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Mike Winkeljohn: Harder kicks were key to Jon Jones win over Alexander Gustafsson

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Jon Jones’s latest win concluded with him using his feared ground-and-pound to cap off the action. But it was his work on the feet (and with the feet) that got the ball rolling for him.

Coach Mike Winkeljohn appeared on The MMA Hour on Monday to break down how the team Jackson-Wink star was able to put together a performance that led to him authoring an emphatic finish in his rematch with rival Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232. It was a completely different fight from their first meeting five years ago at UFC 165, a bloody five-round affair that Jones won via unanimous decision.

One major factor the second time around is that the rangy Gustafsson was not able to get through Jones’s defenses as he did at UFC 165, which Winkeljohn attributes to Jones’s kicks becoming more dangerous. Gustafsson was able to punch through Jones’s kicks before, but that wasn’t the case in the rematch.

“His striking a whole is just starting to evolve more and more and more, there’s no doubt about it,” Winkeljohn said. “It’s all about being more comfortable in those ranges, just timing and repetition. Jon was really more of a wrestler when he first started, but I feel he’s turned into the best striker in the game because he’s so unpredictable.

“And I think his kicks have gotten so much harder, so much better, that now people worry about the kicks so much that the hands start playing out. So I think it all goes together.”

With Jones’s kicking game opening up the rest of his striking, Gustafsson broke down faster than Jones and his team expected. If anything, Winkeljohn thought that it would have taken until the championship rounds for Jones to get the fight to the mat; instead, Jones scored a takedown in round three and finished with punches on the ground.

“I actually had thought maybe by the third round we would have worn him down a little bit, but Jon got in there, got that takedown a little bit sooner than I had thought we would and once Jon gets on top of somebody they almost always turn because they don’t want the bloody mess from the elbows and it played out the way we thought,” Winkeljohn said.

“I thought we were going to have to pressure a little bit more, I thought Gustafsson was going to give space, but he put some pressure on us and Jon went back to a little bit longer space moving away a little bit, kind of waiting for Gustafsson and then doing what we wanted to do, which was break his legs down, break him down with hard kicks to the body and to the legs to make it hard for him to move in on us and get to that boxing range,” Winkeljohn added, when asked what parts of the fight went unexpectedly. “And then eventually make it harder for him to defend the takedowns.”

Winkeljohn credited Jones’s longtime mentor Greg Jackson with helping the UFC light heavyweight champion hone his ground-and-pound, as well as the rest of Jones’s team for their willingness to put their ego aside in service of Jones’s fight preparation.

One reason why Jones is able to strike from a countless number of angles and seemingly anticipate his opponents’ movements before they can even act is the endless hours of film that he reviews with his coaches. Winkeljohn points to those study sessions as an example of Jones’s dedication, even if the long hours aren’t exactly everyone’s idea of a good time.

“He’ll want to watch stuff in slow motion, which like death for us sometimes because we have things to do,” Winkeljohn said. “He watches a tremendous amount of film, we all do as a team, to sit down and break it down and get together as a group and start looking for different ideas, and start listening to each other as far as ‘That’s a good idea, that’s a good way to do it.’ Nobody argues about how their way is the best way.

“As a whole, we’ve got such a good group of guys that coach together that I think that helps Jon out quite a bit.”