Jon "Bones" Jones and Chael Sonnen will face each other in the cage in April following their opposing coaching stints on TUF beginning in January.
Articles about the bout make for interesting reading.
Whether the author is stating that Sonnen is undeserving of the fight or highlighting why Sonnen is overmatched in the bout, most seem to be viewing this as a fight for only ratings and money—a fight in which Jones is going to teach Sonnen a lesson for running his mouth.
I, however, don't see it that way.
Jon Jones has been a beast in the UFC. There is no other way of putting it.
His only blot on the page so far is the DQ loss handed to him for illegal elbows in his bout with Matt Hamill in December '09.
That loss aside, Jones has been relatively flawless in the UFC. He has even dispatched veteran fighters, and former champions, Mauricio Rua, Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans with relative ease.
Jones also solved the puzzles posed by Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort to come through and eventually dominate his bouts with them.
Simply put, Jones has looked better and better with each fight. He has looked so impressive that UFC president, Dana White, stated that Jones looked unbeatable after fighting back from a deep armbar to defeat Vitor Belfort in his last fight.
What About Sonnen?
Love him or hate him, Chael Sonnen comes to fight and entertain.
His pre-fight comments are often extremely entertaining whether he is trash talking his opponent or simply rambling on about his own greatness. He brings something that gets fans interested in the fight whether it be positive interest or wanting to see his mouth get shut for him.
On the fighting side, Sonnen is a very committed and dedicated fighter.
His conditioning is incredible as he is able to fight harder and harder in each round he competes in, which allows him to dictate the pace more and more as the fight wears on. This gives him the edge against many of his opponents who show fatigue with each passing round.
Even those with great conditioning show signs of weakening as the minutes add up.
This conditioning allows Sonnen to take advantage of his wrestling more and more as the fight progresses.
Who Will Win, and How?
Slower and weaker opponents are less able to stuff his takedown attempts, are less able to stop Sonnen from gaining dominant positions on the ground and their punches have less snap thereby not deterring him from bulling forward.
In his recent fights against Marquardt, the first Silva fight and Bisping, Sonnen's conditioning allowed him to increase his dominance as the respective fights wore on. Even Bisping, renowned for his conditioning, showed signs of fatigue while Sonnen appeared fresh and ready to continue fighting when their close bout ended.
As for quality of opposition, Sonnen has an extensive list of past opponents as he has competed in 40 MMA contests since his professional debut in 1997 and has fought full time as an MMA competitor since 2002.
Recent contests have included two bouts against arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time, Anderson Silva, and also bouts against perennial middleweight contender Michael Bisping and feared striker Brian Stann.
While Sonnen lost both bouts against Silva, he dominated their first meeting for almost the entire five rounds before succumbing to a late submission. In their second fight, he was once again able to take Silva down with relative ease throughout the first round.
Sonnen Brings Something Different for Jones
Jon Jones has taken on some fearsome strikers in the light heavyweight division in Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort. He silenced those questioning his ability to take big punches while staying on his feet and keeping to his game plan.
What Jones has not yet faced in UFC is a top level wrestler who uses his wrestling.
Sure, he's faced guys who can wrestle like Bader, Hamill and Matyushenko, but they're not really top draw wrestlers. The only top level wrestler Jones has faced was Rashad Evans, who wanted to stand and trade with Jones.
Facing Sonnen will mean Jones has to prepare for something totally different from anything he's faced before.
Sonnen will come with the game plan to take the fight to Jones, take Jones to the mat and dominate and control. Jones has not had to face this type of opponent and has not had to truly use his wrestling against a high caliber opponent in the UFC.
The challenge for Jones intrigues me. I, like many others, questioned Jones' ability to stand with punchers, to slip and move, to take shots, to still be able to fire back without being so tentative that he not fully commit to his striking.
Jones proved he can do that and do it with flair and attitude. Now, I want to see that he can bring—and execute—the right type of game plan against a different type of opponent.
Against a wrestler like Sonnen, Jones will have to be ready for an endless stream of takedown attempts. Jones will have to be alert and aware to stuff them.
The difference between facing Sonnen's takedowns and stuffing those he's already faced is that Sonnen will be relentless. It's one thing to be able to stuff a takedown a few times against a fighter who will become despondent at being stuffed time and time again and choose to stand with Jones instead.
Sonnen is not like this. He will stick to his gameplan, keep shooting for takedowns, and keep testing Jones' resolve.
For Jones, this will be a test that will require his constant focus and attention to his positioning.
It's extremely unlikely he will knock Sonnen out as Sonnen can take a tremendous punch and keep coming. Besides, Jones doesn't have true one punch knockout power.
Sonnen's constant grinding and battling will push Jones to the limits of his physical endurance as well as his focus.
As the fight wears on, if Jones begins to tire, Sonnen will look to punish him. He will look for an opening to show itself, a sign that Jones is not responding as quickly as before to a takedown attempt.
This is where my intrigue in the fight is piqued.
As I said before, we've seen the Jones who can slip and move with punches, the Jones who can respond with his own flurries, the Jones who can pounce on a grounded opponent and pepper him with elbows to get the win.
We have not, however, seen the Jones who can stave off repeated attacks from Sonnen. We have seen Jones dominate opponents with his array of strikes when they attempt to stand and strike with him, but none of them have taken him down and attempted to control him on the ground as Sonnen will.
I am very excited to see how Jones will respond. What strategy will his team come up with to nullify Sonnen's threat?
Who Will Win?
Having talked about the threat Sonnen brings being something new for Jones to overcome doesn't mean I think Sonnen will win.
Sonnen is a fierce competitor who brings a skill set that will trouble Jones—much more than people are anticipating.
Sonnen's wrestling will definitely bring the best out of Jones as he will have to focus on something other than a striker. I know his past opponents have had other facets to their games than striking, but the majority of what they attempted was to outstrike Jones, to defeat him with more power.
This fight intrigues me because it gives us the opportunity to look at a different aspect of Jones' game, an aspect I believe he will be more than able to display handily.
It's is comparable to when Rashad faced Phil Davis. Rashad faced an opponent who forced him to utilize the wrestling aspect of his game. In that fight, Rashad reminded us what an excellent wrestler he is. I believe Jones will do the same here.
Sonnen will take Jones down in this fight. Of that I have no doubt.
However, I think Jones' athletic ability and underrated strength will allow him to effectively maneuver himself out of trouble.
While I don't anticipate Jones to be able to knock Sonnen out, we have seen in the past that Sonnen's main weakness is to submissions. I believe Jones can get himself into the position to submit Sonnen, although he will have to put himself in harm's way to do so.
My prediction is that Jones will lose the first round on the mat, try to keep the fight standing in the second and submit Sonnen with a rear naked choke with about a minute remaining in the third.
What do you think?