After coaching opposite each other on Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen will meet in the Octagon on April 27.
Of course, UFC President Dana White had wanted Jones to defend his light heavyweight title against Sonnen in September at UFC 151. The Jones camp turned the bout down, though, due to the short notice given after scheduled opponent Dan Henderson withdrew due to an injury.
Jones’ striking coach Mike Winkeljohn was involved in the decision. In a recent interview with the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” show, Winkeljohn discussed the matchup, why they didn’t take it in September and more.
On why Jones and his camp turned down Sonnen in September: “I guess looking back at it, we didn’t know the whole card was getting cancelled. If we would have known the whole card would get cancelled, that might have changed the decision. I honestly thought Jon would beat Chael no matter what, but it was one of those decisions that, at the moment, fight him now and it’s 85, 90 percent we’re going to beat this guy … but if you waited three weeks and you get to fight him, it’s 99.9 percent. I’m that confident. So I thought, gosh, let’s go that direction. That was our thought on it. You never know how long Chael had been training for the fight. There’s just all those things that are unknown. Go the safer route. We hadn’t been working on that kind of guy, that kind of aggressive wrestler with a hard left hand. We had been working on Dan Henderson, who’s totally different. He throws a big overhand right. He’s great inside the clinch with his Greco. He’s kind of a different fighter, so it just didn’t make sense.”
On how the decision was made: “Things would have changed if we had more information, and I think Greg [Jackson] made his right decision, that he thought it was best just to wait. I think Greg probably was a little more adamant about don’t do it. I think Izzy Martinez and myself thought we could win the fight no matter what, but all three of us sat down with Brandon Gibson, [Jones’] boxing coach, and we all sat down and said, ‘You know what? It’s probably best just to wait three weeks.’ We actually sat down together right after the phone call. Jon was coming up to work out with me at my other gym, and all the coaches all of a sudden showed up and kind of caught me off guard. We all sat down, and within 20 minutes we had that decision made.”
On viewing the decision in hindsight: “We all second guessed ourselves afterwards. I mean, there was no doubt, again we thought, three weeks later, no doubt we’d kill him, but why did Chael want this fight? Why was he tweeting early? Why was he three weeks ahead of time all of a sudden attacking Jon out of the blue? So we were thinking, man, maybe the guy’s put on a lot of mass? Maybe he’s worked on his game plan the whole time? He’s going to try to catch us off guard. Do we still win the fight? Probably, but you know what? Let’s not let him win that war. That’s dumb. Don’t give your enemy any advantage at all. Just destroy him at what you do, and that’s what we figured would be best.”
On the time Jones will have to train for Sonnen: “It’s time to develop new tools, and that’s what Jon’s done since he’s come into camp. I’m real blessed that this young man listens. He went from being mostly a wrestler to now he’s turning over to become a great striker in the division. He’s almost there. He’s almost at that Anderson Silva place where he’s going to start getting those one-punch, one-kick knockouts. Just wait. You haven’t seen anything yet.”
On Sonnen’s strengths: “He’s relentless. Pressure. He’s always going to be on you. He’s a smart guy. It’s that pressure, that pressure he comes to the table with. If the Chael Sonnen shows up that is relentless, it makes it a much harder fight. If it’s the Chael Sonnen that has shown up in a few other fights we’ve watched, it could be an easy fight. It just depends which Chael Sonnen shows up. How aggressive, how strong he is.”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 17:09).