Preview: UFC 232 ‘Jones vs. Gustafsson 2’

Jones vs. Gustafsson

By Tom Feely Dec 27, 2018

UFC 232 is now available on Amazon Prime.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship in recent years has gotten away from the usual beats on its calendar, but it has still gone out of its way to put on a memorable year-end card. UFC 232 on Saturday in Inglewood, California, ranks as one of the most stacked lineups of 2018. It features the most interesting fights available for two all-time greats in Jon Jones and Cristiane Justino, along with a few bouts that could determine top contenders in a given weight class. In general, every fight has some sort of appeal, from veterans trying to hang on and prospects trying to make a name for themselves to just dumb fun.

Here follows the UFC 232 “Jones vs. Gustafsson 2” breakdown:

UFC Light Heavyweight Championship

Jon Jones (22-1) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (18-4)

ODDS: Jones (-265), Gustafsson (+245)

Assuming things do not get derailed further -- the event was moved from Las Vegas to Englewood, California, due to a licensing issue involving Jones in Nevada -- in the next few days by a hit-and-run accident, cocaine, sexual-enhancement pills or just an old-fashioned failed steroids test, “Bones” returns to face one of his toughest challengers. Jones’ win over Gustafsson at UFC 165 remains the closest victory of his career, enough so that a rematch was initially the biggest fight available for him. The eventual Jones-Daniel Cormier blood feud only really got started once a Gustafsson injury took him out of contention. It was during the rivalry with Cormier that Jones’ mask finally came down, as the then-champion’s carefully crafted persona gave way to a much more complex picture, with Jones’ virtuosity inside of the cage setting up a support structure that never quite let him learn from his mistakes outside of it.

Over the course of the last few years, a dizzying barrage of self-inflicted pitfalls have antagonized Jones, ranging from traffic accidents and drug test failures to the admission that he kept winning despite not taking things seriously, including spending most of his time partying leading up to the first Gustafsson fight. However, because Jones is a draw and a generational talent, he seems to be made of Teflon. Managers, promoters and governing bodies are more than willing to let him fight, and from there, Jones has taken on all comers with little problem, including two one-sided wins over a fellow all-time great in Cormier. The second of those victories was changed to a no-contest after Jones failed an in-competition steroid test. He was handed a reduced sentence despite little in the way of evidence clearing him. Now, for the third time in as many years, the time has come for Jones to answer some questions after a long layoff of his own doing, and then we will see exactly how he finds a way to put himself back on the shelf.

As for Gustafsson, he has actually managed to remain almost as inactive as Jones. Since their first fight, Gustafsson has fought five times to Jones’ four, and he is actually the fighter coming off of the longer layoff. It has been a rough few years for the Swede since a knee injury took him out of their slated rematch. Anthony Johnson knocked out Gustafsson at an event in Stockholm -- which, thanks to the vacuum caused by Jones’ 2015 hit-and-run accident, still resulted in Gustafsson getting a title shot -- and then teased retirement after losing a close championship bout to Cormier. While Gustafsson’s return bout against Jan Blachowicz resulted in a flat performance, he looked close to the best form of his career in his most recent outing -- a four-plus-round drubbing of Glover Teixeira in which “The Mauler” showcased some brutally precise striking. With Cormier having returned to heavyweight, Gustafsson’s performance against Teixeira, long ago as it was, has cemented the Swede as the clear second-best fighter in the UFC’s light heavyweight division; and combined with the unique challenges that his frame represents, he remains the one man on the horizon who can hand Jones his first real loss.

The first fight was promoted centrally around Gustafsson being the first man who could come close to matching Jones’ reach, and while it was mocked in the moment, it actually mattered and could cause Jones some problems in the rematch. Jones tends to fight either inside or outside, shifting from an elite clinch game to a range striking game where he can use his long arms to keep his opponent at bay. Given that Gustafsson has his own long frame and can still hit Jones from the outside, it robs Jones of that refuge, taking away the former champion’s ability to dictate the terms of the fight. Even if Jones comes into this bout fully motivated, rust figures to be a factor, so it would not be a shock to see Gustafsson take the advantage in the early rounds while his counterpart tries to find his rhythm against a uniquely difficult opponent.

It is also not hard to see Jones still having a ton of successful moments, even as he figures things out. Gustafsson has never been particularly good defensively, and given that Jones showed a willingness against Cormier to do some work to the body in the hopes of it paying dividends later, he could easily replicate the same game plan here and win the later rounds. There is also a chance that Jones just decides that Gustafsson is not going to scare him off and decides to cause a bunch of damage in the clinch. Again, the style matchup favors Gustafsson and Jones has to shake off the rust, but at the end of the day, this is an all-time great who should be motivated; and he has already had five rounds to feel out his opponent. Once the switch flips for Jones, this could get one-sided. The pick is Jones via fifth-round stoppage.

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