Since he took the title, Jon Jones has faced three former-champions and sent them home with their regrets, leaving them to stare at the ceiling at night, replaying the fight in their head and trying to envision a different outcome; one where they emerge victorious.
Make no mistake about it, Jon Jones is for real.
But being “real” also means that there is always someone out there who can take what you have. Be it a bad stylistic match up, or just being hungrier, for every Ali there is a Frazier, for every Nogueira there is an Emelianenko, and so on.
The question is: does Jones have his foil in Dan Henderson?
If we know one thing about Henderson, it is that he has experienced it all in the fight game, and he is still game to fight, anyone, anytime.
He has had his mettle tested, and it has been found true.
As Jones implores Henderson to “keep it classy,” one cannot help but wonder if the champion is beginning to have doubts about himself. Trash talk is part of the game, and Rashad Evans clearly got under his skin before their fight at UFC 145.
In the cool and confident Henderson, Jones does not have a lot to worry about in the trash-talk department. He has got enough to worry about when it comes to Henderson as it is when they clash in the cage.
Let’s take a look and see why Henderson has a better chance at giving Jones sleepless nights of regret rather than vice versa.
Once again, the sheer size and length of Jon Jones and the leverage he can expertly employ gives him an edge in the department of strength.
Jones could easily fight at heavyweight, while Dan Henderson has made the middleweight limit with no problems in bouts past.
A natural light heavyweight, Henderson is going to be fighting a man who is stronger, especially when they tie up in the clinch.
It is one of Jones’ saving graces: being able to bully opponents around the cage, or toss them to the floor almost at will.
Will it be enough when he faces Henderson? Possibly, but Jones is not the first man Hendo has fought who was bigger and stronger than he is.
While Henderson may be mean and nasty enough to gut his way out of those situations, he still has a formidable challenge in front of him, and he will know it as soon as Jones gets his hands on him.
There are quite a few people who think the only reason why Jon Jones is able to throw opponents around like rag dolls and dominate them on the ground is because of his size and length.
For sure, both attributes help the champion considerably. But there is more to it than that.
Jones has a mind for wrestling, no doubt due to learning the finer points of technique as he learns what his body can do with them.
But to be perfectly blunt, it is his size, length and leverage that gives him the advantage in wrestling over Dan Henderson, and nothing more.
Henderson is the better wrestler on paper, but Jones has the advantage in the department when it comes to practical application.
Still, it is close.
Against almost anyone else, Jon Jones has held the high ground in the department of striking, blasting opponents from range, then hitting them with elbows and knees up close.
Against Dan Henderson, he is going to be scrapping against the grittiest, meanest slugger he has ever faced, mainly because Henderson has learned how to strike to the best of his ability.
Henderson has become damn near an expert at doing damage from any range, and he has got the skills to work his way inside, as long as he is not blinded by bloodlust.
This would be a bad time for Jones to try some of his more flashy maneuvers: the spinning back-fists and the spinning elbows, etc. Doing so against Henderson could see him eat a brutal counter that leaves him waking up just in time to see Dana White strapping the belt around Hendo’s waist.
This is one of those circumstances that experience and savvy trump distance and daring.
In the realm of striking, the advantage belongs to Henderson.
When Jon Jones fought Rashad Evans, he had his chin checked a few times, but stood strong and continued to do what he does best—keep Evans guessing—and retained his title.
For all the KO power that Evans possesses, Dan Henderson has more.
Few fighters have as much confidence in their ability to KO an opponent with one punch as Henderson does, but that’s really no surprise. To think he does not have brutal KO power would be contrary to our experience.
And the scary thing is, Henderson can KO an opponent with a hook, a straight, an uppercut, from almost any angle.
This is one area Jones is going to have to reckon with, unless he scores a highly unlikely stoppage early. Henderson is going to be looking to flatten the champion constantly, and he only needs one shot to do it.
If Jones wants to win this fight, he better take Henderson down as often as needed, because trying to throw leather against Hendo is going to be like bringing a knife to a gun fight.
If they go toe-to-toe, punch for punch, Henderson is going to win, probably via H-Bomb KO.
Once again, Dan Henderson has the advantage all day long.
In his storied career, Henderson has had his chin checked by some of the greatest, spanning many eras, and even though he has been stunned on more than a few occasions, he has never been flat-lined.
Jones has had his beard tested, but hardly at all. That’s not to say he has got a glass jaw, not at all. But while we still do not know what Jones is made of when it comes to taking brutal shots, we know what Henderson’s got.
Call it moxie, granite, or whatever else tickles your fancy, Henderson’s got enough of it for any three top fighters in the division, and that’s why he has got the edge when it comes to having a chin.
When it comes to cardio, it is another easy pick for Dan Henderson.
Jon Jones is the product of today’s intense training regimens, clearly possessing good cardio, but he has rarely had to go the full distance in an all out war, so we do not know how deep his gas tank runs.
For all practical purposes, Henderson is the “Iron Man” of MMA, second perhaps only to Nick Diaz.
Henderson has won tournaments where he has fought twice in one night (UFC 17) and in the RINGS organization, he fought five opponents over two events (two on one night, three on the other), defeating heavyweights Gilbert Yvel and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and light heavyweight stand out Renato “Babalu” Sobral at the second event to win the whole damn thing.
Of course, some may say he was gassed in his fantastic fight with Shogun, and they would be right. But it was not because he was out of shape; it was the energy both men were spending trying to wreck each other.
When it comes time to dig deep amid the blood and bruises and agony, Henderson has proven that he has got the stuff to do it.
While both Jon Jones and Dan Henderson are faster than the average bear, neither man is what you would consider a speed demon.
Where it is going to be really interesting is in which fighter is able to maintain his normal level of speed as the fight wears on, and which fighter will become slower with fatigue.
Both offensively and defensively, standing and on the ground, each man is quick, but not so quick as to give them a significant advantage over the other.
On paper, it seems about dead even.
One would think that given Dan Henderson’s level of experience that he would be a submissions expert by now.
One would also think that given Jon Jones’ inexperience that he would still be struggling in both applying submissions and defending against them.
In truth, it is the exact opposite, with Jones enjoying a much greater advantage in submissions than Henderson.
Maybe it is a Team Quest thing: those guys are monsters, but they do seem to have a tendency to fall prey to submissions more than their pedigree would warrant.
Once again, Jones has the mind for grappling and submissions, and when used with his longer frame, he is able to do things far beyond the norm for a fighter still new to the game.
Henderson needs to be protecting that neck of his at all costs, because if he falls prey to the same kind of hubris that saw him get choked out by Anderson Silva, Jones has the length and leverage to separate his head from his shoulders with one of his chokes.
You name the place; chances are Dan Henderson’s fought there. You pick a big name opponent; odds are Henderson’s fought them.
Jon Jones is clearly a bright light in the division; so good in fact he could be called a prodigy were it not for the physical advantages he has over anyone else at light heavyweight.
But there is nothing in the world that can replace experience, just like there is nothing more expensive than regret.
Henderson has had so many fights against so many big names that it almost boggles the mind. He has had more than his fair share of glory, and regret, and in truth he has forgotten more about fighting at the highest levels than Jones is likely to have learned by this time.
He has faced just about every style out there, and defeated just about every one, and that is why he has got the edge in experience.
But if Jones somehow manages to walk over Henderson like he has so many other greats, his legend is secure.
As length and leverage favor Jon Jones, finding that perfect window of opportunity for attack comes naturally to Dan Henderson.
Henderson’s sense of timing is one of the key advantages he has in any fight. If he is not pressured constantly, and gets his feet under him, he quickly finds his rhythm, and with that comes the timing.
Jones, as good as his timing is, finds most of his success because his opponents are so thrown off by his reach advantage that they do not know what to do, and thus go into a totally defensive posture at even the slightest feint.
Henderson’s sense of timing is natural; the byproduct of many fights against many styles of fighters and many body types.
Instead of developing a sense of timing specifically geared to each individual opponent, Henderson has developed a sense of timing that comes from within, built around his own awareness of his body and his keen eyes.
Odds are that if this fight goes past two rounds, Henderson is going to start finding more and more success at landing his punches, and that does not bode well for Jones.
This really needs little explanation, as the wingspan of Jones speaks for itself.
Dan Henderson must get inside on Jones, and he must do it often. If he does not, Jones will happily and easily blast him at range, all night long.
As tough as Henderson is, staying outside is going to see him take a brutal beating, and no matter how good his chin is, if he lets Jones do his thing, he’s going to be a bloody mess by the end of round three.
Jones is one of the rare fighters who actually use their length to the fullest. Other fighters have enjoyed much greater reach advantages in their divisions, but Jones puts it to use unlike anyone else, with brutal results.
Jones wins this easily if Henderson lets him work at distance.
This is really a case of young man with great aspirations fighting a great man with most of his aspirations realized.
Jon Jones has been under attack by his detractors for numerous reasons, and his message to Henderson, requesting he “keep it classy” speaks to the notion that the pressure swirling around the champ is heavier than he imagined it would be.
Dan Henderson, with all his years of experience in the biggest organizations, against the toughest fighters, eats pressure like candy on Halloween. He has seen it all and aside from capturing UFC gold, he has done it all, more than once.
His legacy is secure, while Jones’ is hanging in the balance.
If anyone is going to be walking into the cage with an easy feeling and all the confidence in the world, it is going to be Hendo.
In the end, all of this is nothing more than words on a computer screen.
I have said countless times that most writers are, by and large, lousy fight prognosticators, and that is especially true of me.
Still, there is something undeniably wild about Dan Henderson. He is a rare fighter; content with what he brings to any fray, because experience has taught him that he brings quite a lot.
He is humble without seeming weak, confident without seeming cocky, and above all, he is always there, marching forward more often than not, letting it all hang out; lessons Jon Jones could learn from to make his life a whole lot easier.
Jones has gotten a lot of flack in recent months due to what seems to be a genuine identity crisis. He has got incredible skills and natural gifts, and his future is brighter than anyone in the sport today.
But will it be enough against Henderson?