Jon Jones is set for the latest defense of his UFC Light Heavyweight Championship as he takes on veteran Glover Teixeira. After a close call against Alexander Gustafsson last time out, it will be interesting to see how Jones responds.
Teixeira is a winner of 20 straight fights after starting his MMA career 2-2. The last five of those wins have come in the UFC, including an impressive first-round knockout of Ryan Bader back in September. It was a showing good enough to earn him the title fight.
If Jones brings the same level of performance he did against Gustafsson, Teixeira will have a golden opportunity to walk away with the championship. Let's check out the biggest key for each fighter heading into the UFC 172 main event.
Jones: Stronger Early-Round Performance
One of the reasons Jones' fight with Gustafsson was so close was due to the seeming lack of direction the champion had in the early rounds. It was almost like "Bones" knew he was the superior fighter and thought that would be enough to win without a clear plan of attack.
Jones eventually picked up his intensity and aggressiveness in order to score the late comeback victory, albeit in controversial fashion. Above all else, it should serve as a learning experience in terms of taking every opponent seriously and going hard from the second the fight starts.
The fight also provided motivation due to the backlash. Mike Chiappetta of Fox Sports passed along comments from the champion about what he heard and how he'll use it in a positive way moving forward:
Having the fight with Gustafsson, I got a taste of what it would be like if I actually lost. Hearing things like, 'You suck,' I ask myself, how can I suck after beating almost every legend in light-heavyweight history? But hearing this negative backlash from having such a close fight has motivated me to not ever lose. It's like, if people can talk to me like this for having a close fight, imagine what guys who lose hear? It's a different level of motivation I've gotten through having such a close fight.
To remain champion for an extended period of time, like Jones has, a fighter must learn and adapt. Gustafsson pushed him early, and it took him a while to respond. In turn, expect to see a far more prepared Jones early on against Teixeira.
The last thing he wants to do is let the challenger grab the early edge again. While he's capable of coming back, he's playing with fire every time he starts slow. It's hard to see Jones falling into the same trap twice. Putting together a stronger performance early will ensure he doesn't.
Teixeira: Take Risks to Gain Advantage
One mistake fighters often make when they are getting their first major title opportunity is being overly conservative. They fear getting knocked out early, but in turn they play right into the champion's hands by not putting on enough pressure.
Teixeira needs to make sure he doesn't fall into that category. If the challenger doesn't take some chances in order to alter the complexion of the fight, Jones will win because he's the better overall fighter. So the onus is on the Brazilian star to take some risks.
He's in a good position to do that, too. As Josh Gross of ESPN.com notes, Teixeira enters the fight free from the pressure facing Jones, which puts him in position to utilize his experience, take some chances and potentially turn it into a close bout.
Again, if the fight proverbially goes according to script, Jones wins. Teixeira must do something during the fight, preferably within the first two rounds, to change that outlook and assert himself as a serious threat to the talented American.
Teixeira's 20-fight winning streak and success since joining UFC shows he's good enough to beat Jones. Everything must go exactly right in order for that to happen, though, including taking some risks in the early rounds to deliver significant strikes.