By Elias Cepeda
On Saturday before UFC 165, a friend who is relatively new to watching MMA asked me a simple question that I would have felt like a jerk answering honestly. “What are Jon Jones’ weaknesses?,” she asked.
Given his near flawless career, even MMA neophytes had gotten the feeling that Jones was supposed to be something, well, what’s the term…“not quite human”? Yeah, that’s the phrase I was looking for.
So, if “Bones” was such a great fighter, did he have any weaknesses? That’s what our buddy wanted to know. I ducked the question then but won’t today. Call me a coward twice; it was and is the easy thing to do.
Of course Jones was never a perfect fighter. Perfect doesn’t exist. Certainly not in fighting.
Still, saying a guy is over-reliant on his one-strike power, speed and wrestling, and opts to fight flat footed too often sounds like nit-picking as long as said fighter’s one-strike power, speed and wrestling have proved dominant. Up until his meeting with Alexander Gustafsson, they had been for Jon Jones.
Before Gustafsson, Jones never had to fear anyone having quicker feet or hands than him, taking him down or surviving the power of his nasty elbows, kicks and knees. So, as he usually does, Jones fought flat-footed and mostly threw one strike at a time in quick bursts at UFC 165.
Sure, Jones got the decision win (thanks in part to a ludicrous 49-46 score in his favor from one judge) but he was far from dominant, and even the greatest light heavyweight of all time can take a few lessons away from his performance.
He got booed big time by the Toronto crowd Saturday when the decision in his favor was announced but I stand by my previous assertion that Jon Jones deserves none of our hate. So, as a documented and steadfast non-hater of Jones, here are a few unsolicited tips for the champ…
1) Stop assuming that you are the fastest, most dynamic fighter in the division. Heading into the fight, you laughed off the idea that Gustafsson had better foot work and hand speed than you. Guess what? Alexander Gustafsson has better foot work and hand speed than you.
2) Stop assuming that you are the best wrestler in the division. Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t, Jon. But the assumption that you are has a tendency to make men complacent and get taken down by Swedish boxers. Everyone works hard in MMA and people improve. Your opponents certainly will. Gustafsson is far from the best wrestler in the 205-pound division and you couldn’t take and keep him down. Not even close.
3) Don’t take for granted that single strikes from you will always outweigh an entire fight’s worth of of strikes landed in combination from an opponent. Gustafsson stayed moving, which helped him avoid takedowns and land strikes. Simply put, Gus boxed you up for three and a half rounds and deserved the decision win because of it. Now that your aura of invincibility is gone, judges may not always continue to see your fights through Bones-colored lenses.
4) Stop assuming that you can go into a training camp out of shape and be full of energy for an entire title fight. Look, we know that Jones was fat when he began his training camp for Gustafsson. Not, like, Filet-O-Fish fat, but skinny-fat nonetheless. Gustafsson got bludgeoned in the fourth and fifth frames, which likely explained his lethargy in the championship rounds. Jones got out-pointed for most of the fight and was cut from a glancing punch but probably wasn’t ever hurt the way Alexander was. Jon’s flatness and fatigue for most of the fight, then, was more than likely due to his overall conditioning level.
You can drop pounds in six to eight weeks and get a six pack but when a fighter doesn’t take care of themselves all year round the way, say, a Bernard Hopkins or Randy Couture do, they can’t guarantee that their body will respond well when put through a grinder of a fight. Jones had never been through that before — the dogfight that he’d supposedly been waiting for. Now he has. Hopefully he’s learned his lesson.
5) Don’t assume that you’re getting the best coaching in the world. From what we’ve seen the past years, there is a lot lacking in Jones’ head coach, Greg Jackson. After getting his arm wrenched by Vitor Belfort last year, Jones admitted that his coaches didn’t have him train Jiu Jitsu every day. Short of not eating, drinking and breathing every day, there couldn’t be a more absurd omission for a fighter to make or a for a head coach to allow at their direction.
Similarly, one hopes that Jones’ coaches are going to draw a line in the sand for him regarding how out of shape he is allowed to get in between fights. Ultimately it is, of course, Jones’ responsibility as his own man to stay disciplined enough with his activity and diet to stay in shape but it would be great if he had a head coach who didn’t accept his fighter being so lax in the “off-season,” because in MMA there really is no off-season.
If fights were scored the way this writer would want, without the ten point must system and taken as a whole with an emphasis on who ended stronger and who got closer to finishing their opponent, Jon Jones would definitely have earned the win. He showed heart, focus and a killer instinct, as he always has.
That said, the guy is just 26 years old and has lots of room to improve. Imagine how scary he’ll be if he does.