How do you beat Jon Jones? If you conducted a poll of the most popular thread topics in MMA website forums over the last year, I would hazard a guess at this being at least in the top three, if not at the number one spot. Reading pretty much any discussion on the topic reveals how what started off for many fans as brief observation has now become more of an obsession, as Jones’ every step, strike and feint is meticulously analysed in an attempt to formulate the perfect theoretical game plan to bring down the champion.
It’s become the MMA community’s equivalent of the classroom full of maths nerds scratching their heads and sweating under the pressure of a blackboard equation that they are simply unable to crack. And the worse news? The Jon Jones Conundrum is becoming increasingly difficult to answer with every one of the champion’s dominant victories.
On paper, Rampage was going to test his chin – the outcome: Rampage wasn’t allowed into the fight and was submitted with ease. Machida was going to be too unorthodox, too sharp on the counter – the outcome: Machida was choked unconscious and dumped on the mat like a bag of garbage. Evans knew Jones’ game inside out, he had the required power punch, insisted he had got the better of him when they used to train together – the outcome: Evans was content enough in the end to just not get finished.
Belfort was….well, he was branded by nearly every observer as a middleweight who had nothing more than a punchers chance as hope for a legitimate challenge to Jones quickly dried up. Ironically of course, The Phenom came the closest – in fact, he came within seconds of capturing the title and breaking Jones’ arm, but the champion ultimately did what champions do: he found a way to overcome adversity and win. Again.
They all stepped to the champion and they all lost, but that wasn’t the only common thread connecting their performances: each challenger also showed a reluctance to take risks to win. They seemed too content to wait for openings to come rather than creating them themselves.
Of course, a fighter like Machida has a style which is predicated on his superb ability to counter his opponent’s attack, it banks on - as Joe Rogan described it after Machida’s most recent win over Bader – a fighter “rushing into the wood chipper” and then paying the price. Despite Machida arguably winning the first round against Jones, it was ultimately a redundant strategy to employ against a fighter who is more than happy to pick his opponents apart from the outside – as he quite brutally displayed against Evans.
The shared reluctance to draw first in their title duels seems to be about more than just a failed fight strategy on the night. Rampage is big in Japan, and was power-bombing foes in the Pride ring at a time when Jones was barely out of high school; Machida was being schooled in Karate by his father before Jones was born; Belfort had held a Ju-Jitsu black belt for nearly as long as Jones had been alive; and Evans wasn’t ready to be schooled by the guy he once looked down on as his prodigious, yet still very green little MMA brother. These were respected fighters with long, storied careers, either not willing or fully prepared to take too many chances if it meant being made to look a fool by the new kid on the block who had only been training in MMA for around four years.
When it comes to the question of how to beat Jon Jones, it seems necessary to consider the mind-set and intangible aspects of the challenger as much as his game plan in the octagon.
Step in Glover Teixeira. By no means do I intend to start yet another hype train within MMA circles - the perils of doing so having been yet again highlighted last weekend as Jon Fitch derailed Erick Silva – however an examination of the slugger from Sobralia, Brazil does provoke considerable thought and intrigue as to whether a collision with Jones could occur somewhere down the road, perhaps sooner rather than later.
I guess I couldn’t start the hype train even if I wanted to, as that train had already left the station. Pretty much as soon as Glover had arrived in the UFC some fans were calling him the next big thing in the division – which of course, as is the customary response to such hype talk in the MMA community, was met with a fierce rebuttal every bit as enthusiastic. “The guy has beaten bums”, “he’s spent his career fighting nobodies”, “he’s just the next hype train coming from a small gig that will be derailed faster than Hector Lombard”. You get the idea, you’ve all heard this type of talk countless times in its various forms.
But unlike Lombard in his UFC debut, Teixeira isn’t waiting around: he has shown the aggression and efficiency of a man possessed.
Sure, there was a degree of repetition and predictability in the strike combinations thrown against Kingsbury, and in his most recent fight there was a lapse in concentration as he dropped both his hands and allowed Maldonado to land a flush left hook on his jaw, which could have left him with one more in the loss column if it had been thrown with full conviction and not out of desperation. But all fighters make mistakes, and taking into account the famous UFC jitters which will have played some part in his first couple of appearances, you have all in all an impressive showing so far. Two fights, two finishes and little fuss.
The most striking thing about Teixeira is his sense of urgency, both inside and outside the octagon. It was a comment from one of his first interviews since arriving in the UFC which alerted me to it, I guess it somewhat differed from the expected mash-up of platitudes fighters use as their standard responses to the standard questions. The interviewer talked of how exciting it must be for a young guy to have achieved his dream of fighting for the biggest MMA organisation in the world. A smiling Glover agreed, but had to bisect the question in order to answer it: of course he was delighted to have finally reached the big show, but he wasn’t exactly young – he was thirty-two years old (and by the end of this month will have turned thirty-three).
Here was a fighter who had only just got to the UFC and was already considering the brevity of his situation. He made it clear he was not interested in a settling in period or any fights to pad his record – he wanted big names and fast. It’s an outlook that will immediately get Dana White on your side – seriously, how many times has he said why be in this thing if you’re not going after the title? – and if Twitter is to be believed then Glover has his wish: a showdown with Rampage Jackson for his next fight.
That is what’s interesting about Teixeira. He’s a new arrival to the UFC, but he can’t be classed as part of the ‘new breed’ of light-heavyweight fighters, among the likes of Gustafsson and Davis who are twenty-five and twenty-eight years old respectively. Those two fighters are in theory closer to a title shot than Teixeira, but have more time to take other tune-up fights if they feel they are not yet ready for Jones.
It’s a luxury Teixeira doesn’t have and he seems acutely aware of it, which is unsurprising due to the years that were taken from him due to the long-winded visa issues that delayed his UFC arrival for the best part of three years. Teixeira was left in the wilderness in Brazil, no doubt tortured daily by the thought of whether his hard-fought career would really be floored by immigration law rather than a better fighter. I imagine some days he had to laugh at the absurdity of his situation to get through it, but I bet he didn’t often. I imagine most days were hell.
But now he’s arrived and fighting as you would expect: like a man making up for lost time. He was stranded in Brazil as other fighters got the fame, the pay checks, the sponsorship deals and the glory. He had to endure watching other fighters’ names go up in bright lights while thinking all along that it should have rightfully been him.
In the run up to his title fight, Belfort referred to himself as the ‘old lion’. He was the going to use his years of experience and guile to bring down the ‘young lion’, and in fairness he nearly did just that, but I’m not sure a seasoned veteran is really the guy to take out Jon Jones.
His conqueror might be a nobody looking to be a somebody rather than a wealthy fighter of the old guard who’s already made his name and carved out his legacy. Somebody who is truly hungry to wear the strap and willing to take the necessary risks to make it happen. Kind of like a few years back when a young scrapper from Endicott, New York was living in a basement with a kid on the way and said to himself there was no other option but the top of the mountain.
In a sport as unpredictable as MMA, were the margin for error is wafer-thin, were a split-second can be the difference between a win or loss, and being in the same weight class as Chael Sonnen, it may be that Teixeira never gets a shot at Bones. But if he does don’t expect him to freeze in front of him, he doesn’t have the time for that.
Backed by an experienced team in Hackleman and Liddell who stood by him and ensured the door to the UFC was always kept ajar during the visa troubles, Teixeira now seems determined to blow it off the hinges in as little time as possible to reward their faith in him. He’ll keep training and he’ll keep improving, as his team try to mould him into a monster that will one day soon be ready to dethrone the current light heavyweight king. In Glover Teixeira, Liddell and Hackleman believe they have the answer to the Jon Jones Conundrum, and with an impressive win over Rampage, they may have others believing it too.