The Film Room: Jon Jones

By Kevin Wilson Jul 2, 2019
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Jon Jones will return to the Octagon for the second time in 2019 to defend his Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title against Thiago Santos in the UFC 239 main event on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Though his career has been defined by the controversies surrounding him, but no one can deny his brilliance in the cage.

Jones steps into the spotlight in this installment of The Film Room.

Jones made his career on being the most well-rounded fighter in the division and possibly the entire sport. He is an ideal mix of technical prowess, aggression and unmatched length, making him the perfect fighting specimen. As a long and rangy fighter, most of his strikes can land while he stays out of range of the opponent’s returning strikes. His rear straight is his best and most used weapon on the feet, and he can utilize it proficiently out of both stances. On the lead, Jones likes to stalk his opponents and slowly walk them down with jabs, low kicks and consistent feints before throwing the rear straight down the middle. Notice the timing on these punches. Sometimes, he throws them at full speed and full power, and at other times, he throws them at half speed just to touch the opponent. This rhythm manipulation makes it incredibility difficult for the opponent to time his strikes.

Another technique upon which Jones has built his success are range-setting kicks. As a rangy fighter, Jones likes to stay on the outside and rarely gets pulled into a firefight in the pocket. He can still have success trading in the pocket, but he is smart enough to realize that his advantages are not found there. Jones popularized karate-style, low-line kicks to the thighs and shins in MMA, and they are the perfect strike for a long fighter looking to keep a manageable distance between himself and the opponent. Bruce Lee used to refer to the low-line kick as the longest strike to the nearest target, and that still holds true today. Not only are they difficult to avoid and counter, but they are also low-risk techniques for the fighter using them. They allow a fighter to maintain a solid base an immediately return to his stance, and they can be used as leading attacks or to counter aggressive opponents. Since Santos ranks as one of the most violent fighters in the UFC, expect to see plenty of these kicks from Jones.

Jones’ arm reach is discussed in every fight, but his leg reach is rarely mentioned despite being just as important to his striking. Most of Jones’ kicks are of the low-line variety, but he will occasionally switch them to the head and body. In his second fight with Daniel Cormier, Jones made an excellent read on the American Kickboxing Academy captain’s tendency to dip to his right when defending strikes. Instead of attacking this tendency early, Jones waited until he was walking backward and quickly threw the kick from an odd position so it was unexpected. He used this exact technique a few times in the first fight and perfected it in the rematch to score the knockout. Not many fighters throw kicks while retreating since it is difficult to find the space to plant your feet. Jones uses these retreating kicks in every fight, and they might work wonders against the aggressive Santos.

Jones might be the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time, but all fighters have imperfections. Before he delivered the knockout in his rematch with “DC,” Jones had a difficult time dealing with Cormier’s ability to cover distance and beat on him in the clinch. Jones has a magnificent clinch game, but Cormier still managed to get inside his guard and land clean uppercuts. Although he lost, Cormier created a possible blueprint for defeating Jones and showed the world that the champion does not always handle constant pressure well. To this day, Cormier is the only fighter to routinely rush into the pocket and stay in Jones’ face for an extended period of time, and the effectiveness of the tactic was there for all to see in their second fight. When facing Jones, it seems best for an opponent to put his technique behind him and attempt to turn the encounter into a dogfight. It appears as if the only way to beat Jones is to catch him off-guard, and simply rushing forward with wild strikes may present the optimal route.

Cormier showed the sport that Jones struggled to deal with pressure at times, but Alexander Gustafsson was the first man to make “Bones” look mortal. He was the first opponent who could match the Jackson-Wink MMA star’s length and used simple combos, perfect timing and Jones’ tendencies against him. Gustafsson was patient and waited for Jones to throw a kick, bite on a feinted jab or extend his lead hand before coming in with a 1-2 or lead hook. Gustafsson proved that much of the champion’s game revolved around his being the bigger and taller man. The Swede failed to fully capitalize on these openings and got blown out in the rematch, but we can still look back at their first confrontation as the first time we saw Jones in trouble.

Before MMA, Jones was a standout wrestler and won a junior college national championship at Iowa State Community College -- the same school for which Colby Covington, Cain Velasquez and Joe Soto once starred. Early in his MMA career, Jones grappled much more than he does today and showed he has some of the best control and ground-and-pound in the division. His use of elbows on the ground was particularly frightening. Since his arms are so long, he can land elbows from full guard when others would have to posture or pass.

Jones has not recorded a submission victory since 2012, but the threat remains and forces opponents to respect his grappling. He thrives against fellow strikers who are willing to play into his patient style, and since Santos does not figure to do so, it would not be surprising to see Jones try to get this fight to the ground. He should have the far superior grappling skills, so he may turn this fight into five rounds of wrestling just to be safe and avoid getting caught with a wild combination from the challenger. However, if we know anything about Jones, it is that he loves to beat his opponents at their own game. Advertisement
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