The UFC announced Tuesday that light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will defend his title against Chael Sonnen in April after coaching against the Oregonian during the 17th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” on the FX network.
Jones was offered and declined a fight with Sonnen on eight days’ notice ahead of UFC 151. “Bones” had initially been slated to face Dan Henderson at the Sept. 1 event, but Henderson withdrew from the booking due to injury, leaving the UFC without an opponent for Jones just one week out from the show. With no suitable main event available, the promotion canceled UFC 151 and re-booked Jones three weeks later at UFC 152, where he submitted Vitor Belfort in the fourth round to retain his belt.
Now, the champion will meet Sonnen within the confines of the reality show, which begins shooting in just two weeks. Most expect Sonnen’s silver tongue to be put to full use during the upcoming season, a fact that Jackson says may not behoove the challenger come fight night.
“I certainly don’t think it would be a wise strategy to get Jon really mad, but that’s something [Sonnen will] have to decide for himself. When you get into Jon’s face, that’s definitely when he performs the best, for sure,” Jackson said during his Tuesday appearance on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Cheap Seats” program. “[Jones is] very articulate, and he gets right to the point. It’s just that trash-talking isn’t usually his thing, but Jon is going to be one of the greatest fighters ever. That’s my belief. He’s something special, and he’s going to be at the top of the heap.”
While many might shy away from an opportunity to engage in a war of words with Sonnen -- a man known for his pre-fight banter -- Jones’ head trainer believes that the experience of going tete-a-tete with the two-time middleweight title challenger will only make “Bones” stronger.
“One thing about Jon Jones is that he is incredibly mentally tough. I think he’s going to learn from it and grow from it,” said Jackson. “You never want to underestimate Jon, because he is so mentally strong and very smart. I think it’s just going to make him tougher, especially mentally, to have to deal with all the stuff that will come along with the show.”
During the show’s taping, Jackson says he will play a similar role as he has in the past when one of his fighters has snagged a coaching gig on the UFC’s long-running series.
“What I did to help out Rashad [Evans] and [Georges St. Pierre] was to come in and set up the structure and then let the other coaches -- who are much better than I am -- let them shine,” said Jackson. “Then, when I had a little time, I would come in and help out here and there, and that’s probably what’s going to happen again. I just don’t have the time to spend away from Albuquerque. There are too many people on our team counting on me and [Mike] Winkeljohn [for either of us] to go anywhere for any extended period of time.”
Regarding the actual title fight, some have written Sonnen off as a non-threat to Jones’ throne, an opinion with which Jackson does not agree.
“I always feel that everybody has a legitimate chance, because it’s MMA. It [may not be] very likely, but there is no such thing as 100 percent. You have to believe that, because you have to stay hungry,” said Jackson. “If you [think], ‘Well, I’m just going to beat this guy,’ that’s usually the time that you get beat yourself. My job is just to make sure that we can get those chances as much as we can into Jon’s favor.
“Sonnen is a great fighter. I’ve been in the trenches against Sonnen several times and seen what he is capable of when he is on, and [I’ve seen] what he does well. I would never disrespect Sonnen by saying, ‘Jon will roll right over this guy. That’s a gimme fight.’ Those fights don’t exist,” Jackson continued. “I’ve been a veteran of this sport for 20 years. I’ve done more corners than anybody, by far. I’ve seen examples of things that we should have 100-percent won -- just walked over people -- and it’s either a tough fight, or we lose.”
Jackson also believes that Sonnen’s style presents unique challenges when compared with fighters against which Jones has previously competed in the Octagon.
“[Sonnen is] a heavy pressure fighter. He gets inside your range really well. People like Rashad are amazing fighters, but they play on the outside and then hit these wicked, very fast shots. Sonnen is a guy who is left-handed, and he brings a different kind of style than what Jon has faced before, which is exciting for both myself and Jon,” said Jackson. “[Sonnen’s] grinding, in-your-face style can be nullified. There’s no doubt we can nullify it, but it is a little bit different than everybody thinks it is. Losing to Anderson Silva twice doesn’t mean that [Sonnen] is washed up or that he’s not effective as a fighter. He’s actually a very good fighter, and he deserves a lot of respect.”