As UFC 157 is now in the books, the table has been cleared and we can focus our attention on two bouts that give us high profile-fights from two of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the sport—Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones.
It’s always good for the fans and the sport when the big names take the stage, but this time around, things appear a little bit different.
Both GSP and Jones are highly favored—almost automatically—to defeat anyone they face in their divisions, and this time around is more of the same: GSP will be facing Nick Diaz at UFC 158, and Jones will be facing Chael Sonnen at UFC 159.
What is different, however, is that both GSP and Jones look to be enjoying an even greater advantage than normal…because both of their fights are mismatches to such a degree that they are favored to win much like Floyd Mayweather Jr. was favored to defeat Arturo Gatti.
None of this is to discount Nick Diaz or Chael Sonnen. It is simply a testament to the idea that in the realms of styles and the physical, both men are at a serious disadvantage against the champions they will be facing at UFC 158 and 159.
For Diaz, the problem is a simple one, previewed by the loss his little brother, Nate Diaz, suffered in his title bid against lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
Much like Nate, Nick is a very exciting fighter who has excellent hands and a dangerous jiu-jitsu game, but for all of his selling points, he still has a serious weakness in his game: wrestling and the takedowns that are part and parcel of that world.
Against GSP, Diaz will be facing the best takedown artist in the division—and arguably the best top game as well.
If that wasn’t enough to worry about, GSP is faster, much stronger, more explosive, well conditioned and has the kind of submission awareness that many good wrestlers simply don’t possess.
While Diaz has managed to roll up some impressive victories since his first departure from the UFC, he has yet to prove he can deal with the problems that come with facing fighters with a strong wrestling core.
A man like Diaz should never be discounted, but when you look at the title reign of GSP, the champion has proven that his skills and style are terribly hard to train for, let alone counter in a fight.
Of course, no one—not even the ardent fans of Diaz—expect him to defend those takedowns with any success.
They feel that the pressure Diaz puts forward in a fight will not allow GSP to win any of the striking exchanges, and once the champion takes him down, Diaz will simply use his dangerous guard and submissions to secure a victory from the floor.
While those are fine theories, they fail to take into account that the striking game of Diaz looks its best when takedowns aren’t a serious danger. When faced with the fact that planting his feet to punch is going to see him run to the ground, the striking game of Diaz is going to be far less effective than we’ve seen in the past.
Once on the ground, GSP possesses the kind of awareness and power that will let him see the submissions coming, and from there he can simply stand up and repeat the whole process.
And GSP can do this all night long, racking up points while doing damage from the top for as long as he finds it comfortable to do so.
On paper, the bout between GSP and Diaz seems to be about as drastic a mismatch and one could see in a calendar year in the sport, but then we have the case of Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen.
While Chael Sonnen has earned all the accolades of a fighter who has perhaps one of the best takedown games in the sport, he has enough weaknesses in his game that Jones could possibly blow him out of the water in a single round.
Against Jones, Sonnen must be perfect in every way. When they are on their feet and striking, he must be better than Brandon Vera, Quinton Jackson, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort—and in a striking contest, Sonnen would lose to all of those men, badly.
Of course, the same wisdom that could see GSP out-strike Diaz—the threat of a takedown—could see Sonnen out-strike Jones, in theory.
Sadly for Sonnen, his takedown game is going to have to overcome the length of Jones and his exceptional and unorthodox style of grappling, which is something Sonnen has never had to deal with before.
Taking Jones down is no easy feat to accomplish. It’s so hard to do that no one has ever been able to do it before.
Granted, no one Jones has ever faced will be so dogged and aggressive in the takedown attempts, but given that is really the only chance Sonnen has to even stay in the fight, let alone win, to think that Jones won’t see the takedown coming from a mile away isn’t realistic.
When they are clinched, the likelihood of a Sonnen takedown is very slim. Jones is simply too large and strong, and he uses leverage too well.
Sonnen is going to have to shoot in for takedowns, and while he can do this, everyone knows that for every shot that Sonnen commits to, should he fail, he’s going to wind up north-south, with Jones working that front headlock/top position, and that is somewhere Sonnen simply cannot afford to be.
Many have cried that the length of Jones is simply too much of an unfair advantage in the light heavyweight division, and in this fight, that point is probably going to be proven at Sonnen’s expense.
This is not some fight where he’s just going to be able to wait for Jones to throw a kick, grab the takedown and smother Jones from the top.
Odds are Jones isn’t going to be throwing many kicks at all, save perhaps for the later rounds.
Sonnen is going to have to be so perfect in his timing that every takedown succeeds and sees him land in a dominant position—outside of the guard of Jones—and then he’s going to have to be able to keep the bigger man under him all night long.
Can Sonnen be “perfect” for one night? Of course he can, but it is far more likely that he’s going to fail as much as he succeeds, and the punishment for failure against a fighter like Jones is usually immediate and severe.
Sonnen really has nothing to lose in this fight—all the pressure to win is on Jones, and being the underdog is never really a bad place to be.
But given that Sonnen is seriously outmatched in the areas of striking, submissions, length and youth, and that his only real chance at victory depends upon maintaining a level of perfection that sees him neutralize every superior aspect of an opponent that is perfectly suited to destroy him…well, if that species of Sonnen existed, he would be the UFC middleweight champion.
So, which title bout is the bigger mismatch?
For now, that remains nearly impossible to tell, but all things being equal, it would seem that Sonnen defeating Jones would be the bigger upset, especially when you consider that Sonnen is moving up in weight to contend against a much bigger man in a division he hasn’t fought in for more than a few years.
Either way, both Diaz and Sonnen—should you trust conventional wisdom—look to be huge underdogs in title fights where the champions have proven that contenders being anything less than excellent in all areas simply aren’t going to be enough.