(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski | US Press Wire)
By Elias Cepeda
Only time will tell if Jon Jones was correct in saying that if he put in a great performance at UFC 152, fans would forgive him for turning down Chael Sonnen as a last-minute replacement to the never-was UFC 151. He certainly did put in a great performance in defending his UFC light heavyweight championship Saturday night against Vitor Belfort.
Other than a tight arm bar attempt that Belfort snapped on from his guard early in the first round that looked to very nearly win the fight for the 10-1 underdog, Jones dominated the fight up through a fourth round Americana submission that earned him the win. Jones didn’t spend much time messing around on the feet before going for and scoring a take down in the first round.
After he withstood his arm being hyper extended and freed himself from Belfort’s hold, Jones went about methodically tagging the Brazilian with short elbows from inside his full guard, opening up a cut over The Phenom‘s right eye that bled for the rest of the fight.
When they were on their feet, Jones kept his distance, landing with front leg side kicks to Belfort. Vitor’s best chance at winning this fight always seemed to be if he could manage to unload his fast hands in the type of flurry that smoked Wanderlei Silva over a decade ago, or knocked out Rich Franklin and Yoshihiro Akiyama more recently.
Belfort landed some good single shots, including a couple head kicks, but he was never able to pull the trigger on combinations that could have possibly backed Jones up or hurt him. Belfort mostly let Jones walk him backwards before getting taken down, as he did years ago in his second fight against Randy Couture, without making the champion pay for trying to get inside.
A beautiful front leg side kick to the ribs from Jones in the third pretty much put the nail in the fight’s coffin for Belfort. The kick dropped the former champ and from there on out, he went to his comfort zone of the guard in order to try and catch breathers, even though strategically, it seemed suspect.
One can’t really blame Belfort for making the poor choice of pulling guard after he got hurt from the body kick. We don’t know exactly how injured he got from it, and people do strange things when they’re hurt. He took a beating from his guard after that but he hung tough until Jones passed and locked on the shoulder lock from the cross-side position.
However, it was a bit disappointing to see him not try to employ the best strategy off of his back before the body shot. Sure, Belfort went for and nearly got an arm bar off the bat. After getting taken down early in the fight, it might have made sense for the Jiu Jitsu black belt to shoot up an arm bar on Jones. They were still relatively dry since it was early in the fight, and why not give Jones his first real submission test of his career?
But after that failed, Belfort would have been best served trying with all his might to get up to his feet every time he was put on his back. Instead, he played an old school Brazilian Jiu Jitsu closed guard game, for the most part.
Belfort didn’t try to scramble back to his feet against his larger wrestler of an opponent, choosing to look for submissions from his guard. In that guard, Belfort didn’t try to control Jones’ posture much, either. He instead played a double wrist control game that just got him elbowed over and again for his trouble.
Before guys like Chuck Liddell paved the way with cage walking, having being on your back against the cage while fighting a wrestler was a death sentence. These days, however, many downed fighters search out the cage so that they can get, first, to their elbows, then to their hands, squat up, stagger their stance to defend another take down, and then circle away from their cage once on their feet.
There’s no guarantee that Belfort would have been able to successfully get back to his feet if he tried against Jones, but he sure needed to try to have a chance to win the fight. Belfort has never used the best game plans throughout his still-storied career, but Jones is nothing if not cerebral and calculating as a fighter.
You can look at his tactic of trying to take away Belfort’s best chance of winning – his hands – by using his reach until he quickly went for take downs as micro evidence. You can also look at his decision to not fight Sonnen when Henderson pulled out of UFC 151, and instead wait four weeks to fight Belfort, as an example of Jones’ intelligence.
Hate him if you still want for not taking a new opponent on what was essentially three days’ notice, or for supposedly taking money out of the pockets of other fighters. Hell, maybe his recent apparent conversion to the Amish faith has you a bit perplexed.
But what you have to admit is that Jones has always done exactly what he’s supposed to as a fighter – win and win convincingly, and after the dust has settled, he’s still the light heavyweight champion, richer for securing a win bonus and submission of the night award, and for not having spoiled his new Nike contract with a loss out of the gates.
Jones may not be the most self aware kid, yet, and he can sound sanctimonious. But he told us straight out that he was making the decision he thought best for his career, to allow him to continue to provide for his family, when he turned down Sonnen for UFC 151, and there’s no way now to say that he didn’t make the right move.
Take away the fact that it isn’t smart for any world-class fighter to switch opponents on just days’ notice, and we still have the fact that Sonnen was a much more dangerous fighter for Jones to face, with not half the credibility of Belfort.
Sonnen is bigger than Belfort and actually had the wrestling to put Jones on his back and test him there, where he never really has been before. Sonnen is also coming off of a loss and has never been a champion. Belfort was a former two-time champion and future hall of famer that was riding a win streak and is also known for an exciting style.
Other than the arm bar in the first, Jones was able to beat Belfort on cruise control, something that would have been a lot less likely against Sonnen, who has shown he is willing to forge ahead into danger just to give his superb wrestling a chance to win him fights. Love Jones or hate him, but he’s the champion for good reason.
Deal with it.
Mini Mighty Men
Demetrious Johnson gets better with each fight. It wasn’t too long ago that he was awarded a gift decision against Miguel Torres before getting dominated by Dominick Cruz in their 135 pound title fight, or that long ago since he drew with Ian McCall in a fight faded in at the end.
But now Johnson is the first ever UFC Flyweight champion and it is because he is undoubtedly the best in the world at 125 pounds. He earned a split decision win over Joseph Benavidez Saturday night that was competitive but not as close as the judges saw it.
Joe B was the favorite coming into the fight, in some ways for good reason, but Johnson showed up at his best, was slicker on the feet, had better wrestling time and got stronger as the fight wore on, dominating the fifth round before being awarded the championship belt. Johnson cut angles on his feet masterfully, often getting out of the way of Benavidez’ wild but powerful striking and leaving him punching air.
While Benavidez mostly shot for take downs from far away without setting them up very well with strikes, Johnson timed his shots for when Joe was swinging for the fences. Once that happened, Mighty Mouse would change levels, get his hips in deep on Benavidez, catching him off guard, and dumping him to the ground.
I think the official take down tally was Johnson, 5, Benavidez, 0. Even without his sharper striking and dominant positions earned, that would have gone a long way in the judges eyes for Johnson. Benavidez shouldn’t fall that fall down in the rankings with his effort.
He himself landed some good shots on the feet and secured dominant positions at times on the ground, notably a guillotine choke attempt from the mount early in the fight. Perhaps he and McCall can each get tune-up fights before fighting one another for another shot at Johnson.
Whoever you scored the Flyweight title fight for, you’d have to be an idiot to not appreciate the technique, speed, perpetual motion and willingness to mix it up that both fighters showed. Evidently, Toronto MMA fans in attendance at UFC 152 are idiot.
The crowd inexplicably booed at multiple points during the fight between Johnson and Benavidez. We don’t get it.
Maybe it was their small size. If so, here’s some truth for those fans and any other flyweight haters that may be reading now – If you don’t enjoy watching the lighter weight classes in fighting it isn’t because they’re not exciting, its because you don’t like that those tiny guys could kick your ass.
But hey, to each their own. For those that don’t like watching elite MMA we know of a certain just-announced boxing extravaganza happening later this year that might be more your speed.