While the UFC has done an excellent job of promoting the animosity between training-partners-turned-foes for the upcoming title fight at UFC 145, there is more than meets the eye in the clash between UFC Light Heavyweight Champion “Bones” Jon Jones (15-1) and former champion “Suga” Rashad Evans (17-1-1). There is much ado about the “betrayals” and various “hurt feelings” however more should be said about the caliber of the fighters and the technical skill that will have to be shown in the victor of this fight.
Much has been said about the skill of Jon Jones, not only by this writer but by most writers, bloggers, and MMA fans worldwide. There is no hype when it comes to Jones – he is a great fighter who uses his size and speed to his advantage. However, in taking a closer look at his most recent bout, “The Dragon” Lyoto Machida (17-3) revealed a few ways to exploit the seemingly impenetrable force that is the reach and speed of Jones. In Round One, Machida was able to land multiple significant strikes at a time and make Jones move backwards. Another noteworthy facet of Jones’ potential shortcomings is that he rarely throws more than one strike at a time. While it may be a flashy and impressive spinning back kick or spinning elbow, he rarely throws combinations. Lyoto was able to exploit this and time his strikes which made it a little more difficult for the champion to get his timing. In the second round, Bones wised up and took Machida to the mat, and the result of this exchange was a well-placed elbow that cut “The Dragon” and changed the dynamic of the fight. Machida looked like a different fighter after this and Jones was able to put him away via Guillotine Choke shortly afterward.
Taking a tour of Jones’ victories will show a few consistencies. Using elbows on the ground ended fights with “The Hammer” Matt Hamill (10-4), “The Truth” Brandon Vera (12-5), and “The Janitor” Vladimir Matyushenko (26-6). He has submission victories against “Darth” Ryan Bader (14-2), “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (32-10), and Lyoto Machida. There are two things in common with these six victories, the first is that all of them ended on the ground with the exception of Machida, but it can be argued that the elbow is what actually finished that fight. The second is that all of them required him to out-wrestle his opponents, and not to necessarily out-strike them. In most fights in which his opponents come forward Jones can be seen using his reach advantage to back away and keep the distance. Rarely have we seen him counter-punch his way out of trouble. In “Shogun” Mauricio Rua’s (20-6) loss to Jones, he had the current champion on his heels simply by throwing multiple strikes. “Shogun” rarely landed anything, but he controlled the stand-up via aggression.
All of these things stated about Jones are why this fight should be more competitive than the average fan would think. Evans has solid, classical footwork and is the kind of aggressive striker that has made Jones look human before. However, unlike the strikers who have previously given the champ pause, he will be able to go toe-to-toe with Jones on the ground as wrestling is Evans’ bread and butter. He used his wrestling to defeat both Thiago Silva (14-3) and “Rampage” by shutting down their stand-up. If Evans took a look at the Machida fight then he will know that constant movement and punches in bunches will keep Jones off-balance. This will neutralize Jones’ reach and leave openings for “Suga’s” one-shot KO power, giving the smaller fighter an edge on the feet. All Evans has to do is avoid ending up underneath Jones on he mat where the champion can unload with his dangerous elbows and finish the bout. The odds rightly favor the larger and more athletic champion, but if anyone has the tools to score an upset, it’s Rashad Evans.