Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Mercurial Talent: What We Haven't Seen From Jon Jones?

Exploding onto the scene in 2009 with a shocking upset win over original Ultimate Fighter finalist Stephan Bonnar, Jon Jones's career trajectory has seen him from promising new comer, through internet darling and number one contender to champion in three short years. Levied against the champion since capturing the belt in March against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua has been a level of hubris that is unwarranted by a fighter that has yet to defend his belt or create a legacy. Jones's media portrayal as having the potential to be the greatest champion of all time has not helped his case, creating a image that may or may not be accurate but has certainly created a backlash against his undoubted talents.


So the question is what has Jon Jones failed to show the MMA world? 

1) Has Jones Got One Punch Knockout Power?

The question whether his striking was enough to overwhelm his opponent was answered emphatically against Rua when capturing his title however there is still questions to be asked whether he can land a single shot, especially with his hands, that can finish a fight instantly. 

The most devastating shot in Jones's championship win was early in the first round with a flying knee hurt Rua badly, creating a situation where the Brazilian was never truly in the fight from that point on. However Jones took a couple of rounds to capitalize, wearing down his opponent before landing the end body shot (and following knees) which finally finished the contest. Arguable this was a sensible tactic against a man with no shortage of knock out promise however it still leaves that chink of light open for opponents.

In the rest of Jones back catalog of fights there are a number of notable knockdowns. The back spinning elbow that leveled Stephan Bonnar will be seen in a number of highlight reels as will his knockdown of the iron chinned Matt Hamill however none of these ended up leading to clean final blow. Against Quentin "Rampage" Jackson, Jones will be standing against another opponent who has taken his fair share of shots and survived so it could well be a good test for this aspect of his game.

2) How Good Is Jones's Chin?

This is another one of those what if questions that has to be tempered with the fact that Jones's reach is so good that many opponents have simply not close enough to him to land a significant strike. Rua landed only 11 of 42 attempts (just over 25%) of his strikes in Jones last fight, far lower than his usual 50%+ accuracy that the Brazilian would usually expect. It is also notable that Jones faces far fewer strikes than most fighters, averaging less than 30 per round in his UFC career, around half that of the average.

All this has allowed Jones's chin to go relatively untested and why should he worry if no one hits him anyway?. Mainly as this was something brought up about Lyoto Machida, another fighter who reached prominence without suffering many strikes with a mixture of style and skill, which left people wondering if he could be beaten only to be rushed by Rua and sent to the canvas in the most unceremonious way. In MMA no fighter can guarantee that someone with the luckiest punches will connect flush and it will be at that moment we will see if he can take a good punch. Rampage certainly has the potential to do this, especially as he is likely to be headhunting however it may be more likely to happen against someone with a more varied game plan.   

3) How Good Is Jones Of His Back?

Having physical dominated his opponents and shown a mixture of takedowns that have surprised many commentators of the sport, Jones has spent not spent any time on his back inside the Octagon. This could be a key aspect in up coming fights in the UFC as light heavyweight is blessed with a number of high quality wrestlers who will be looking to try out that game plan, however unlikely it may seem to many.

In principle, Jones's physical gifts in the striking should translate well into a good submission game as his long limbs should allow him to both lock up opponents in the guard and look for holds people with shorter limbs cannot. However the downside to long limbs is that they to are easier to get a handle on so armbars could be an issue. It would also be interesting to see whether a single limb can isolated and dominated that is sometimes the betrayal of very tall fighters in a weight class as there core strength is eliminated in that situation.

Ultimately this is unlikely to be tested in Jones's next fight with Rampage however it could be something to look out for later down the line. 

4) What If The Fight Starts To Get Away From Jones?

Having been so dominant in previous fights, Jones has yet to face the challenge of fighting against an opponent who has been able to establish a productive game plan against him. With Greg Jackson in his corner there is little doubt he has the people in his corner to make adjustments for him to win such fights however does Jones have the mental strength to put them into place and not get frustrated. 

Jones who is young in MMA terms has shown frustration outside of the cage, especially with the likes of media intrusion and conflicts with certain other fighters.. Whether this would translate into getting easily frustrated inside the cage is an unanswerable question at this time but it would certainly open doors if it could be manifested as it would surely lead to mistakes that could be used against him. Reports out of the camp in this and other fights is that Jones is happiest when he is entering a cage, a mentality shown by most fighters, so it could well be that his frustrations outside the cage are used to his benefit as well however this much pressure on a young man can make or break their careers.

5) Can Jones Build A True Legacy?

Although it may seem premature for someone to ask whether Jones can have a Hall of Fame career, it is certainly one of the more interesting problems that has faced the entire light heavyweight division since the demise of Chuck Liddell. In the eight fights from Liddell's loss to Rampage, the title has changed six times with no man holding the title for more than one title defense creating the most exclusive hot potato in the world of sport. 

Whether Jones will be the man to go on to stabilize the title as the likes of Anderson Silva and Georges St Pierre have done in other divisions is a matter of opinion but it certainly will be the most challenging belt to monopolize as the depth in that division is huge. Rashad Evans will be next in line for a title shot and his wrestling skills along with his small frame could be uncomfortable for Jones, not to mention the personal the two men have. This is assuming that Jones beats Rampage who, on form, has traded with and won against as many legends as any other fighter on the planet. Then the future could hold the likes of a rematch with Shogun, the re-emerging Lyoto Machida and the potential unification of the Strikeforce belt, a series of fights that cannot be matched by any other division.   

Legacy, and so longevity, may well be Jones's biggest challenge on the horizon. 

Of course the final question is whether these things really matter when you look at Jones upside. Does one shot power matter when you can land shots from angles no one else can achieve or if his chin cannot be touched. If he builds a legacy that never sees him in trouble or on his back, will people really think about it in the future as something that could have been exploited. In reality, the ever moving world of MMA will be creating styles, methods and tactics to get at the champion, as he is the man on top so will always have the biggest target on his back. 

So only time will tell if these questions turn into faults that sideline Jones at some point in his career but there can be little doubt that this MMA phenom has a very bright future ahead of him.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Wycombe Wanderers Stats Laid Bare

With the optimism drained from the ranks of Wanderers fans, it seems the appropriate time to look at the statistics to examine both the positive and negative points to the season so far.

Wycombe Total
Ranked (Division)
Divisional Average
Joint 22nd
20 (Charlton Athletic /  Sheffield United)
Goals Scored
Joint 21st
17 (3 Teams)
Goals Against
7 (4 Teams)
Goal Difference
Joint 20th
+10 (Charlton Athletic / Sheffield United
Form (Last 5)
Joint 23rd
WWWWW (Preston North End)

Last 5 Games
Points: 0
Goals Scored: 0
Goals Against: 9
Goal Difference: -9

Remaining Games In September

Sheffield United (H)
              2nd in League 1     
              Joint Top Goal Scorers / Joint Best Defence
Preston North End (H)
              5th in League 1
              Best Form (Last 5 Games WWWWW)

* No Adjustments Made For Games Played
   Statistics Correct From 17/09/11
   Information Given Accurate 

There isn't much positive to say about the last 5 games. No goals and depending on the sources an average of between 2 and 4 shots per game underlying a season where a lack of goals is hugely concerning. It should also be noted that the other side who have lost there last 5 games is Bury who's last victory was against Wycombe at Adams Park. 

Defensively the news is far more positive with Wycombe slightly ahead of the season average. However it should be noted that Wycombe have only played two sides from the top half of the table (Huddersfield Town And Brentford) so there are a lot of sides with goals in them in Wycombe's near future. 

It would also suggest that Wycombe may be going into games too defensively minded, something backed up by the performances in my opinion, with too much emphasis on trying to survive games rather than taking it to the opposition. With the understanding we're a smaller team in this division, we need to go out and try and beat the teams around us and maybe even play with some reckless abandon against sides who financially speaking are greater. Going out to hunt down some points has got to be a more effective tactic than survival football that has left so many depressed at the way a League 1 season is going once again.

The important thing to note for the fans is not to panic. There are a lot of games and plenty of opportunity to turn what is still a young season around. What the management at the club need to understand is that the way Wycombe are playing is not working for the fans or from a view at the league table so this is the time to go back to the drawing board and look again,

Gary Waddock has shown good tactical ability at his time at the club and has it within himself to make the necessary changes, although one must be to extend his scouting networks away from former players as this tactic has held the club back. 

Most importantly, it's time to make the changes now, even if means using the next couple of fixtures to try new things. They are games no one expects us to win so why not try something new out and get better for the more winnable games. We can still survive which was always going to be the aim this year but its up to everyone at the club from the chairman, through the management and players to the fans to keep the faith, keep going and remember that, frankly we're Wycombe and we're massive (sort off)

Building Prestige Into A Title

Reigning, even fleetingly, as the best in a chosen sport is a dream most people have as they grow up. For the vast majority it is a dream that will slips through their fingers however those few truly lucky ones, will not only hold the honour of bring called champion but will bring glory on their entire nation. It can bring a sense of accomplishment that permeates through society, bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate a triumph. A moment of ecstasy that stands alone in time.

For the WWE, or any professional wrestling outfit, to succeed they must be able to conjure up this illusion of grandeur so people can buy into the world's most physical soap opera. 


The devaluation of the championship gold, whether that be the WWE or World heavyweight championship belt, has been prevalent throughout the 21st century. Sidelined for a mixture of character development or becoming an association piece for top talent. Trending towards overkill has been the establishment of super fighters, notably Triple H in the early part of the decade followed by the tandem of John Cena and Randy Orton who currently dominate both television time and the win column. These wrestlers haven't transcended public consciousness in the desired way but have become indiscriminately linked with being the champion, whether they hold the strap or not. Such events create a power vacuum where other champions are simply expected  to drop the belt in the near future to one of the existing franchise players and any feud, no matter the situation, inevitability ending with one of those men ending up on top. 

Situations of stagnation at the top of wrestling has often lead to lesser belts rising to the fore however the requirement of  a conveyor of  short term monsters has stopped such occurrences. Both mid-level belts (the Intercontinental and US belt respectively) have been relegated to novelty acts, often utilized to support comedy angles or simply forgotten about until the next body in the firing line needs a small boost in ratings. Worse still is the tag team title which coverage has mainly been used as a ploy to get two singles competitors on both shows with little time, effort or consistency being put into the thought process. Rumours of a change in policy related to the tag team division is hopeful but time will tell if this is the true rebirth of the division or if it's yet another false dawn.

What is abundantly clear is the old methods used to create prestige, allowing a fighter to hold the belt for several months and defend it relatively frequently is failing to do its job. The process of rinse and  repeat with a different wrestler being built up over a short period of time only to lose to the champion and be relegated back to mid-card level is just to predictable. Title matches become pointless to watch as it guarantees either a win for the champion or non-finish such as a count out or DQ. Such predictability takes away from the spectacle of the show so resolving to alter the process has to be a top priority for wrestling as the product tries to become relevant once again.

Due to the structural similarities, it would be most prudent to examine how the UFC belts have developed credentials as their worth has been established in the same time 10 year period as the WWE ones have ebbed away. This becomes especially relevant with the realization that the most prestigious belt within the company is not the heavyweight title belt as has been the tradition in boxing but rather the light heavyweight belt closely followed by the welterweight belt. These two titles above all else have developed with the companies growth, successfully increasing in value compared to other titles that have faltered. Even more interesting is that they have been established in two different ways which gives two blueprints into getting a title over.

The light heavyweight championship established early dominance with the charismatic, if controversial, Tito Ortiz defeating all comers. However two others, one a small heavyweight Randy Couture who threatened to drop weight and brawler Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell were also knocking of wins which meant the question of who the true champion was open for sometime. After several battles, Liddell looked like he was coming out on top having defeated both arch rivals twice however the introduction of a new wave of talent (in this case from the now defunct Pride organisation) and some young guys coming through changed the landscape leading to the eventual retirement of the champ.

However the belt since that early Liddell reign has changed hands 7 times in the last 9 fights. This has added to the mystique of the belt as it shows that people will find another level to gain the belt only to find that once their hands are wrapped around it, it get torn away by the challenger and they fight against a group of former champions, all desperate to get their next shot at dethroning the latest champion.The key is that the belt has changed hands so that the title becomes the item everyone wants rather than the victory over the champ who could change at any time.

Welterweight is completely different with only two main champions holding the belt for 14 of the last 16 title fights (not including interim title fights). This seems remarkable similar to the WWE in principle but the key is that the fighters just underneath the top guy are unpredictable, beating one another in a seemingly endless round robin competition where eventually one person draws their head above the line only to be stamped back down.

In this group of fighters are people who have been successful at other weight classes but compete at 170 simply as it has the most stacked weight class for the lower divisions and is the place to prove your worth as a fighter. Having a great champion with a genuine group of athletes who can beat anyone else has not only inspired many to break new ground in development of training and offense but also raised the stature of the entire division.

As an interesting side not, the least successfully thought of title within the UFC is the middleweight title although it is arguable held by their best fighter and pound for pound elite if he is not the greatest of all time. However much like the dominance of Cena and Orton, that division has been dominated by two men in succession. The first Rich Franklin had defeated everyone around him until he met Anderson Silva who defeated him with relative ease. What happened next made the division look weak as Franklin went on to dominate other fighters in the division only to lose badly again to Silva leaving a clear one and two, much like Cena and Orton in the WWE.

This was made worse by Franklin moving up in weight class which, after 6 fights, has left with a even record of 3 wins and 3 losses. Accidentally, this resembles the current WWE tactics of setting a side one super fighter with a distinct second best figure in the background, yet even in a real world setting with a truly great champion it has not got the title over. Instead, the fighter is the division, leaving a distinct impression that the rest of the division are built from less talented individuals than other divisions which can be seen in WWE terms as people seeing the current roster as weaker as historical rosters simply down to the dominance of the champions at this time.


The question is whether experiences in a genuine sport can be replicated in the staged environment of the WWE and whether it will help to reestablish their titles anyway.

The experiences of the light heavyweight division would not do for the main heavyweight championships within the WWE as constant change in that belt means losing the spectacle, and potential payday of a big pay per view. However it could well be the perfect opportunity for either of the two lesser belts, helping to establish a new collection of wrestlers, all desperate to take the belt with them but no one really being able to run away with it. In that situation, people who excel can be promoted up to fighting the for main belt but for the time being it would allow for the importance of the belt to shine through. becoming a focus point for television while feuds roll of it.

This is not without precedent either as a similar tactic was used in the run up to Wrestlemania 15 where Golddust, Ken Shamrock, Road Dogg and Val Venis were in a constant flux of champion and new champion culminating in a final elimination match at the end. Several other stars could have been interjected into the match who had failed to gain the championship but it really emphasized how important being the Intercontinental champion could be.

The way that the welterweight division has established long term champions could work for WWE however it would require the WWE to make the decision to have far less title matches, certainly removing them from every other Raw so that the unpredictability factor was largely increased. However this is not a perfect solution to the situation due to the relative weak status of the majority of potential contenders who have already been run through by the top two guys, sometimes several times over.

It may be best for the long term prospects of the title for Cena and Orton to leave the scene for a few weeks, possible to shoot another straight to DVD movie, and allow some time fro wrestlers to establish themselves as a legitimate threat to the WWE belt.What would ideally happen is that the talents who rise to the top, fall just sort of beating the current super hero characters after they return only to vow to improve and come back stronger. This could see a story line develop over several months, preferable keeping the talent out of the title picture until they could come back improved to finally take the title. Such a build up would give them automatic  authority as someone who fought for the belt tooth and nail and that effort would translate into direct prestige for the championship they would hold.

Such long term story building has been successful with The Rock's much anticipated return at the next Wrestlemania however the key to keeping a feud like this fresh is keeping the two men apart, allowing others to challenge and fail as well. Opening it back up to the all-comer mentality that was so successful in the territory period of the pre-McMahon era could see people rise to prominence from relative obscurity, something scene in the UFC far more often than pro wrestling where an upset is far more of a possibility as the situations are not staged. This variability, or lack of as the case is currently has had a profound effect on people not being able to absorb themselves into the moment so becoming more unpredictable should be another key.


It may well be that this all boils down to one critical element that the WWE is missing. This point is simply a lack of legitimacy that pulls people out of the make believe world they surround themselves with like any good  entertainment experience. An ingredient missing from WWE programming for some time that has been papered over by a refusal to acknowledge the problem which as lead to the questioning of the worth of a title which is ultimately gifted to a performer. Until legitimacy of the titles are restored, it will eat away at the heart of the institution which will leave no one happy. 

Monday, 5 September 2011

More Than Meets The Eye: Shields Vs Ellenberger

With a superficial glance and perhaps an increasingly cynical view of the UFC's booking in recent months, the main event for the 25th Fight Night outing looks like an excuse to re-establish the credentials of former title contender, and expensive free agent Jake Shields against efficient but relatively unremarkable Jake Ellenberger. However this contest may well be more interesting and perhaps shocking than many anticipate as the development of talent may outstrip the match making approach.

Jake Shields was a darling of the internet, dominating outside the UFC and being heralded as the man who could  take out long term welterweight champion Georges St Pierre. It is hard to argue that the ground specialist who came into his previous fight on a 15 fight winning streak which included Elite XC and Strikeforce gold as well as wins over current Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion Dan Henderson, The Ultimate Fighter 14 coach Jason "Mayhem" Miller and former middleweight contender Yushin Okami was anything but a legitimate danger to UFC's welterweight crown however promise soon turned into despair as Shields was outclassed, losing a one sided decision. Losing in such a one sided way is not an unusual situation for people who challenge St Pierre however coming in with so much hype from the notoriously fickle MMA community and putting in what was frankly a disappointing performance has seen a significant backlash in opinion against Shields as a fighter. This loss of hardcore support is worsened by the fact that Shields came in from outside the UFC and so has significantly less brand recognition. Therefore rebuilding his credibility as a potential star could take more work than previous defeated contenders starting with September 17th free to air appearance.

It would appear that Ellenberger is the perfect person to start that rebuilding process as the former university of Nebraska wrestler is, on paper at least, significantly over matched in the grappling department while holding enough credibility in the eyes of hardcore fans as a ranked welterweight fighter and even has some name recognition appearing on previous Fight Night cards. Also in Shields favour is size as the former ADCC competitor has fought at a higher weight in several of his previous bouts, choosing to cut back down to welterweight when joining the UFC. Competing for championships has meant fighting at better general standard of competition which has a secondary advantage of having to perform on the big stage which should theoretically give him the psychological edge as well. A combination of factors that not only appeases the need to rebuild Shields as a public figure but also can be seen as a relatively safe fight in his progression towards more pay per view friendly match ups.

However this is where perception and reality may differ and lead to an unexpected result.

Firstly, the size difference between the two men is minimal, with Ellenberger being given a slightly longer reach than Shields. A fair indication that fighters inside the UFC are bigger in their respective weight classes than the advertised weight might indicate. Just ask Akiyama who's move down to welterweight is critical for his future success. The experience advantage is not distinct either as Ellenberger only has two less careers fights than  Shields while competing in more than double the number of UFC events.

Although the general quality of opponents is still clearly in Shields favour, the style of fights may not be as Ellenberger has made a career of fighting other wrestlers or ground fighters and coming out on top. Wins over the likes of Carlos Eduardo Rocha, Mike Pyle and John Howard attest to this. Leading Ellenberger to exhibit progressive improvement in his defensive wrestling repertoire, both against the shot and the fence. Fight experience against such tactics is invaluable, especially within the walls of the Octagon, and will increase the pressure on Shields who has shown frustration from his lack of success in takedown attempts since joining the UFC compared to other endeavours. Of course this could be down to Shields adjusting to the Octagon which is a different place to work than anywhere else however it could be the quality of the UFC fighters.

Ellenberger could well be near the pinnacle when it comes to stuffing the takedown. suddenly bringing to the fore Shields biggest disadvantage which is his striking. Shields approach to striking can be described kindly as being rudimentary but this lack of quality limits his approach to fighting and opens up his opponents tactical options. Unlike his opponent, Ellenberger has shown constant improvement each time he steps into the Octagon, developing from someone who possessed nothing more than a big right hand to someone who can throw a series of combinations. Couple this with impressive knockout power that has seen Ellenberger take 15 of his wins by KO including in his last fight against journeyman Sean Pierson, this could well be Ellenberger's best opportunity to get the win.It should be noted that Shields has shown great recovery such as the first round of the Henderson fight but against a younger, hungrier opponent with devastating ground of pound of his own, it could all fall in line for Ellenberger to cause the upset.

It would not be the first time that a former challenger for the belt has been set up to reclaim his place in the group of challengers to find themselves displaced by another as Dan Hardy experienced in his fight with Carlos Condit. Both men had a reputation for landing leather and Hardy, who proclaimed his survival skills to whoever was willing to listen, was confident that this was a fight ideal for his abilities. Condit's left hook thought otherwise, suddenly moving him back into contention while Hardy found out the hard way that being a contender can suddenly dissipate as if it were never there in the first place.

There is one last ace that Ellenberger may hold over Shields and that is putting the BJJ man on his back. Although a BJJ black belt, it is not something that Shields has experienced to often in his career and certainly not against someone who is as seasoned as Ellenberger, especially with the great equaliser of elbows thrown into the mix. Elleneberger's short elbow is probably his best offensive weapon and Shields is a fighter who has, for the most part, performed in organisations where elbows on the floor have been illegal. Elbows don't just cause serious damage but remove several holds that can be used to stop punches which conceivable lowers Shields defensive prowess and could be a difference maker in this fight. Mind you, reducing the ability of someone as skilled as Shields on the floor who has 10 submission victories to his name may well be the type of risk that can come back to haunt a fighter.

Ultimately Shields, as someone who has had the UFC's hype machine behind him and coming off his championship loss will be the favourite entering this match up however it could well be, intentionally or otherwise, that the UFC is setting Shields up for a fall. It should be remembered that one man's loss is another's gain and this could be the fight that propels Ellenberger into the divisions title eliminators. What is for certain is that a fight which started out looking like a match made to help reignite one star could well make the other.