BALTIMORE, Md. -- The familiar refrain at Thursday at the UFC 172 media day was impossible to miss. When it comes to the main event, 'How do you beat Jon Jones?' was volleyed back and forth from media to fighter to coach to media and ultimately to everyone in attendance. It wasn't asked rhetorically as if to suggest Jones is above it all, but as a curious puzzle with no obvious answers.
Even elite fighters often have limited means. Cut off access to their resources and they become an instantly more manageable task for opposition to overcome.
Jones doesn't really present that opportunity. He's not simply well-rounded, although he is that, too. Rather, he's peerless, not merely in (perceived) ability or skills, but in likeness. There's going to be almost no one on any top light heavyweight's resume they can point to as a fight that uniquely prepared for them for facing Jones. The amalgamation of their experiences help, certainly, but there's no direct analogue.
Moreover, there's no one clear deficiency. Take away any portion of Jones' game and he's got something else to lean on. Not every part of his arsenal is as deadly as the other, but they're all more than serviceable in their own right.
When facing Jones, the question cannot be 'How do you beat him?', but rather, 'How do you beat him with what you have to work with, both in skills and physical stature?' Fighting Jones is as much a moment of action as it is reflection, where the task of defeating the youngest UFC champion ever serves as a mirror to let the would-be challenger see themselves disassociated. With no clear blueprint, how do they take the title from him?
Stated simply, there's no One Recipe to defeat Jones, merely what Teixeira can cook up on his own. Gustafsson was able to exploit reach and control the wrestling, but Teixeira cannot borrow all of that from the Swede. Belfort almost had his way with an armbar, but Teixeira likely doesn't have plans to play for low-percentage submissions from the guard against the bracketing artillery of Jones' ground and pound.
If Teixeira is to win, he'll have to win his own way, with what he has to offer. And in talking to his coaches Ricardo Liborio and John Hackleman, that's precisely what they aim to do.
Their presumption is simple and probably correct: Jones is well rounded and creative, but Teixeira has remarkable skills in every phase of the game. If the Brazilian can be proactive in his offense and attack with a consistently-applied mixture of striking, wrestling and grappling, it should be enough to mute the offense of the champion en route to a victory for their understudy.
In terms of fight preparation, Hackleman says Teixeira spent the overwhelming bulk of his time at American Top Team (ATT) because of the size of their camp and the size of their fighters. Both he and Liborio, however, strategize equally.
For training, "everything's split in quarters and it's equal parts of striking, grappling, wrestling and conditioning," Hackleman told MMA Fighting. "Between his striking, wrestling and jiu-jitsu with those guys at Liborio's, I feel as confident for this fight as I did for Chuck Liddel vs. Babalu I. I'm that positive he's going to win.
"There was not one thing," Hackleman said about what Teixeira demonstrated in this particular fight camp. "You just feel it. First of all, he's in perfect health. He didn't get one single injury and just the way he looked. He just went to a perfect crescendo and he's exactly where he should be."
Or, more succinctly, "Glover has everything," Hackleman insisted.
"I believe the key is to mix it up and definitely for this fight, people are going to be seeing a lot of everything from him," Liborio argued.
When Teixeira entered the room to fulfill his media obligations, he did so with 2008 Olympic team member and ATT heavyweight Steve Mocco. Teixeira has shown capable takedown defense in the past, something that's basically a requisite to even have a chance against Jones, and Liborio claims Mocco is merely the tip of Teixeira's wrestling iceberg.
"For this fight particularly, in terms of wrestling, I think people will be really surprised how good his wrestling is. People have no idea how good his wrestling is. He's given a sample of what he can do on the ground."
Liborio says the wrestling room in Coconut Creek, Florida, home of the ATT gym, is filled with all manner of wrestling talent, but he positioned two more names as uniquely helpful to Teixeira for Jones beyond Mocco: Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero and Bellator light heavyweight Muhammed Lawal, himself a decorated amateur wrestler.
According to Liborio, every phase of Teixeira's wrestling was tweaked, but emphasis was placed on pressure. Teixeira is already a walk-forward fighter, but could stand to incorporate a touch of finesse and timing, but without losing the value of what pressure offers. Among Mocco, Romero and Lawal, Liborio is adamant Teixeira's ability to apply consistent pressure at the right times in a diverse arsenal of attacks is beyond what anyone can expect.
"Oh man," Liborio says effusively, "amazing improvement. Amazing improvement in terms of the pressure. The weakest link in terms of Brazil is definitely wrestling and the chain of wrestling. You have good guys doing double legs and fail to get anything after that. The chain of wrestling basically doesn't exist as much as it does here.
"Training with Mocco, training with Mo Lawal, training with Yoel Romero, you can't get better than that," Liborio exclaimed. "We have a wrestling room that's one of the best wrestling rooms in the world. He's definitely going to be very well prepared for that."
That's as good of a plan for Teixeira as any, but what about the striking? Here the coaches have two basic concerns and nearly identical answers. Both agree Teixeira's ability to manage the distance is essential, although wouldn't divulge what the specifics of the plan are to address that issue.
Instead, both point to what Teixeira will do once that path inside is navigated, namely, "make things happen," Liborio said euphemistically.
Liborio concedes Teixeira is something of a head hunter, a fact borne out by Fight Metric data as well, but is quick to note that's been addressed in this camp. They don't want to take away what comes natural to him, but merely channel it more effectively with something they believe Jones simply does not possess in the way Teixeira does: punching power.
"Yeah, it is fair," Liboro concedes when talking about Teixeira's striking choices, "but he's definitely got a lot of power in his hands. There's such a good strategy for this fight in particular about what to do, the whole 'choreography'. He's definitely going to be well prepared."
"He does go to the head a little more," Hackleman also admits, "but most MMA guys do and he's definitely digging to the body now. A lot more and he's kicking to the body. Like most MMA fighters, it's more rewarding to hit the chin and watch the guy drop."
Which is precisely the outcome Hackelman thinks is most likely.
And this is all where the question of 'How do you beat Jon Jones with what you have to work with?' is answered for Teixeira. Everything aforementioned has to be in place, but the ace in the hole is the ability to change the state of a fighter's consciousness with his fists. That comes after or with wrestling pressure and it most certainly comes after getting inside the distance, but it's what the Teixeira camp points to as what they uniquely have to address the Jon Jones' challenge. In other words, it's what they believe they can apply and what Jones will be unable to answer.
"I think it's his one-punch, Mike Tyson knockout power," Hackleman says matter-of-factly. "I think everything else is similar skill wise, but his one-punch knockout power can change everything like that."