The wait is finally over. Alexander “the Mauler” Gustafsson, the Swedish phenom, gets his chance at UFC’s No. 1 pound for pound fighter and light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones at UFC 165 in the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada tomorrow night as the card’s main event. Jones will look to surpass the title-defense record of Tito Ortiz at 205 with a win.
Throughout Jones’ career he has been often criticized for being much larger than all of his opponents, despite always making 205 and never showing signs of being drained from a weight cut. Gustafsson is the closest to Jones in size out of anyone he has faced, but Jones still maintains a pretty significant reach advantage. His monstrous reach and strength has been perfectly utilized to nearly clean out the once stacked light heavyweight division. Few challenges remain for Jones as the 15-1 Gustafsson is one of the remaining talents left in the division that hasn’t yet been defeated by the champion, having already ran through the likes of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and more. Gustafsson is not only the biggest fighter Jones has faced, but also the youngest.
But as we’ve seen time and time again, height and reach do not win fights (take a look at Stefan Struve) but rather your ability to utilize those attributes is what wins fights, and Jones has proven that his ability to keep his opponents at bay with his rangy strikes is the best we’ve ever seen. “The Mauler,” on the other hand, often finds himself closing the distance with his strikes against fighters with lesser reach – although that could be beneficial when fighting someone with the reach of Jones. Gustafsson’s timing is going to have to be on point in this fight to deal with the diverse striking of Jones – Jones throws spinning elbows, oblique kicks, switch kicks, and many more while “the Mauler” is primarily a boxer. Gustafsson will also have to leave his hands up, something he forgets to do when throwing strikes of his own, to avoid eating Jones’ left straight or counter elbows.
Unfortunately for Gustafsson, he will also have to worry about the explosive wrestling of Jones while he looks to set up and time his strikes. Much like Georges St. Pierre, the threat of his take down allows Jones to out strike fighters who, on paper, were considered better stand up fighters – something that was especially noted in the “Shogun” fight (low kicks are also a very bad idea against Jones if you haven’t mastered the art of them like, say, Jose Aldo if you wish to keep a fight on the feet). If “the Mauler” doesn’t improve his ability to circle away (as we saw in the Shogun fight, he often times moved straight backwards while on the defensive), Jones will easily be able to set up take downs with strikes and strikes with feinted take down attempts.
When you go through the areas of expertise of these two fighters, Jones appears to be ahead almost everywhere. While “the Mauler” has more power to his punches, the variety of tools to win Jones brings to the fight is far greater. However, there is always the x-factor that Gustafsson is also a very young fighter and is potentially the most physically imposing fighter Jones has faced. This could present problems inside the cage for Jones that he isn’t used to dealing with. While the UFC records “the Mauler’s” reach at 76.5 inches, he has gone on record saying that his reach is in fact 81.2 inches. If this is true, Jones will finally have to deal with someone that has comparable reach which may cause problems when throwing his flashy strikes as he won’t be as far away, allowing his “the Mauler” to capitalize on any mistakes made.
Prediction: Jon Jones via TKO in round 2.
I want to believe that the similarities in size and reach will play a big factor, but even when you take away those advantages Jones still has far more tools at his disposal to defeat Gustafsson. Gustafsson is a great boxer, but his striking is both somewhat limited and at times reckless. His habit of dropping his front (left) hand while throwing his right is not something Jones hasn’t noticed – and he will be punished every time it happens. On top of that, when you face a wrestler you often times keep your hands lower to help defend take downs. Jones is going to land his trademark oblique kick as well as his solid jab when “the Mauler” tries to come in. If Gustafsson finds himself able to close the distance, he will have to deal with the take downs, Greco throws, and elbows of Jones. I see Jones picking apart the legs of Gustafsson as well as countering well all while mixing it up with take downs, eventually TKO’ing him in the second round with his powerful elbows.