On Saturday, in Toronto, Ontario, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is holding UFC 165, which features the light-heavyweight championship bout between champion Jon “Bones” Jones (18-1) and Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson (15-1).
The light-heavyweight title fight will essentially come down to a tale of two Gustafssons. There is an adage that is common in the MMA and professional fighting that says that you are only as good as your last fight. Gustafsson should hope not.
In his most recent fight against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Gustafsson won a unanimous decision in a 3-round fight. The 205 pounder was competing against a competitor that has a reach only ½ inch greater than his own. The fight was very close until midway through the 2nd round. With two minutes left to go in the 5-minute round, Rua ran out of gas and started walking around with his hands at his hips. Part of his loss of steam may have been from the dives that he was taking at Gustafsson’s feet, attempting to submit him.
The striking of Gustafsson was also something of suspect. Because he was not leading into his combinations with much of a jab, if a jab at all, he was having a lot of trouble finding his distance and a lot of trouble connecting with anything of substance. Also, unlike in prior fights, Gustafsson allowed Rua to get inside of his arms and land some blows. Midway through the 2nd round, the two fighters were dead even in the amount of consequential strikes that they had landed.
However, in the fight before, Gustafsson beat Thiago Silva in a 3-round unanimous decision win where he looked much better. Granted he didn’t have Rua diving at his ankles trying to lock him into a submission as he did in his next fight but his striking was much better. He was effectively using his jab and his range to land hard shots. He was using great footwork to avoid the power of Silva and moved around like he was a 185 pounder.
Saturday, Gustafsson is dealing with a champion who is renowned for having techniques that are high flying, high power, and high damage strikes. Jon “Bones” Jones is the second longest running UFC current champion behind George St. Pierre and has made that trek so decisively. Since his one loss, which came by disqualification for what the referee called an illegal downward elbow, the champion has won 4 fights by knockout or technical knockout, 4 fights by submission, and has only gone to decision one, which he won unanimously. One of those knockouts was given to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua who the champion handled fairly easily.
So, for Gustafsson, his chances of winning boil down to which Gustafsson shows up for the bout.
Many people are saying that this fight may be the greatest challenge to the champion because their reach is so much more similar than those who the champion has fought in the past. However, if the Gustafsson who fought Rua shows up on Saturday, the champion will be dealing with a challenger who has an ineffectual use of his range and who is easy to get inside of for those spinning elbows, flying techniques, and whatever other acrobatic efforts the champ decides to pepper in. Jones has a 76 inch reach versus Gustafsson’s 77 reach advantage.
However, if the Gustafsson who fought Silva shows up, the dilemma will come as to who is going to chase who. In the Silva fight, Gustafsson circles very nicely, and changed his angles in his circling to allow him to cut in and pepper his shots. He entered on the jab and followed up with a lightening quick uppercut. He also stepped in often with a front kick, both to the body and to the head. Should the champ decide to fight off of his backfoot, he may fight it more difficult to land those powershots that come from the torque of a spin or the ability to fly.
Jones has also recently commented that he doesn’t think that Gustafsson has the cardio for a championship 5-round fight. In the Shogun Rua fight, Gustafsson tapered off quickly at the end of the 2nd round and spend a good amount of it recovering and killing the clock. Meanwhile in the Silva fight, Gustafsson was strong through the end of the fight and used his size, speed and quickness to capitalize on the positive cardio advantage over his opponent.
Should either fighter decide to take the fight to the ground… I don’t see this fight going to the ground.