When Chris Weidman's left hand clipped Anderson Silva's face and sent the former middleweight champion to the canvas, the knockout did more than send the mixed martial arts world into a state of stupor. It also transferred the "Best Fighter Alive" mantle over to Jon "Bones" Jones, the headliner for tonight's UFC 165.
Jones will be defending his light heavyweight championship strap in the main event just hours from now against Alexander Gustafsson. A victory would give Jones, whose excellence inside the ring is perhaps only eclipsed by his all-time great nickname, six straight title defenses—a UFC record. At age 26, he's one of the most popular fighters in UFC history and one of the most dominant; his only loss was due to his own bullishness.
Gustafsson matches Jones in age and bests him in the size department but has nowhere near the profile. The Swede's defining victories, wins over Maurício "Shogun" Rua and Thiago Silva, were either an undercard to a bigger surrounding event or thrown on Fuel TV. Saturday will be the first time his name appeared on a UFC pay-per-view poster with font size any bigger than 0.000001. Much like Saul "Canelo" Alvarez fighting Floyd Mayweather last Saturday, Gustafsson will be making the leap from the midcard to the main event in Canada.
Alvarez was subjected to 12 rounds of crisp jabs to the face, looking overmatched against one of the best tactical fighters on the planet. Will Gustafsson share his fate? Mere seconds (a lot of them, but still) remain until we'll find out.
With that in mind, let's check in with a quick preview of the UFC 165 headliner.
When: Saturday, Sept. 21 at 10 p.m. ET (PPV)
Where: Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Watch: Pay-Per-View (Contact your service provider)
|Pat Healy (31-15) vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (20-0)||Lightweight|
|Costa Philippou (12-2) vs. Francis Carmont (21-7)||Middleweight|
|Brendan Schaub (10-3) vs. Matt Mitrione (6-2)||Heavyweight|
|Renan Barao (32-1- vs.Eddie Wineland (20-8-1)||Bantamweight|
|Jon Jones (18-1) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (15-1)||Light Heavyweight|
Jones will head into the ring as a massive favorite. Bovada currently has him as a -850 favorite, meaning you'd have to risk $8,500 to win $1,000, and those odds may even tilt more as we draw closer to the fight.
This, of course, is all for good reason.
Since defeating Rua for the strap two years ago, Jones has fought five times and showed his amazing versatility in the ring in every one. Every single fight result has been different. He used the rear-naked choke to beat Rampage Jackson; a guillotine on Lyoto Machida; a unanimous decision against Rashad Evans; a keylock on Vitor Belfort; a flurry of elbows and punches on Chael Sonnen.
That's not just a list of victories—it's a clinic on how to dominate mixed martial arts. Jones' victories fill up the stat sheet in a LeBron Jamesian fashion, meaning that no one is sure how to beat him or how he's going to beat you. There's a Mayweather-like method to the madness, with Jones rightfully developing a reputation as an astute student of his craft.
His preparation skills are nearly as great as his physical ones.
"[Studying for fights] helps me become really comfortable with the challenges I’ll be up against and it allows me to prepare for what’s ahead," Jones told Forbes Dan Schawbel in April. "The biggest challenge is learning how to psych yourself up into believing in yourself as you walk into the Octagon."
What Jones will find in Gustafsson is a fighter with his preferred set of moves. A boxer in his youth, Gustafsson has garnered the nickname "The Mauler" for his physical style. Unlike Jones, the Swede's recent fights don't show an overall array of results. He's used the rear-naked choke or punches to get his last four early results, and his two most recent bouts went to the scorecards.
These are exploitable traits.
Jones thrives on finding areas of weakness and using his chameleon-like skill set to adjust. He'd do well to try forcing Gustafsson into being the aggressor and using a counter takedown to gain control of the fight. The challenger has strong hands, but he too often misses on strikes and leaves himself vulnerable. And while he's an improved grappler on the mat, Gustafsson is still a bit deficient in that department and probably could be had via submission.
Of course, we've all heard the case for Gustafsson making this a close bout. This will be the once-in-a-frozen-hell fight where Jones doesn't have a distinct size advantage over his opponent. Gustafsson is an inch taller than Jones at 6'5" and has a good reach at 76.5", though it pales in comparison to Bones' freakish 84.5" Inspector Gadget arms.
Gustafsson will also need to express patience in this fight. He did a great job of staying within himself in wins over Rua and Silva, and it's likely only a similarly styled fight gives him a shot.
Either that or he could just knock him out. Whatever.
What do you think? I've been described as many derogatory things in my life, but "stupid enough to pick against Jon Jones" is not one of them.
Sure, it's possible that Gustafsson wins. It's also theoretically possible that I marry Julie Taylor from Friday Night Lights. Both possibilities have an infinitesimal shot at happening, though I'll certainly give the Swede -5000 odds on beating me out in the two presented scenarios.
But...that's about it. Jones is in the prime of his career as a fighter, and will very likely go down as the best mixed martial arts fighter in the sport's history when he retires. You don't take down the LeBron James of beatdowns; you only hope to avoid embarrassment.
Fight Prediction: Jones via submission in second round.
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