For most fans, Alexander Gustafsson was seen as another stepping stone in Jon Jones’ infinite stranglehold over the wilting light heavyweight division, but after UFC 165, things finally seem fresh again at 205-pounds.
In his reign as UFC champion, Jones has been shrouded with an aura of invincibility. There have been a couple of close calls, but for the most part, the 26-year-old phenom has had his way with every challenger thrown in his direction.
This all changed when he met Gustafsson, a fighter who could finally match him in size and reach. The UFC’s promotion of the fight had more to do with the physical makeup of both fighters than the actual fight. They even came up with the slogan, “Greatness Within Reach,” a moniker that was dubbed as corny by most fans.
Despite the cheesy slogan, Gustafsson proved to be Jones’ stiffest test in the UFC. For 25 minutes, the two light heavyweights were left bloodied and battered after a grueling battle.
Jones was awarded the unanimous decision in the end, but it was far from convincing. UFC President Dana admitted during the post-fight press conference that he is even mulling over the possibility of an immediate rematch.
The bout between Jones and Gustafsson raised more questions than answers. How was Gustafsson able to succeed where so many other all-time greats had failed? Was size and reach really that big of an issue?
While Gustafsson’s ability to match Jones’ physical makeup certainly helped, it wasn’t the only deciding factor in the fight. One of the most overlooked attributes about Gustafsson is his speed and footwork.
His ability to move around light on his feet and create angles is a tough out for any light heavyweight looking to stand and trade. Jones, who typically plods forward with a flat-footed stance, was ripe for the picking in the open against Gustafsson, who danced in and out of range landing at will.
For the first time in Jones’ career, he looked like the slower fighter trying to play catch-up against a more efficient striker.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the fight was Gustafsson’s ability to neutralize Jones’ wrestling and even nab a takedown of his own. This was mostly due in part to Gustafsson’s effective striking, which kept Jones guessing and opened up takedown opportunities.
Some credit certainly has to be given to top light heavyweight contender Phil Davis, who has worked extensively with Gustafsson on shoring up holes in his wrestling.
Gustafsson never left himself as a stationary target, and when Jones remained flatfooted he simply wasn’t able to catch up.
The turning points in the fight came when Jones pressed the action and cut off the cage. It opened up opportunities for him to land elbows in close range and work head kicks whenever Gustafsson backpedaled.
As the fight broke into the championship rounds, Gustafsson became a victim of his own style to some degree. It’s tough to imagine any light heavyweight maintaining a frantic pace like that for 25 minutes. By the time the fifth round rolled around, Gustafsson could hardly keep his hands above his waist, which made him vulnerable to high kicks and finally being taken down.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of adjustments both fighters make if a rematch ever comes to fruition.
Gustafsson proved that no one is invincible on Saturday night, and that Jon Jones may have finally found his equal.
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