Jon “Bones” Jones has looked all but unstoppable at 205 pounds. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is finally forcing light heavyweight champion Jon Jones to pick on someone his own size and someone his own age. Physically speaking, at least, Alexander Gustafsson is the most even matchup ever for Jones, as the two will face off in the UFC 165 main event on Saturday in Toronto. The freakish size and abilities of Jones have been more than enough to overcome a long list of the division’s best fighters, often with violent consequences. Now facing his most evenly sized opponent, should we assume the matchup is even, too? We will have to look closer at the numbers to see.
The Tale of Tape confirms what the UFC has been advertising in the buildup to UFC 165: Gustafsson is a big dude. He is taller than the champion, and despite recently debunking previous UFC Tales of the Tape that claimed his reach was only 76.5 inches, he is still at a reach disadvantage by several inches here. The thing about reach is that it is only useful if you use it properly. Rangy fighters that use their reach well often have good accuracy and cage control on offense, along with good striking defense. Reach can be more about the jab than it is about the power hand. While the tape here only shows a mild reach differential, the two fighters are indeed fairly evenly matched in age, experience, records and even finishing rate.
One interesting side note is the long layoff for the challenger, who had a bout cancelled at the last minute back in April. Given the nature of the injury -- he was cut over the eye -- and Gustafsson’s youth, it is unlikely that cage rust will be a factor. What is more surprising is the fast turnaround time for Jones given his grizzly toe injury suffered during his fight against Chael Sonnen. Did he have time to get in a full camp to prepare? Given their similar profiles, perhaps the striking stats will be more differentiating.
Here is where things get interesting. Jones has been very precise with his jab, while demonstrating excellent striking defense; both are indicative of good range control. Gustafsson has a less-than-average jab accuracy and has shown poor striking defense. Gustafsson’s willingness to eat jabs is his worst metric, and long-range striking is the biggest divergence we have from this analysis. Both fighters tend to outwork their opponents, and Gustafsson has done so at twice the rate.
Will Gustafsson change his game plan to account for Jones’ size? Gustafsson has faced long-range fighters before: Cyrille Diabate and Phil Davis both had 81-inch reaches. While Gustafsson was able to overcome Diabate -- the Frenchman was much older and physically outclassed -- he was submitted by Davis, who brought better grappling skills to the Octagon. If Gustafsson tries to press the pace against the champion, his poor striking defense represents a big and exploitable hole in his armor against a longer and more precise striker like Jones.
Though Gustafsson has effectively used the clinch in the past to neutralize dangerous strikers, doing so against Jones could invite some of the champ’s notoriously explosive takedowns. The two fighters have similar striking metrics from the clinch, so the more important battle will be in their takedown attempts. Both fighters use them often against the cage, which brings us to the grappling matchup.
The similarities in the matchup also extend to grappling. Both fighters attempt takedowns at nearly identical and average rates, but Jones’ success rate is higher than Gustafsson’s and much higher than the division average. They both have good takedown defense, but to date, no one has successfully landed a takedown on Jones. Both fighters have generally been in control on the ground, although Jones is also perfect statistically in this category. Should Gustafsson become the first man to take down Jones and put him on his back, we will all have to sit back and see how “Bones” reacts to this new predicament.
In offensive metrics, Gustafsson has been more active in advancing position and attempting submissions. Jones, on the other hand, has had a much higher striking ratio and has been quite effective even from full guard. Although Gustafsson has attempted submissions at a more frequent rate, he only has two finishes via traditional tapout, both by rear-naked choke. Jones has submitted several Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts and has scored a diverse range of submissions, including a walk-off power guillotine choke of Lyoto Machida that was as intimidating as any knockout. While the overall metrics are close, Jones is more likely to gain top control in this fight and is also the more dangerous submission artist.
The Final Word
Another Jones title defense brings with it another runaway betting line for the champ. Currently priced at -800, the market is putting an implied probability of 89 percent on Jones winning. However, the stats reveal a fairly even matchup, with a slight advantages to Jones in several categories. When evaluating their historical performance, it is also worth recognizing the strength of schedule that Jones has faced compared to Gustafsson. Jones has finished top-level opponents like Machida, Sonnen, Mauricio Rua and Vitor Belfort, and he has done so with an impressive mix of striking and submissions. Gustafsson has a few overlapping victories but generally has not faced the same level of talent. Comparing somewhat even performance metrics should also factor into this historical perspective.
What do you think? Can Gustafsson step up to this much bigger challenge? Is the betting line ridiculous for these two light heavyweights? Will Jones’ championship experience and finishing instinct be too much for the still-improving Swede? Is there any metric you think will be the biggest clue as to how this fight plays out?
In October we will look at UFC 166, where heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez will meet Junior dos Santos for a third time.
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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