Their game plans may differ greatly heading into UFC 159, but Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones will each have rudimentary objectives in mind when the cage door locks on April 27 in Newark, New Jersey.
Sonnen, a two-time middleweight title challenger and the current No. 1 light heavyweight contender, will perpetually look to floor the seemingly imperturbable "Bones," a Greco-Roman wizard who possesses unmatched length in both his arms and legs.
With a 10.5-inch reach disadvantage and significantly less dexterity in his striking game, Sonnen essentially has just one option—employing a pressure-heavy style that yields takedowns and subsequently leads to lengthy stretches of taxing ground-and-pound.
Unless he intends to reinvent himself in the time before the bout, “The American Gangster” has little choice but to pressure and wrestle, pressure and wrestle and then pressure and wrestle some more if he wants to have a chance to deal Jones his first legitimate setback.
Jones, conversely, will attempt to either engage in a strategic strikefest with the 35-year-old Oregonian—similar to the one he had with former Michigan State University wrestler Rashad Evans— or attempt to score takedowns from the clinch and then get busy slicing Sonnen up with his patented elbows.
Unfortunately for Sonnen, Jones possesses enough size, strength, skill and intelligence for sportsbook.com to legitimately deem him an 8-to-1 favorite (-800).
Akin to fellow elite wrestlers Daniel Cormier, Chris Weidman and Ben Askren, Jones has yet to surrender a takedown in 18 pro tilts. In 12 UFC scraps, Bones has amassed 23 floorings and scored 22 guard passes, facts that make the lopsided odds against Sonnen seem more reasonable.
And if Sonnen shoots lethargically and gives Jones an inch of his neck, the 25-year-old virtuoso won't hesitate to slap on a fight-ending choke.
Former light heavyweight champions Lyoto Machida and Quinton Jackson can both attest to the perils of allowing Bones’ anaconda-like forearms to slip under their chins. Machida had no inkling as to what had happened to him in a Jones’ guillotine until “Big” John McCarthy woke him up from a deep sleep, and Bones nearly rendered Jackson unconscious before the then 42-fight vet tapped out for just the second time in his career and the first time since 2001.
A long, rangy and extremely unorthodox Muay Thai practitioner, Jones has also out-struck each of his 12 UFC foes, another statistic that doesn't bode too well for the wrestle-heavy Sonnen.
Bones’ aforementioned stylistic advantages give him a glaring edge in perhaps the most significant area of expertise in the realm of MMA—the element of surprise. Sonnen has better-than-average boxing chops for the UFC, but if he can’t ground Jones, he simply can’t keep him guessing.
Jones, on the contrary, has mesmerized most of the division’s upper-echelon contenders with his extraordinary volatility. Bones’ aptitude for consistently landing risky strikes, engaging in the clinch at will and grounding opponents on a dime has made him downright frightening to prepare for.
But a plethora of apparent advantages didn’t stop Bones’ primary trainer, Greg Jackson, from voicing his opinion regarding Sonnen’s strengths via an interview with FightHub TV.
The matchups don’t really matter to me because it’s not my job to pick ‘em. I just have to solve the puzzle that’s in front of us, and it’s a tough puzzle. It’s actually I think going to be a tougher fight than people think. I don’t to take him lightly, (and) we’re going to go in ready to rock. He’s very, very good. He’s got great takedowns and great ground-and-pound, and his kickboxing isn’t bad either so it’s going to be a tough fight.