Why Jon “Bones” Jones Is Winning . . . and Why He'll Lose, Eventually
Can anyone in UFC’s Light Heavyweight division beat Jon “Bones” Jones?
On the heels of Jones’ surgical deconstruction of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 135 in the Mile High City, most people are shaking their heads, “No.”
Judging by the way the 24-year old Jones dismantled Jackson, they’re right. Rampage’s undeniable strength, accomplished boxing, and sheer tenacity were simply nullified by Jones’s superior skills and athleticism. Right now, in the flush of victory, Jones seems beyond the grasp of anyone in the Light Heavyweight division. I mean that literally. About the only time anyone without an 80-plus-inch reach can touch Jones is at the weigh-in.
But if the history of fighting teaches us anything it is the simple, iron-clad rule that every champion will lose, eventually.
The history of fighting is replete with Jon Joneses, their incredible rises, their inevitable falls.
Over a century before Jones fought Jackson, a reigning heavyweight boxing champion, the legendary John Lawrence Sullivan (the “Boston Strong Boy”) stepped in to a New Orleans ring to fight a new type of fighter. Sullivan was the crowd darling and a legend for a reason. He was widely recognized as the first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing and a man who successfully made the transition to Queensberry rules from bare-knuckle prize fighting. At the time of the fight, Sullivan was undefeated.
Like Rampage, Sullivan used his impressive body strength to lunge, rush, and dominate his opponents; neither emphasized the importance of footwork, relying instead on power punches to opponents’ heads; both were strong without being notably athletic; and both men were, deservedly, very respected fighters.
If Sullivan’s counterpart is Rampage, Jones’ is the man who beat Sullivan in front of a 10,000-plus crowd that night in 1892: James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett—the Jon “Bones” Jones of his day.
Corbett beat Sullivan for virtually the same reasons Jones has walked through everyone who has shown enough moxie to step in to the cage with him: he was an exceptional athlete who innovated.
Both Corbett and Jones were and are superior athletes who could’ve pursued another sport professionally but instead elected to use their athleticism to fight. At 180 lbs, the 6 foot 1 inch Corbett was a gifted gymnast, a very fast sprinter, and, by some accounts, a good baseball player, just as Jones is a supremely gifted athlete.
Their athleticism allowed both men to innovate. Jones, judging by his fight with Rampage, now jabs not just with his hands but with his feet, too. His scythe-like use of the spinning, whipping elbow is unusual and, as we’ve seen on several occasions, devastating to his opponents. Jones also uses his superior athleticism to execute what sometimes look like geometrically impossible submission holds.
Corbett also innovated. In his 1926 account of his fight with Sullivan, The Roar of the Crowd, Corbett wrote:
“From that time on I started doing things the audience were seeing for the first time, judging from the way they talked about the fight afterwards. I would work a left-hand on the nose, then a hook into the stomach, a hook up on the jaw again, a great variety of blows, in fact; using all the time such quick side-stepping and footwork that the audience seemed to be delighted and a little bewildered, as was also Mr. Sullivan.”
In the twenty-first round, Corbett rocked Sullivan, speed-fisting his face, leaving the champion heaving on the canvass. A man, a style of fighting, and era, had passed and a new reign had begun.
Corbett says he left Sullivan “bewildered.” Self-congratulation aside, it’s probably true, just as it is for most of Jones’ opponents who often look at sea, a bit stunned, and ill-equipped to influence the pace, direction, or trajectory of their fights with him.
But what became of Gentleman Jim and is a similar fate in store for Bones Jones?
Jon Jones has successfully defended his title just the once so far; Jim Corbett also defended his once in 1894 when he knocked out Charley Mitchell. He then lost his heavyweight title to Robert James Fitzsimmons in 1897. Now, Jones’ reign will likely be longer than Corbett’s but the reasons why Corbett lost to Bob Fitzsimmons could turn out to be similar to those why Jones will, eventually, lose.
By most measures, Fitzsimmons’ victory over Corbett shouldn’t have happened. He was much the smaller of the two men (14 lbs lighter than Corbett at the time of the fight) and probably nowhere near as technically gifted or as athletic as Corbett. But Fitzsimmons was an unusual boxer, blending lightness of foot with heaviness of hand. It was an unusual and unexpected combination and helps account for the fact that Fitzsimmons is still the lightest heavyweight champion on record and holds a unique place in boxing history: he was world champion at three weight divisions, middle, light heavy, and heavy.
How did Fitzsimmons manage to knockout the more athletic and technically superior Corbett in the fourteenth round of their fight? It was not an inevitable victory by any means: Corbett had bloodied him badly and had Fitzsimmons down in round six. Corbett was just too big, too athletic, too skilled for Fitzsimmons to take down in any conventional way. It took something special and a little bit unusual in the form of quick footwork and relentless and searing punches to the abdomen. Round fourteen saw what would become Fitzsimmons’ signature move: an audible, withering, punch to the solar plexus. The punch was so powerful Corbett sank, breathless, and simply couldn’t stand again.
The strong, athletic, technically brilliant Gentleman Jim Corbett had been timbered by a stunningly powerful punch to a region of the body he’d not expected.
Does Jon Jones have a Bob Fitzsimmons out there, someone with a strike, a skill, a knack that could exploit his Achilles heel? Someone who isn’t as skilled or as athletic but who has something unusual in his arsenal? Will that person be Lyoto Machida?
We can’t be sure, of course. But the history of fighting is clear on this one point: everyone has a Bob Fitzsimmons waiting for them.
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