than against most opponents by virtue of physics.

Jones is a break with the norm in ground and pounders as most of them tend to be stockier men who can shuck their way out of submission attempts - just look at how easily Fedor Emelianenko was able to burst out of submissions throughout his entire career and you will realise why stockier men are traditionally more suited to play the ground and pound game. Jon Jones would have a great deal of trouble removing his right arm from Vitor's triangle due to it's length, just as he would struggle to sneak his left arm back inside of Vitor's legs.

A final disadvantage of reach is that long limbs are terrible for covering up, if ever a tall man is placed in a position of difficulty on the feet and he isn't quick to clinch, he will take horrible damage while trying to block punches. If a fighter such as Quinton Jackson bends his arms to cover up they produce a shield behind which he can hide. (G) If a gangly man such as Stefan Struve attempts to cover up, there tend to be gaping holes in his defence behind his elbows which are easy to exploit. (G)

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While I doubt I will have changed many fans minds about Jones' inherent physical advantages, I hope that I have demonstrated to some degree why Jones' length may work against him. Jones' limbs provide longer levers, can't be easily snuck out of triangles, and would have to bend at a ridiculously acute angle to cover up with the same efficiency of a shorter fighter such as Quinton Jackson.

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