Jon "Bones" Jones has displaced the legendary Anderson Silva as pound-for-pound the best MMA fighter on the planet. But is there a way to pierce the armor of the UFC Light Heavyweight champ and cash with a big underdog in your UFC picks?
So What Will it Take to Beat Jones?
Here's the short answer - maybe a few hellfire missiles and a team of Navy Seals. Yes, Jon Bones Jones is that good. In the interest of full disclosure I have been about as giddy as a school girl since the first time I saw Jones wreak havoc in the cage. And that was before there was even a bandwagon to jump on and long before it then became chic to bash him. I am still not clear why anyone has a hate on for Jones other than it allows them to say, sometime in the future, "See, I told ya he sucked!" Idiots.
All Jones has done is repeatedly decimate the competition. And for those of you who may be new to the sport and only casually aware of Jones' growing legacy, you may very well be wondering why we ask what will it take to defeat Jones when, according to his 19-1 record, we should already know. That lone blemish on what should be a perfect record came in 2009 courtesy of the outlawed midnight-to-six elbow strikes.
Jon Jones was in the midst of destroying everyone and everything that blocked his path to a title shot when he took on renowned wrestler Matt Hamill. It was business as usual when Jones carved up and then mounted a bloodied and battered Hamill midway through the opening round. The outcome was a fait accompli as the referee waited for a bit more punishment to be dealt before he signaled the end. Unfortunately, Jones decided to speed up the process by employing several laser locked elbow strikes on the exposed forehead of a prone Matt Hamill. Because Hamill could not continue, instead of a point being deducted, Jones was disqualified and Hamill declared the "winner" who was too badly beaten to even get his hand raised. If that's how you beat Jones, then who really wants to?!
Again, I am not sure who these guys are but can only suspect they are somewhere between the ages of 16-25, replete with Tapout gear and temporary tattoos. The knock on Jones was that he had never been touched, therefore until he took a potent punch, kick, knee or elbow we wouldn't know if he was Superman or Wonder Woman. Now I don't know about you but I think it is pretty close to remarkable that a fighter can go toe-to-toe with the most dangerous men on the face of the Earth and exit each fight not only as a convincing winner but look as though he merely went for a light jog in the process.
But that knock on Jones has recently been dispelled because of a rangy Swede aptly nicknamed the Mauler. For the first time, someone not only touched Jon Jones but gave him the fight of his life which, not so coincidentally, became the 2013 Fight of the Year. Yes, Alexander Gustafsson gave Jones all he could handle and then some. However, Jones retained his crown and despite the objections of some of those same critics, the bitter clingers as I call them, he did win the fight and the unanimous decision rendered by the judges was indeed the correct verdict.
But Did Gustafsson Finally Expose Jones' Weakness?
While my admiration and respect for Jon Jones' martial artistry is unabashed I cannot let it blind me to the point of lunacy. Gustafsson, a boxer by trade and a man known for his stand-up, deftly and repeatedly stymied Jones' takedown attempts. It was the pivotal reason why Jones could not control the pace and tempo of the fight. In addition, Jones finally met someone who was equally as lethal with his hands. Had the champ been able to bring the fight to the mat, Gustafsson may have suffered a case of déjà vu considering his only loss was via an anaconda choke by Phil Davis.
So yes, Jones does have a weakness and that hole in his game was exposed by the sublime takedown defense evidenced by Gustafsson. Jones could not take Gustafsson to the canvas until round five and it would prove to be the only takedown in 10 attempts. We also know that Jones can be outboxed. It's no secret Jones was affected throughout the fight by a cut over his right eye in the opening round but that's just part of life when you're a professional fighter. However, Jones did land better kicks, knees and elbows throughout even though Gustafsson had the advantage in pure punches landed until the champion dominated all aspects in the fifth and final round.
The Gustafsson fight will serve as a blueprint to each and every fighter trying to wrest the crown from Jones' proud head. Glover Teixeira is next on the champ's dance card but he is not as explosive with his fists as Gustafsson though he is far better equipped to tangle with Jones on the ground. Right now, nobody has been able to do to Jones on the ground what Gustafsson did standing up. I don't see Teixeira being able to do that either and I'm not so sure Teixeira even wants any part of Jones on the mat. He will probably try to land a big shot that will buckle Jones which will lead to an opening. Good luck with that. Teixeira is not the code red threat that Gustafsson is and shouldn't last too long, assuming Jones is completely recovered from his war with the Mauler.
As of this moment, Daniel Cormier may have the best chance at shocking the MMA world. He is a brutal puncher and may have even more raw power than Gustafsson though he does not possess the same pure boxing ability. If Cormier has a takedown defense as substantial as Gustafsson's then perhaps anything is possible.
Does Jones Learn and Get Even Better?
This is the million dollar question. Does Jones go back to trainer Greg Jackson and incredulously ask, "What the hell happened?" After all, it is Jackson's job to prepare his fighter for the challenges posed by his opponent. But to be fair, nobody ever saw Gustafsson execute a takedown defense with such alacrity and precision before. Yet, how could a glorified boxer so thoroughly frustrate a grappler of Jones' skill and pedigree?
And another thing as long as we are asking questions. What about the champ's ability, or inability in this case, to keep Gustafsson at bay when the fight was standing? Jones took some murderous punches, though gamely weathered the storm, yet he was unable to frustrate Gustafsson by avoiding the blows and counterpunching with his own lethal brand of leather. If it were not for his ability to land kicks, elbows and knees this fight may have had a different outcome.
Jon Jones will either turn to Greg Jackson and together rewrite their own version of Sun Tzu's The Art of War as it pertains to the Octagon or he will allow the shadow of doubt and the specter of a shattered aura of invincibility to stealthily seize his psyche like a malignant tumor. I don't see Jones as a guy who runs from challenges. Jones is already a ground shattering, record breaking legend-in-the-making and this legend has no plans to fade for our UFC picks - just yet.