Last Saturday UFC Light Heavyweight champ Jon Jones successfully defended his title against a very game Vitor Belfort. The talk of the MMA community has been Vitors near world crushing arm bar of the champ. This isnt the first time Jones grappling skills have come into question. When he fought Brandon Vera he lazily left his arm open while in Brandon Veras guard. Vera threatened to take it, but never followed through. He paid for his oversight with a shattered orbital bone courtesy of "Bones" battering ram-like elbow. After that fight I went on for days about how a more aggressive and savvy fighter would rip his arm off and beat him with it. What I (and many fight fans) overlooked is that Jones still won, and he did so in rather brutal and convincing fashion. Even today, after submitting Vitor Belfort people are still talking about how Jones needs to work on his Jiu Jitsu. That’s true, as fighters should constantly work to improve and add weapons to their arsenals. But what some people aren’t examining is Vitors gameplan (which was solid through the 1st round) and how Jon Jones has ended the majority of his fights, which is by submission. First of all, Vitor has never been an offensive grappler. He has almost always used his grappling defensively to avoid submissions and get back to a place where he can use his greatest weapon, which are his fists. No one was expecting Belfort to be that aggressive off of his back. He and the Blackzillians deserve credit for not only coming up with a gameplan that surprised Jones, but one that exploited an obvious weakness in his game. Jones, on the other hand did what he has done time and time again. He listened to his coaches and made the necessary adjustments to his game and ended up with his hand raised and the belt around his waist.
We expect fighters to be perfect, fans often buy into the rhetoric of certain fighters not having holes in their games. Jon Jones is part of a "new breed" of fighters. He is incredibly well rounded, but he is not now and never will be better than everyone he ever fights in every area of fighting. What makes him and a select few others great is their ability to not let their opponents exploit their weaknesses. Anderson Silva isnt a good wrestler. Chael took him down at will, but he’s been taken down by lesser fighters in the past. There is likely no amount of training that Silva can do to get better than someone that has been wrestling since the age of 5. But what he did was make sure he acquired a skill that nullified the advantage wrestlers have against him. He is absolutely deadly off of his back. There are questions about Junior Dos Santos Jiu Jitsu skills, but good luck trying to get him on his back. His footwork and quickness are too good. He’s beaten Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Fabricio Werdum. Those are 3 of the best heavyweight grapplers in all of MMA. No one can make the argument that he’s a better grappler than them.
The perfect fighter does not exist. Preventing someone from imposing their game is a highly underrated part of the fight game. Someone will always be better than you at something. But MMA is a game of chess. Strength and skill isnt enough to make you elite.
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