FanPost

Why Jones was justified (but not necesarily right) to turn down Sonnen

JM Brakes down why Chael Sonnen poses a great threat to Jones in a short notice fight.

Jon Jones has received a lot of slack for turning down a short notice fight with Chael Sonnen at (what would have been) UFC 151.

Many perfectly valid criticisms have been levied towards Jones. However, this article deals purely with the technical threat imposed by Sonnen's particular style of takedown and top control methodology. This analysis will show that it is not as simple as asserting that Chael is smaller + not a striker, while Jones has good takedown defence.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a fan of Jon Jones. I am not posting this to cut him any slack. I am posting because I would like to draw attention to technical peculiarities that have been overlooked.

Jack Slack, whom I personally believe is one of the best technical analysts in MMA, briefly commented on the matchup in an earlier post: http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2012/8/24/3264905/UFC-151-152-Jon-Jones-Lyoto-Machida-Vitor-Belfort-Chael-Sonnen.

He said:

"This should be obvious to almost everyone: Chael Sonnen is not a light heavyweight, not a striker, and not likely to be able to give Jon Jones any trouble on the feet. This is clearly a hilarious mismatch..."

And:

"Jon Jones trained a full camp for a 185lbs wrestler with a huge right hand, and he was asked to fight a 185lbs wrestler with little striking skill or punching power to speak of. When you boil it down to those facts, it's hard to side with Jon Jones."

The first quote bespeaks complete truth; Chael poses a minimal threat in the striking department and would walk in quite a bit smaller then Jones. However, Chael is not the same animal as Hendo when it comes to his specific takedown. Further, being smaller also means being faster, which, given Chael's takedown relies on speed and wrestling technique more than strength (a point I will demonstrate below), this might actually help him.


Chael's Takedowns


Below is a highlight video of some of Chael Sonnen's takedowns: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MZJHVccewo

Chael Sonnen UFC Takedown Highlight (via rangersfan11111)


I will be thoroughly referring to this video, so make sure you watch it before reading on.
Now, the thing to notice about Sonnen's takedowns is that, although he sometimes picks his opponents up for slam type takedowns, this occurs rarely and when he is particularly favourable positions for them. The majority of Chael's outside takedowns, and certainly the ones which he would use to threaten Jones, are what I shall hereafter call the 'spinning takedown' and 'diving takedown.'
The spinning takedown
I draw your attention to 0:22, 0:51 and 1:02. Note particularly the takedown of Anderson Silva.
Sonnen's main double leg takedown involves blocking the outside of an opponents knee and spinning/driving in a circular motion around the opponent. This is not a power takedown, it is a technique takedown. Jones' size advantage and Greco base (NOT freestyle base) will be of little avail in this situation. And, whether you like him or not, Chael has one of the fastest shots in the business and he is one of the best at setting them up from the outside. Anderson Silva couldn't stop Chael's takedowns for 6/7 rounds, which should demonstrate the point.
Dan Henderson uses Greco Roman takedowns and his shot is a power shot that involves pressing weight and driving forward. These takedowns are what Jones was prepared for.
It is helpful at this point to consider Rashad Evan's takedowns (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_T9pzpvc_bo). Rashad also uses his speed to cover the distance, but once he is there he relies on lift up slams and power driving to bring his opponent to the mat.
Jon Jones has openly admitted that his success comes from his immense preparation and his/Jackson's analysis of his opponents techniques. Chael's shot is very particular. While others do it occasionally, to prepare for that level of specialisation takes some time.



The diving takedown
I now draw your attention to the above video again, this time at points 0:33, 0:43, 1:43 and 1:48. This is Sonnen's other go-to takedown.
As you can see, he gets a hold of his opponents legs and then drives downwards to the ground. He does not try to pick them up or overpower his opponent. Rather, he drives against the ankles and tumbles them backwards. Upon grabbing the legs, he drives on a downward diagonal angle and drags (rather than a semi-horizontal drive like most power shooters).
Jon Jones is lanky fighter who carries his weight in his core. This is usually perfect to defend takedowns. However this 'diving' shot pressures the legs. Jones, as with Anderson Silva, does not carry much weight in his legs. Also, again, this is a speed and technique shot. Even if Jones throws his weight over Sonnen, with this takedown Jones will be dragged down (however, once on the floor he will be in a better position than if he had been taken down with the 'spinning' takedown).

Chael's Ground Game

Undoubtedly, Sonnen has some of the best top control in MMA. If Anderson Silva was mostly stuck when underneath him, that fact is assured. But this is not because he has some amazing power or weight advantage. His top control stems from keeping his body weight on the opponents head and upper body, and maintaining hip position.

When Jones is on his back, he uses powerful elbow strikes to hurt his opponent so that they open up. This creates room for him to work to the top (often simply via working outside underhooks etc).

However, with all Chael's weight on his chin, Jones couldn't throw his elbows. Have someone hold your head to the ground and try throw an elbow - you will realise that your neck structure forbids this. Alternatively, with Chael's weight very high on Jones he also could not throw his elbows.

Chael stays chest on chest, or chest on back and brakes from this briefly to strike when his opponent isn't hip escaping, abandoning the striking game immediately to re-establish position when they stop defending the strikes and begin moving.

I now shall provide a brief example:

Chael Sonnen Highlights (via TheEmperorMMA)

From 1:21 two clips partly demonstrate this.
Also, re watch both fights with Anderson and you will notice that when Sonnen is in ones guard at least one hand or forearm often remains on his opponents head.
Thus, Jones's back striking game is nullified.
There is a possibility of Jones submitting Sonnen of his back, but this is unlikely:
  • WHile Sonnen has often been submitted on top, this has been from high level BJJ black belts with excellent games off their backs. We are currently unaware off Jones' back game
  • Sonnen spent a long time preparing for Silva and practicing to defends submissions from the bottom, Jones has not spent any time lately focusing on throwing submissions from the bottom.

Therefore:

Sonnen does pose a substantial threat with his takedown and top control game. Hence, there is some substance in Jackson and Jones refusing the fight due to a lack of preparation.

When you listen to Greg Jackson and Jones' interviews as of late, they mention Chael having a 'different takedown'. This is what they meant. Jones did not want to risk fighting a highly technical shot and technical top game with no specific technical training.


That said, Jones was bigger, has a huge striking/length advantage and a good clinch game.


This analysis makes no comment on the decision. It merely illuminates the technical issue and reveals justifications that somewhat underlie it.


JM

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