Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/UFC/Getty Images
The betting line favoring Jon Jones at UFC 152 on Saturday in Toronto is the second most skewed Ultimate Fighting Championship title fight in history. The only other championship bout with odds more extreme than -750 was at UFC 112, and it ended with Frankie Edgar’s epic upset of B.J. Penn.
With a history like this, it is hard to count anyone out of a fight, even a longshot underdog stepping up in weight on short notice like Vitor Belfort. Yet unlike Penn, the youthful champion, Jon Jones, has yet to show that he is even beatable.
What does it all mean? Everyone will have an opinion, but only some of you will be armed with the numbers. Let us see how these guys stack up on paper and in the critical performance metrics for the UFC 152 main event.
Tale of the Tape
The Tale of the Tape instantly tells of the significant physical differences between these two fighters. Jones is four inches taller, with more than a 10-inch reach advantage. However, Jones will not enjoy his usual southpaw/switch stance advantage, as Belfort will also come out as a southpaw. Overall, this is nothing new, since Jones is almost always the bigger, rangier fighter in his matchups. Jones also has two more brothers in the NFL than Belfort; it is just hard to argue with favorable genetics.
Still, what is more important here is the 10-year age differential. On average, fighters who are 10 years younger than their opponents win about two thirds of the time. The reason is that older fighters have less knockdown resiliency, a trend that really kicks in when fighters reach the age of 35. Belfort turned 35 in April and suffered his only true knockout loss against Anderson Silva two years ago. He is now stepping up two years later against a bigger, heavier champion who is just entering the front end of his peak physical age range.
The upside of age is experience, and Belfort brings a wealth of it into this matchup, having been one of the “old-school” UFC fighters of the pre-Zuffa era. Belfort won the UFC heavyweight tournament at UFC 12 in 1997. That night, he became the youngest fighter to win inside the UFC Octagon at the age of just 19. “The Phenom” returned to the Octagon in 2004, getting past Randy Couture for the UFC light heavyweight title at UFC 46. The record of youngest titleholder would eventually be taken by none other than Jones. This current run represents Belfort’s third stint under the UFC banner, and he has certainly swum through the rest of the MMA promotion ocean in between.
A few other items jump off the tape. One is the layoff. Fortunately for Belfort, he has had plenty of rest. His last fight looked like an easy run through of Anthony Johnson way back in January. He then suffered a hand injury, preventing him from completing his “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” coaching matchup against Wanderlei Silva at UFC 147. Injury aside, psychologically, Belfort has not had any recent hiccups, while Jones seems to have attracted nothing but controversy since his unanimous decision victory over Rashad Evans in April. Despite the lengthy layoffs, neither fighter will have had much time to prepare for the other. Another key question centers on whether or not Belfort will be in the right condition. He will not have to cut his usual weight, but he also may not have had a full camp to be at peak form.
The last stat to recognize here is the finish rate. Jones clearly has finishing instinct with his submissions, but even more impressive is Belfort’s 100 percent finish rate for his 10 UFC wins. Since returning to the Octagon in 2009, he has put away Rich Franklin, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Anthony Johnson, all in the first round and in a grand total of less than 10 minutes. Those victories were only interrupted by a single loss to “The Spider,” who also got right down to business with his trendsetting front kick knockout in the first round. For the record, Silva was doing front kicks before it was even cool; cue the Steven Seagal interview.
The Striking Matchup
Note: This data analysis excludes Belfort’s six UFC appearances during the 1990s.
The striking accuracy statistics reveal two very evenly matched, left-handed strikers. Both Jones and Belfort have a crisp jab, with about average power striking accuracy for light heavyweights. The biggest difference is that Jones tends to control the pace and mix in more jabs, while Belfort swings for the fences. Jones has definitely been controlling the pace of recent fights by using his size and a nearly even mix of jabs and power strikes. Belfort, on the other hand, throws a high mix of power strikes, averaging three power strikes for every jab.
In this matchup, Belfort will not be able to dictate the exchanges with Jones, though he is well equipped to counter strike. Mixed in with his martial arts background is some classic Shotokan karate, which has influenced his striking stance, as well as his wait-then-flurry style of striking. The last time Jones faced a Brazilian southpaw with that kind of style, the champion struggled in the first round against Lyoto Machida and ate some shots.
On defense, both fighters are better than average, but Belfort has shown very good recent evasiveness in avoiding jabs. Maintaining this against Jones’ lengthy reach will be a challenge. Against Rashad Evans, Jones effectively used his range to control the cage and pick apart his smaller opponent, out-landing Evans by more than a 2-to-1 ratio. Belfort is now training with Evans, presumably to figure out how to avoid this exact scenario.
If this goes to the clinch, Jones will have a huge advantage with his height and more accurate striking, plus the ability to work the kind of knees that eventually proved to be the end of Mauricio“Shogun” Rua. From the clinch, where most of his takedowns originate, Jones can also push the bout to the ground. This aspect of the fight will favor the champ significantly and also nullify Belfort’s most dangerous weapon.
When it comes to knockdown power, Belfort is the more dangerous striker. Like Jones, he has dropped opponents from a distance and from the clinch. However, keep in mind that the fight time for this part of the analysis has exactly double the Octagon minutes for Jones compared to Belfort, so the challenger has scored more knockdowns in half the fight time. The phrase “a puncher’s chance” keeps coming up in this matchup, and, with Belfort’s accuracy and knockdown power, he certainly has that chance and then some. Belfort even dabbled once in professional boxing, winning his debut by knockout. Even so, never underestimate Jones’ physical advantages. The champ has the size and range to control the action, and he has done so against other dangerous strikers like “Shogun” and Evans.
Surviving Belfort will require vigilance against his left hand. Jones needs to use kicks to establish range and keep Belfort guessing by mixing in the full range of his striking arsenal. Belfort, on the other hand, will be looking to dodge the initial entrance and counter hard, unless, of course, he gets taken down early in the fight. Let us see how they match up on the ground.
Takedowns and the Grappling Matchup
Note: This data analysis excludes Belfort’s six UFC appearances during the 1990s.
Belfort brings great experience into the cage, as well as black belts in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. However, coming from a wrestling base, Jones has shown freakish grappling skills. He has handled high-level wrestlers like Ryan Bader, Matt Hamill and Vladimir Matyushenko, as well as BJJ black belts in Machida and Rua.
The numbers show that Jones has done much more with his grappling in the UFC. He attempts takedowns at a much higher pace and has never been taken down himself. The champ will have the advantage getting this to the ground if that is where he wants to go. Once there, he has excelled at advancing to dominant position and making the most of it. Jones has outstruck opponents on the ground by an 11-to-1 ratio and secured four of seven submission attempts. No one has ever taken him down, let alone advanced position or attempted a submission on him.
Jones has won more of his fights in the UFC by submission than by strikes, while Belfort has been more notable for his hands than his grappling. The matchup here is far more skewed in Jones’ favor than the standing matchup, so one has to wonder: Will the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts game plan be to clinch and put Belfort on his back? Keep in mind that the explosive 35-year-old Belfort has not been tested over three rounds for five years, and, generally speaking, he has been on the losing end of decisions more often than not. If the Jones camp believes it can exploit Belfort’s cardio, expect the champ to use ground-and-pound and submissions early to wear down Belfort and nullify his greatest threat.
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The Final Word
Depending on where you look, Jones ranges from a -750 to -905 favorite. That means the market is basically saying he has a 90 percent chance of winning. History tells us that when a UFC title is on the line there are no guarantees. The numbers tell us the striking matchup could get interesting if Belfort stands his ground and fires his left, but they also suggest that Jones may try to take this down early and win it on the ground.
What do you think? Is this fight, as the odds suggest, the biggest layup yet for Jones, or does “The Phenom” make the most of his puncher’s chance and make history with another epic UFC title upset?
In October, we will take a look at how an even more skewed matchup looks on paper, as Silva and Stephan Bonnar step in on short notice as the main event for UFC 153 in Brazil.
Note: Raw data for the analysis was provided by, and in partnership with FightMetric. All analysis was performed by Reed Kuhn. Reed Kuhn, Fightnomics, FightMetric and Sherdog.com assume no responsibility for bets placed on fights, financial or otherwise.
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