Over the weekend, Jon Jones squeaked out a highly controversial, unanimous decision over Dominick Reyes to retain his light heavyweight title at UFC 247. It was a fight many fans believe Reyes deserved to win, and it marked Jones’ third poor performance in a row, prompting questions about why “Bones” has looked so vulnerable in his most recent outings. So let’s talk about it.
The regression of Jon Jones
Is Jon Jones regression tied to the quality of his opposition, the limitations of Jackson Wink, or are years of partying lifestyle just catching up to him. Or was he never as good as people thought— Jason Michael Cox (@JayBird_531) February 5, 2020
What about a little of all of it?
Let’s start here: Jon Jones is an all-time great fighter and likely the most gifted fighter that has ever stepped foot in the octagon. During his rise to the top of the sport, Jones paired his myriad natural gifts with world class Fight I.Q., game planning, and adaptability to create an insurmountable problem for all of his opponents. But at least some of those traits are clearly not the same as they were before.
For one, the level of competition Jones has face recently is certainly better than he has fought most of his career. Yes, it’s easy to bag on Anthony Smith, Thiago Santos, and Dominick Reyes (trust me, I have). But the dirty reality of most of Jones’ career has been that his resume is a paper tiger. The win(s?) over Daniel Cormier are certainly incredible, but during Jones’ initial title run, he fought four opponents who ended up in, or were at the time, middleweights, and most of the rest of his opposition was the last vestige of an old guard of fighters hanging around at the top by virtue of a dearth of talent.
Along those lines, the new crop of contenders for Jones may be unseasoned (or former middleweights as well), but they are at least bringing a physicality and athleticism to the cage that make their fights start out on a more even footing than most of Jones’ opposition, and that’s key. During his rise to the top, Jones might start getting bested in one fashion or another, but then he’d just flip the switch in his head that says, “Oh, I can just big brother this guy. Gonna do that.” Now, Jones doesn’t have the nitro to launch him past his opponent, so he has to win the old fashioned way.
I also think there may be something to the hard partying lifestyle/aging aspect of the whole thing. Historically, fighters who party hard have not aged exceptionally well, and though Jones is only 32, he has been fighting professionally for 12 years, which tends to be right around the time that MMA fighters start losing a step (see: Aldo, Jose - actual G.O.A.T.). A higher quality of opposition mixed with a slight drop could easily be the simplest explanation for Jones’s recent fall off.
But there’s another issue, and in my mind, it’s the biggest problem: At this stage of his career, Jones fights almost exclusively as a rangy out-fighter despite that being by far the worst aspect of his game. Just because you are tall and have long arms does not mean you should be an out-fighter (just ask Stefan Struve), but either Jones, Winkeljohn, or both, seem determined to force that issue. And that makes no sense, because out-fighting is objectively where he is the most vulnerable.
Think of all of Jones’ fights. Where are the moments where opponents had success against him? At range on the feet. In literally every other instance – aside from Vitor Belfort’s near-miracle armbar – Jon Jones has beaten the ever-loving hell out of opponents in any other phase of the game he is in. Quinton Jackson is tough as nails and tough to put away striking? Jones tackles him to the floor and throttles him. Lyoto Machida outstriking Jon? Jon gets the clinch and literally drops him like a sack of potatoes. Alexander Gustafsson is landing combinations in a competitive fight? Jon takes him down and pounds the bejesus out of him.
All of the attributes and skills that make Jon Jones JON F*CKING JONES have next to nothing to do with his jab and oblique kick. Instead they’re about his uncanny leverage and his ability to use that to obliterate opponents in the clinch or on the floor. Jones is defensively savvy enough and physically gifted enough to keep winning striking battles ,but the reality is, the light heavyweight champion has always been an mediocre-to-bad kickboxer, and his insistence now on exclusively fighting as one is allowing athletic, prepared fighters to present serious issues for him.
When fighters start to age, the truly great ones stand out, because they can keep winning with savvy and craft. Jones is trying to do that while also carrying the millstone of “not fighting to his strengths” around his neck. If he keeps it up, it’s only a matter of time before some fighter takes the belt from him by just out kickboxing him. Hell, Dominick Reyes already did so, and Thiago Santos arguably did it without any knees. Jon Jones needs to go back to spinning sh*t Jon Jones and leave WinkelJon Jones behind.
Khabib Nurmagomedov at welterweight
Theoretically, how would Khabib fare against top welterweights such as Usman, Tyron, colby and so on— Lucas Khan (@LucasKhan15) February 7, 2020
Genuinely no freaking clue. My first inclination is that the top of welterweight is largely populated by atrocious style matchups for Khabib, and he’d far poorly. But at this stage, I’m not willing to bet against Khabib. He’s the most remarkable fighter I think I’ve ever seen in all my years of fandom. He’s the best MMA wrestler ever in the sport, and I think Georges St-Pierre is the only person with a case to make over him. Does Khabib rely on otherworldly athleticism too much? Sure. But he also chain wrestles, and in such a diverse and unique way that even stalwart defensive wrestlers like Usman and Woodley might just not be able to keep him off them.
Perhaps one day we will see it.
Can you actually compare the striking of HWs and FlyWeights like I see a ton of people do here on mma twitter— FilthyCasuals (@koa_mou) February 5, 2020
Of course. Ultimately, the measure of striking is effectiveness. What that means at different weight classes can be drastically different and that’s the case for flyweight vs. heavyweight. At heavyweight, the margins are smaller, so technique is more “nice to have, but not exactly necessary.” A big dude swinging an ugly hammer can still shut the lights off if he connects. Cleaner technique should, in theory, lower the percentage points of that happening. But this is MMA, and things happen.
Conversely, at flyweight there are far fewer fighters with the ability to clobber someone senseless with one shot, so technique becomes far more valuable. If you ran a simulation, the more technical striker will win at a higher rate than the less technical striker in both divisions. But at flyweight, those numbers will skew even more heavily toward the better guy.
Favourite MMA cameo? Fighter in a film/tv show, random tv show/film mentioning MMA etc..— Craig (@CraigDB85) February 5, 2020
It’s undoubtedly any time Tait Fletcher shows up on my TV screen, which is surprisingly often. For all but the most devoted of fans, you probably don’t remember Fletcher as the guy who lost to the flabby Josh Haynes on “The Ultimate Fighter 3,” but I sure do. And now Fletcher frequently pops up in television shows or movies that I tend to watch. He’s been in Jon Wick, Jumanji, The Accountant, The Equalizer, and Sicario, not to mention he most recently showed up in a couple of episodes of The Mandalorian.
But my favorite Fletcher cameo isn’t even a cameo – it’s a full blown recurring part. In the final season of Breaking Bad, Fletcher had a recurring role as Lester, a white supremacist gang member. That year Breaking Bad ended up winning the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Ensemble Cast, meaning not only is a Fletcher a card carrying member of the SAG, he’s also won a fairly notable award for acting, which is far more than any other MMA fighter will ever be likely to say.
Good on you Tait Fletcher. Good on you.
Reebok - what comes next?
Once the Reebok deal is over what are the fighters gonna wear?— Daniel Pompilio (@elpompilio) February 7, 2020
The UFC’s deal with Reebok may end this year (at least I think it does. If it doesn’t, I take no responsibility for this. Y’all ask the questions). But don’t for one second think things are going back to how they were.
The UFC is seriously invested in the fighter kit thing for two reasons. First, upfront cash. Reebok dropped them a healthy sum of coin, and that kind of liquidity is always good for business. And secondly, the fighter kit, in their view, adds an air of professionalism to their whole product. Yes, this is still the same organization that is helmed by Dana White. But most casual fans will never listen to Dana throw his own fighters under the bus. Plus, sports fans are inured to hating commissioners – just listen to the boos anytime Roger Goodell is on stage anywhere. But even a casual fan will notice “Condom Depot” plastered across the ass of some random welterweight as he lay-and-prays his opponent for 15 minutes. The UFC doesn’t want that, ESPN doesn’t want that, and ESPN’s owner Disney damn sure doesn’t want that.
So, given that, do not expect the UFC to just revert to the old free-for-all method of fighter sponsorship when the Reebok deal ends. Instead, one of two things will happen: Either Reebok will re-sign with the UFC, or the UFC will leverage Reebok into a bigger brand opportunity. Think how the UFC went from Fox to ESPN. You best believe that if Dana can trade Reebok for Nike this year, he’s doing it in a heartbeat.
But the UFC getting a new apparel deal this year could at least bring about some kind of beneficial changes. Fans have long lamented the uniformity of the new kits and how it takes away from a fighter’s individuality. Think of B.J. Penn’s black belt shorts or Chuck Liddell’s Iceman trunks, and how lame it is that we don’t have things like that anymore. If the UFC does sign deal this year here are some changes I’d like to see:
- Allow fighters at least one space for their own sponsorship logo. Reebok/Nike can get the prime real estate, but let fighters eat.
- For the love of god, let fighters design their own trunks. In the old UFC games you could make something like 5,000 different trunks depending on how you combined graphics, etc. It is not too much to ask that real life fighters get the same kind of input on their own shorts?
- Barring number 2, at the absolute minimum, hire someone else to design trunks in more than two styles. Literally every pair of trunks is practically identical, and it makes things so boring. Even having red and blue trunks to correspond to a corner, with only champions getting black/gold trunks, would be better than the current system.
- Get Bryce Mitchell some camo trunks. The man has been asking for ages. Just do it, Nike.
Thanks for reading this week, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about at least tangentially related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Get weird with it. Let’s have fun.