When we last left our heroes...When Jon Jones burst onto the scene, MMA fans were awash with excitement. The kid seemed capable of anything, and it was nice to have some new blood amidst aging Pride veterans still mostly dominating the LHW scene. The hardcores considered it almost blasphemous to think Jones could so quickly come in and take Shogun's crown. How times change...
I kind of hate having this discussion here, about why people don't like Jones, and whether or not racism has anything to do with his unpopularity. But borrowing from Dave Strummer's comment (himself stealing from my thoughts), it is nonetheless interesting to ask 'what kind of personality can a black athlete can have in order to remain popular?'
While there's plenty of ammo for Jones' critics (being a certified drunk driver who could have put lives in harm's way hardly helps his case), it's unfair to any discussion on race to think that because the racism is not obvious, with no white sheets over the dim-witted heads to point at, that it is somehow beyond the scope of discourse. Chael Sonnen is a convicted felon with an attitude even Dana thinks has crossed the line, and yet the criticism doesn't seem to linger over him like it does for Jones, or many other fighters for that matter.
Then again, Jones is the LHW champion, and that's what we'll concentrate on. If Jones has lost any of the newcar sheen he once had, it's probably because his last three opponents have left fans wanting.
Sonnen, and Vitor Belfort have fought long stretches of their career at Middleweight. Rashad Evans probably should have been fighting at MW all along. The Sonnen fight was especially nonsensical, with the Belfort challenge practically neck and neck. Regardless of how we choose to view Jones' opposition, he is still just doing his job, and he's been doing it in dominating fashion.
On the quiet side of things, the 26 year old from Arboga, Sweden isn't receiving much fanfare. In addition to being given little chance. Which is odd, because Alexander represents a fantastic foil. For one, he is a certified Light Heavyweight. For as just plain bizarre as the UFC's promotional material for this event is...wait, can we talk about this for a second. What exactly was the logic to this one? Was it by accident that someone spliced some dumb Mountain Dew promo from the 90's onto the Jones/Gustafsson main event? Unbelievable.
Back to Gustafsson. He represents a unique challenge to Jones, not just because of his size, but because that like Jones, his size is merely a compliment to his technique.
What both men can do: Jones' abilities are well established. But the great thing about Jones is that he's never predictable. Against Belfort and Sonnen he decided to employ top control dominance. Against Evans, he made it a point to display his standing, tight elbows. Against Machida and Shogun, he let his boxing do the talking before revealing a submission game we know he's long had.
The guy can do it all. Spinning back elbows, submissions, drunken misconduct, you name it.
As for Gustafsson, one of the reasons why I like this fight so much is that Alex presents exactly the kind of no-nonsense game Jones hasn't seen. You're not gonna see him patty cake his way into landing counters (ala Machida, who is awesome, but who I think didn't benefit by going with his usual tactics), overthink how to land inside (ala Evans), or talk his way into opportunity (ala Sonnen). He's a massive LHW who chains his 1-2 combinations while relying on movement to land efficiently.
In a way this fight reminds me of Penn/Edgar. Like Penn, Jones is prone to toying with his opposition; not in an arrogant way, but in a patient ‘gets too reactive' way. Like Edgar, Gustafsson is always proactive. The fighters themselves are nothing alike except through their fight demeanor.
There's a very unique image of Jones stalking Gustafsson slowly, while Alex gets comfortable finding his rhythm backing up, lunging in with his left-right combination, and getting back out.
Gustafsson has some solid takedown defense, and even though I doubt he defends all night, his movement and agility combined with his strength in the clinch will make it much more difficult for Jones to get down then he's accustomed to.
What both men can't do: The shocker here is that Jones is not invincible. A human being, filled with blood, lungs, and religion? I know, who knew? One of the things we've seen thus far is that Jones still stands flat-footed. I like the question here about what happens when Jones, in his usual stance staying heavy on his lead leg, faces someone who can get inside more easily to take away the traditional advantage Jon has had over his opponents.
And I'm not just talking about reach. I'm talking about a striking game that is nimble enough to land inside while being prepared to defend against Jones' dangerous trip takedowns. On paper, Gustafsson has the ability to do this.
It's the rest I'm not so sure about. After all, Jones is an intelligent fighter. Being able to time Alex won't be a problem, and other aspect is that Gustafsson will likely remain open to the overhand right like he was against Shogun, who landed it with regularity.
X-Factor: Both guys are as durable as they come, so I'm not sure what the unknown variables are. I feel like Jones has a tendency to 'play with his food'. Despite his blistering offense, he's prone to doing too much calculation. It's served him well thus far, but I feel like if Jones were to lose, it would be while he wasn't "respecting his opponent". While this is incredibly difficult to measure, we did see it against Machida, when he started trying to mime Lyoto's movements, and was subsequently caught in one of the only rounds he's ever lost.
This is Gustafsson's best hope. Because otherwise Jones will just front kick, trip takedown, and spinning back elbow his way to victory.
Prediction: Jon Jones by Decision.