Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson: Head-to-Toe Breakdown
With his victory over Chael Sonnen at UFC 159, Jon Jones retained his light heavyweight title and further cemented himself as one of the best fighters on the planet.
It seems Jones will be on the shelf for at least a little while following the win, due to a toe injury suffered during the bout. But he already knows who he wants to take on when is he able to return: He wants Alexander Gustafsson.
Gustafsson has not competed since last December. He had been scheduled to compete opposite Gegard Mousasi earlier this month, but had to withdraw days before the fight because of a cut suffered in training. Had he fought and won the bout, he may have officially earned a shot at Jones.
Before Gustafsson's April mishap, perennial contender Lyoto Machida had already been cited as the next challenger for the title, but as we've learned many times in the past, such promises count for surprisingly little.
What's safe to say is that when Jones heals up, he will probably face one of Gustafsson or Machida in his return match, unless the dream scenario plays out and he is handed Anderson Silva. Since we've already seen Jones vs. Machida, Jones vs. Gustafsson seems the more intriguing bout between the two likeliest of possibilities.
How would such a match go?
Well, here we will take a look and examine how it would be likely to play out. We will assess which fighter has an edge in each of the striking, wrestling and submission areas of the game, and use those assessments to project the fight's probable winner.
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Gustafsson entered the UFC as a power-punching brawler, but has since added a dose of technique to his striking and has become doubly dangerous for it.
While the transition mirrors the learning curve many fighters experience, Gustafsson benefits from it in a big way, since he seems to have made the addition without sacrifice. Though more technical now than before, "The Mauler" continues to compete with the trademark aggression that has made him a fan favorite.
Both the Swede's hands and feet can be very damaging, making him a terror for anyone attempting to stand against him.
Jones came through the UFC ranks as a wrestler, but has not so quietly developed into a premiere striker as well. With a reach that gives him an inherent advantage over any light heavyweight opponent, and the smarts to employ it properly, he continues to make more accomplished standup fighters look middling.
Jones' striking prowess is attributable to more than length. His dynamic athleticism enables him to deliver quick blows from anywhere, and he generates real power in his punches, elbows, knees and kicks.
Some will surely disagree, but had Jones come from a strike-centric background and been considered a standup fighter from the get-go, there would be little debate.
When you match up the competition each man has fought inside the Octagon, Jones' strength of schedule blows Gustafsson's away, especially from a striking perspective.
Add in that he has eight inches of reach to hold over Gustafsson, and that Gustafsson would have to be wary of Jones' takedowns, and this one goes to "Bones."
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Once, you could have pointed to Gustafsson's wrestling as a definitive weakness, but those days are long gone. In his second fight under the UFC banner The Mauler was schooled by Phil Davis, which prompted him to seek council from the man who upstaged him—a move from which he has benefited greatly.
Still, he isn't a takedown machine. He mainly uses his wrestling in reverse to keep the action standing, though he did exhibit some good wrestling offense when he defeated Mauricio Rua last December.
Jones' tall and lanky build isn't typical for a wrestler, but there is no arguing with results. He still has never been taken down inside the Octagon, and has succeeded on 62 percent of offensive endeavors.
What's more is that Jones mixes in his wrestling with his striking very well, transitioning back and forth to keep opponents off balance.
Maybe he has never looked like Georges St-Pierre, taking guys down and keeping them there for five minutes at a time, but he's still been very effective. And once he gets an opponent down, that opponent is very much in danger of being stopped.
This one is pretty clear-cut. Gustafsson's wrestling is serviceable, though nothing special. Jones's wrestling is indeed quite special, and he uses it intelligently.
Basically, I see Jones as able to take Gustafsson down at a fairly successful rate. I do not, however, see Gustafsson becoming the first fighter to take down the champ.
Grappling and Submissions
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Like wrestling, this is an area of the game that has really developed for Gustafsson. In seven UFC wins he has garnered two submissions, just one less than the number of knockouts he's scored.
Furthermore, since suffering a submission loss to Phil Davis back in 2010, Gustafsson has never really been in trouble on the mat, and the fact that he has rolled with a dangerous guy in Mauricio Rua only adds weight to that fact.
It would be misleading to suggest Gustafsson is a world-class grappler, but he is good. Whether good is good enough to hang with Jones is the question.
Since becoming a UFC champion, three of Jones' five victories have come via submission. With long limbs and a varied arsenal of attacks, he is fast becoming one of the more dangerous, though still underrated submission fighters in the division, if not the sport.
Having never been on his back, how he operates from a disadvantageous position can only be hypothesized, but from the top, Jones has proven to be a capable finisher.
Defensively, he's only really found himself in trouble once—a close brush with an armbar against Vitor Belfort—and has never actually been stopped.
Grappling and submissions are things Gustafsson has come to do well, but at which Jones excels. That the wrestling edge also resides with Bones is concerning for Gustafsson, since both fighters' UFC submission wins have come from the top or neutral positions.
There is a real possibility that a fight between Jones and Gustafsson ends via submission, and in that case, it would almost certainly be Jones' hand raised.
The Bottom Line
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A well-rounded fighter whose point of the spear is his striking, Gustafsson would almost certainly look to keep a fight with Jones standing. He'd be at a reach disadvantage, but that handicap pales in comparison to what he'd be up against if he tried to make it a wrestling or grappling affair.
His power gives him a chance every time he competes, and when you compare the likelihood of Gustafsson upsetting Jones with that of other light heavyweights, he is right up there. But still, how good are his chances really?
There is a lot of talent at 205 lbs, but the gap between Jones and the field is immense. And that field includes Gustafsson.
I'd rate the matchup as close on the feet, though I give the nod to Jones there, and as for the rest of it, Jones is the clear winner.
Should this fight occur, I see Jones implementing a freewheeling style that incorporates a little bit of everything. I imagine he'd use his range to keep away from Gustafsson's power, and any time the Swede broke through the defenses Jones would try to take him down.
Jones is a nightmare matchup for Gustafsson. He's a nightmare matchup for anyone.
Projected result: Jones def. Gustafsson via submission, Round 3