On Saturday, December 10, Jon Jones will defend his UFC light heavyweight title against former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. Since joining the UFC Jones has put together a record of 8-1, with his sole loss coming via disqualification for delivering illegal 12-to-6 elbows to Matt Hamill.
The 24-year-old wunderkind has steamrolled over his competition by using an unorthodox style that has left some of his opponents, in the words of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, “mesmerized.”
More than a few fans and pundits are of the opinion that Machida will offer a stylistic problem for Jones. When the subject of Machida’s style arose, Jones had the following to say to in a recent edition of Fighters Only magazine:
He’s a lot like me, just a little more disciplined in his attack. My attack is a little more free-flowing. I’m more about the improv. Lyoto says he’s been training since he was about four or five years old, so he has a lot of tendencies and ways that I think he’ll have a hard time breaking, which is not like water. I think I might be a little more like water.
By describing his style as more “like water,” than Machida’s, Jones invoked the words of Bruce Lee who once said:
Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless like water. Now you put water into a cup it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle if you put it into a teapot it becomes the teapot, water can flow or it can crash, be water my friend.
Jones’ comment comparing his style and that of Machida’s is worth considering. The fact that Machida has trained in the martial arts since he was a youth may restrict his fluidity and his ability to think outside the box. If his training was regimented and repetitive in nature, his body and mind will react to the way they have been trained through the years, making it difficult for him to become “like water.”
Jones, on the other hand, is not as encumbered by that type of training, so his body and mind may very well react more in the moment. That freedom will allow him to do what feels right as opposed to what he has been programmed to do when facing adversity.
The next logical question then is: How long will Jones’ actions in the cage be free and improvisational?
As he progresses in his training he may fall into repetition, developing the same tendencies that he believes Machida has, and once that occurs, then what? Will Jones be able to reinvent himself, or will the seed be so deeply planted that his “improv” style actually becomes easy to decipher? Will he then be the one that hears, from a younger opponent, the same words he spoke regarding Machida’s style?
The sport of MMA is still young and evolving. Right now the likes of Jon Jones and Dominick Cruz are the future of the sport, but one day, in the not too distant future, they will be the past, much like Royce Gracie is to today’s younger fighters.
Will Jones and his ilk be able to remain “like water” or will they become stopgaps in the history of mixed martial arts?
Whichever direction the fighters of the present and future move in, one thing is for certain, MMA is ever-evolving and we should all be thankful that we get to see it progress right before our eyes.