Pre-Fight Thoughts: Jon Jones -vs- Alexander Gustafsson 2
With the first encounter between these two being billed as "the greatest fight of all time" — which is certainly debatable — the rematch between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson has a lot to live up to. In the years since Jones won a close decision over "The Mauler," the former light heavyweight champion has had troubles with the law and USADA, and has been absent from the MMA world for a great deal of that time. Gustafsson, however, hasn't been all that active either, fighting on 5 times since 2013 — only once more than Jones, actually. Still, despite their relatively light schedules, there is still a lot of buzz around this fight as, thus far, only Gustafsson has made Jones look remotely human in the cage.
Now, the prevailing narrative — or at least the one offered up by the former champ himself — is that Jones didn't take the initial fight seriously, was lax in his training and was partying it up right up until fight night. At face value, that would somewhat make Gustafsson's success in that fight more understandable, but I think it would be very wrong to assume that is the sole explanation as to why Jones didn't just steamroll "Tbe Mauler." There are stylistic reasons as to why a fighter like Gustafsson would have success against Jones, specifically his height. Jones almost always enjoys a significant reach advantage over his opponents, and his style maximises this fact to great effect. Gustafsson's reach is sufficient that Jones will almost assuredly be taking some damage, regardless of how successful his strikes are.
Given both of their light schedules since their first encounter, it is somewhat difficult to predict how much either may have evolved since then. Based on the available evidence, Gustafsson seems to be the same fighter he was 5 years ago, one who still turns his back and runs when dealing with too much forward pressure. Jones was guilty of the same thing in their fight, but has also refined his skills since that time, and has not displayed that fault since. Then again, none of Jones' opponents since that fight were at all similar to Gustafsson, nor did they manage to pressure Jones at all. My suspicion is that Jones has simply become more comfortable at various ranges, and has likely stifled the latter part of the fight-or-flight response, and I think Gustafsson will have a lot less success this time around.
Even with all of Jones issues outside of the cage, most recently some drug testing issues which forced the relocation of the entire UFC 232 fight card from Las Vegas to California on a mere 6 days notice (story), I think the former light heavyweight champion is still heavily favoured to win this contest. Gustafsson has looked good in recent fights, but the fact he's been relatively inactive and has not observably evolved much doesn't make the possibility of an upset seem all that likely. For all of Jon Jones' faults as a human being, his talent in the realm of MMA is undeniable — he really is a savant at this.
My expectation is that we will see a competitive fight, but one which Jones wins more handily than the last time. I think a finish is unlikely, as Jones is the sort of the fighter who will seize an opportunity to finish when presented by isn't the sort to headhunt or force one. Gustafsson will need to put on the performance of a lifetime here; I think it's possible for the Swede to win, just very improbable. One of the benefits of seemingly being a sociopath is that Jon Jones has never let matters outside the cage affect his performance inside of it. I think we're going to see Jon Jones remind the world that he is one of the greatest of all time and reclaim his light heavyweight title.
Whether Jones manages to avoid being stripped of that title in 2019, for any number of reasons, is something I am far less certain of...
Published: December 29th, 2018.