For all the controversy surrounding UFC 232, the main event played out exactly as expected. Jon Jones still looked dominant, beating Alexander Gustafsson inside of three rounds. Juicing or not, his performance tonight was surgical.
Learning on the job
The reason it’s hard to beat Jones isn’t that he’s a flawless fighter. Without getting religious or romantic, nobody is perfect. Jones rarely defends his body, depending more on his clinch-fighting ability as a deterrent. He doesn’t have the fluidity or hand speed for extended punching combinations.
No, the reason Jon Jones is so hard to beat is that he constantly adapts.
In the first Gustafsson fight, the Swede used his great stride length and speed to box Jones up. No matter how hard he tried, Jones couldn’t match his hands. But the champion realized that Gus habitually dipped his head and circled in the same direction. And in the fourth and fifth rounds, he rolled Gustafsson.
All of a sudden, Jones was crushing Gustafsson with extraordinary shots. Low percentage strikes like spinning elbows, spinning kicks and head-kicks were landing flush with little trouble. For all of Gustafsson’s hard work, it only took 15 minutes for Jones to figure out how to counter him.
Gustafsson’s strengths and weaknesses have remained the same throughout the majority of his career.
If allowed to skip on the outside and land boxing combinations, he can pick apart world class competition. He’ll land vicious knees against opponents on the fence and can out-wrestle striking specialists. But if forced to work defensively in the clinch, Gus tires spectacularly. When he does gas, he lacks a big weapon to change the momentum of a fight.
None of that changed between the first Jones fight and this one. Believing Gustafsson stood a chance in this fight meant assuming that Jones would forget everything he learned the first time around.
From the opening exchanges, it was clear that Jones was out of Gustafsson’s league.
Jones circled away from Gustafsson’s quick left, leaving him pawing at the air with his left hook. And yet, Gustafsson lacks the kind of booming overhand hook you need to prevent circling. When Jones clinched, Gustafsson struggled to wrench himself free as he ate knees to the body and elbows to the head. If Gustafsson focused too intently on landing, Jones kept him honest with thudding kicks to the body and legs.
When round three started, Gus was already beaten. He was weary, hadn’t landed any shot of significance and had no answer for Jones’ offense. If anything, Jones’ takedown and the subsequent stoppage was merciful. There truly is nothing left at light heavyweight for Jones. People have attempted to market Anthony Smith as a legitimate contender after his comeback over Volkan Oezdemir… but that’s a reach.
Move up to heavyweight. Pack 20-30 pounds onto that freakish frame and beat up the big boys. The fighters may be larger at heavyweight but they are less skilled on average, and it would make for great television to see Jones slicing them apart on the ground. Plus, he’ll get a chance to get a trio of victories over Daniel Cormier and further grind his boot into his neck. Go chase the legacy that you probably already irreparably wounded.
Because that fight was boring. Not because Jones fought so poorly, but because he fought so well. Give the man a challenge.