With just one controversial blemish on his sparkling record, Jon "Bones" Jones is arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in UFC today. That distinction will be on the line, as will his UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, on Saturday night when he takes on Alexander "The Mauler" Gustafsson at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The 26-year-old Jones is on a nine-fight winning streak, and it feels as though nothing can stop him at this point. Gustafsson has been impressive in his own right, however, as he sports a career record of 15-1 with six straight wins to his credit. The big Swede fully intends to upend Jones, and he could provided he carries out his game plan flawlessly.
Here is a closer look at the blueprint Gustafsson must follow in order to defeat UFC's biggest star on Saturday night.
Turn It into a Brawl
At 6'4" with a reach exceeding 84 inches, Jones is used to be being bigger than his opponents. He won't have that luxury against Gustafsson, though, as The Mauler stands 6'5". Jones will still have the reach advantage due to his freakishly long limbs, but Gustafsson can hold his own when it comes to striking. It can be argued that Gustafsson's quality of opponent hasn't been as impressive as Jones', but the numbers speak for themselves.
Of Gustafsson's wins, 15 of them have come by way of knockout, so he is clearly comfortable when it comes to trading punches. All of those knockouts have involved punches as well, which means Gustafsson's fists of fury could prove to be very dangerous. According to UFC's official Twitter account, Gustafsson is confident that he'll be able to get past Jones on Saturday.
In order for that to happen, getting the better of Jones in an upright position is absolutely paramount. Jones is an all-around fighter who excels at all aspects, whereas Gustafsson is unquestionably better at brawling than anything else. Jones may feel as though he can beat Gustafsson with his fists, but Gustafsson is proficient in that regard, and he has to be hopeful that Jones will play right into his hands.
Gustafsson is a big, powerful man, but the last thing he wants to do is chain grapple with Jones. The Swedish star isn't incompetent when it comes to mat wrestling, but only three of his wins have come by way of submission, so it isn't his strong suit. Jones, on the other hand, has six submission victories, and he has really improved in that area as of late as evidenced by the fact that three of his past five wins have been of the submission variety.
What is the biggest key to Gustafsson upsetting Jones?
Gustafsson's one career loss was via submission against Phil Davis, so he has tapped out before. Based on how good Jones has become as a submission fighter, Gustafsson could very well tap out again if he finds himself in a precarious position. The key for Gustafsson is to avoid ending up on the mat, which is easier said than done considering Jones' ability to take his opponents down. Still, Gustafsson has to do everything in his power to remain upright.
One of Gustafsson's biggest assets is his height, but that is taken away on the mat. Jones is fully cognizant of that, and he also knows how dangerous Gustafsson can be as a striker. Even if Gustafsson believes that he can hang in there with Jones from a submission standpoint, staying away from that area is a much safer proposition.
Go for the Knockout
Jones may be one of the best fighters in UFC, but he also happens to be one of the toughest. Because of that, it stands to reason that he will be very difficult to knock out.
With that said, it is even more difficult to go the distance with Jones and win on the scorecards. Jones has only gone to the scorecards on three occasions, but he has won decisively all three times, so Gustafsson's odds of victory in such a scenario are quite low.
Since Gustafsson is such an accomplished knockout fighter, he might as well stick with what has worked for him over the course of his career. Most of Gustafsson's knockouts have come against fighters that are far inferior to Jones, but the fact remains that a knockout is Gustafsson's most likely path to victory.
Knocking an opponent out is largely about intimidation, and while Jones hasn't shown that he is intimidated of Gustafsson during the build toward the fight, he gave Gustafsson his due recently, according to UFC on Instagram.
There is no guarantee that Gustafsson won't get knocked out if he goes for one in his own right, but it's a calculated risk that he needs to take. The odds aren't in Gustafsson's favor when it comes to going to the scorecards and trying for a submission, but Gustafsson is a proven knockout specialist. All it takes is one well-placed punch to win, and Gustafsson has the power to make it happen.
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