Have you folks heard? Jon Jones is fighting this weekend in Toronto. The guy he's fighting? Yeah, he's a threat. For real.
Well, no, he's not really a better striker.
No, actually he's not a better wrestler either.
Couldn't say he's a better grappler, exactly. No. No, definitely not.
You're skeptical, you say?
Well then. He, ah...he is very tall. So there's that.
Alexander Gustafsson, the man tapped to face the best fighter to ever sling leather at 205 pounds, is essentially a challenge because he's tall. Yes, that's why the UFC thinks you should pay $60 to watch him opposite Jones.
If that seems like it's a hard sell, that's because it is. You can go out and make a cool poster and show the champion eye-to-eye in a stare-down for a change, but at the end of the day, you're still putting lipstick on a pig.
No one in the history of the universe has ever successfully used just plain tall as an offensive weapon. That's the unfortunate reality if you're a fan of Gustafsson or the man himself.
For Jones, it's a fight he basically handpicked after years tiring to the sounds of people demanding he pick on someone his own size. Ignorance to the weigh-in practice aside, this has never really been a fair criticism of the champion. The man is built as he's built, and he fights whom he fights as a result. People can't expect the UFC to cut the man's arms off at the elbow just to negate his reach advantage and make things less frustrating for the haters.
Jones, however, has never been trumpeted for his thick skin. So when the chance to fight a Viking giant with only one loss on his record came up, he took it. The fact that said giant is more or less born to be canon fodder for him was simply a happy accident.
As noted, Gustafsson isn't better at any aspect of the game than Jones. He's not a better striker, he's certainly not a better wrestler, and in terms of applying the skill set to MMA, he's not a better grappler.
He's literally just a tall guy with a good record that Jones can steamroll on his way to quieting a collection of detractors.
Sure, Gustafsson does some things well. He's rangy (obviously) and has an alright jab. However, his technical acumen is being way oversold by people wanting to believe he's got a hope, and the higher the caliber of competition, the less killer his instinct seems to have become. Plus, his only loss came to Phil Davis, a long, athletic wrestler, who is, in a lot of ways, Jon Jones Lite.
Against the champion, a man who has shown a tireless commitment to game plans that allow him to seize moments of great violence, those facts are a death knell. There's a big difference between choking midcard fighters senseless and trying to beat the man currently defining a new generation of combat athletes.
This era, the Jones Era, isn't going to last forever. No era does. Somebody will eventually have an answer for him and for the tools he has at his disposal.
But it ain't Alexander Gustafsson, because it's going to take more than being tall.