After defeating Rashad Evans at UFC 145, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones might be on the cusp of stardom. He's certainly closer now than ever before. Yet, the 24 year-old phenom is still polarizing to MMA fans. That is not a secret, of course, but the question is why? Why, despite unbelievable athletic accomplishments at such a young age, is the Endicott, New York native not clicking with some fans? Dan Henderson, Jones' next opponent, thinks he understands what's going on.
"I'm sure you can answer that question, too. Why do you suppose that is?", the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion rhetorically asked Ariel Helwani today on The MMA Hour.
When pressed further for his take, Henderson offered a theory. "I think it all has to do with being genuine and the fans sense that: when you are and when you're not. I'm pretty much who I am all the time and I don't know if they get that impression from him."
That may be what the fans are thinking, but what about Henderson himself? Does he get the impression Jones is genuine in his personal interactions with others? "Not really," Henderson confessed. "I think he was a little bit better after his fight with Rashad than he had been in the past, but I haven't got that impression from him, no."
Henderson isn't suggesting Jones is entirely putting on a public act. The top light heavyweight contender isn't exactly accusing Jones of being an actor. But if Henderson detects anything, it's that the polarizing effect the light heavyweight champion has on fans is as consequence of Jones having something manufactured about what he shows the public. "His whole attitude sometimes. It's not completely not genuine," Henderson clarified. "But I think that's what the fans are turned off by."
"I don't know him personally, so I can't really say if it's genuine or not. It's just the impression that I think fans get."
If he doesn't know for certain that Jones is sincere, there is one thing he seems very confident about. Namely, that Jones' fighting style is a good fit for him. No matter how dominant Jones is believed to be, Henderson isn't short on the belief that he has what it takes to be the first one to give Jones problems. "Everybody has holes in their game," he argued, "I just think he matches up style wise well with me."
For Henderson, it has to do with where he and Jones prefer to contest their bouts. "He's gonna stand and bang a little bit," he continued. "He gets in there and starts to throw some punches and then gets on the inside a little bit, too, and likes to get into the clinch. Those are places where I'm sure that our fight will go that I'm very comfortable with."
In the wake of Jones' victory over Evans, the considerable reach of Jones has become even more difficult for challengers to handle. If a former training partner and fighter with the speed of Evans can't get inside on Jones, some would suggest Henderson will have no easier of a time. The former Olympian, however, thinks solving that problem boils down to a mindset and one Evans lacked in his title fight on Saturday. "I think it all has to do with - you gotta commit to being offensive, throwing those punches - getting on the inside and staying outside that reach."
"I think Rashad definitely could've taken him down," Henderson suggested. "I don't think he really had too solid of a takedown attempts. Maybe one decent attempt, but he didn't set it up at all and Rashad usually does that pretty well. He did that real well against Phil Davis, but it's a little bit harder for him. He fights a lot better moving forward and he was moving back most of the fight."
Beyond a larger, more general perspective, Henderson wasn't ready to divulge any specific details about what he'll do when he gets his chance inside the Octagon with Jones. However, the former PRIDE middleweight champion clearly believes there is a blueprint to follow. And it shouldn't be too hard. For Henderson, he just has to do what he already does best.
"A lot of it is pressuring him, cutting him off," Henderson said. "A lot of times it's tough to do, tough to implement sometimes - to keep a guy always on the defense, keep pressuring him - but against some like Jon that should be the game plan."