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.

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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. 
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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.

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