MMA coaches break down Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232

MMA


It took five years (and a last-minute venue change), but we’re finally getting a Jon JonesAlexander Gustafsson rematch at UFC 232 on Saturday in Los Angeles.

Jones and Gustafsson met at UFC 165 on Sept. 21, 2013. Jones defeated Gustafsson via unanimous decision in the closest fight of his career. He later admitted that he was partying hard during that time in his life and didn’t take training seriously.

Will Jones defeat Gustafsson for the second time at UFC 232? Or will Gustafsson hand the former champion the first legitimate loss of his career?

ESPN spoke to some of the brightest minds in the sport to find out.

Jason Parillo, RVCA VA Sport

For me, when you see two guys who have fought before, [the edge goes to] whoever has added more wrinkles to his game, whoever is going to be able to change the rhythm of it. You get caught in this pattern sometimes, where the same two guys are sparring partners, and you end up getting the same sparring session every time because one of them won’t think a little different or change their rhythm and try something else.

Who is going to make an adjustment? When they get in front of each other, they’re going to have a similar feeling. They’re going to remember who they are. That’s just like a thumbprint, when you get in front of somebody. You remember their rhythm.

Gustafsson did very well the first time. It’s not like he’s far behind, but it’s about adding more to the arsenal, adding to where you were effective. A lot of times, guys will land a 1-2 and back off to stay in control, when they should add the 3s and 4s. Some guys are hesitant. They want to do just enough to stay ahead. But in a fight like this, it’s about who wants to win. It sounds like common sense, and it is. Who is more determined to get that W? Gustafsson is going to be confident from the first fight, but he needs to do more. He’s got to push himself more and not hold back.

Remember, Jon fell off the map for a second. He’s the best to ever do it, but he has been out for 18 months now. He has something to prove, and I believe Jon Jones is the type of athlete who, if he has something to prove, he goes out and proves it.

Ray Longo, LAW MMA

I had Gustafsson winning the first fight, but that spinning back elbow changed the course of the entire fight. I think that saved Jon. I think Jon has trouble with guys his own size, and with the right game plan, Gustafsson can win that fight.

I think he has to do exactly what he was doing in the last fight — just tighten up the defense. He got caught with some stuff that I don’t see him getting caught with this time. That spinning elbow that changed the course of the last fight, that’s not a high-percentage technique. I’d like to see him offset some of what Jones does with wrestling. That’s the key for him, to minimize some of Jones’ offense.

Jones has been through a lot mentally. And it seems like there’s some dissension in the ranks at JacksonWink. I think if there’s a time to beat Jon Jones, it’s this time. The same thing happened when he came back from a long layoff against Ovince St. Preux [in 2016] . And he has a way better fighter in front of him this time. He does better with guys he can utilize his height and reach against. I loveDaniel Cormier, and I think he’s a great fighter, but it’s easier for Jones to keep Cormier at the end of his punches, and that’s heavy artillery coming at you. With Gustafsson, that’s more difficult.

I think it’s a similar fight to the first, and Gustafsson wins a five-round decision. I think he’s going to set the pace and be a little more focused.

Duke Roufus, Roufusport MMA

The big question I have is Jon’s layoff. I see he has been training, but nothing substitutes the heat of battle. Jon Jones is arguably the best fighter in the world, but Gustafsson has a lot of tools that could win this fight.

The key for Jones is he has to wrestle more. Jon’s biggest advantage is his wrestling background. He’s very good standing, but the size advantages he has over everyone else don’t come into play with Alex. I think it’s hard for [Jones] to fight someone who is built like him. Usually, when you’re a rangy guy, your demise is another rangy guy. If I were in his camp, I’d have [wrestling coach Izzy Martinez] attack more and slow down that big Viking.

It’s going to be a great fight. I still believe Jon Jones is going to win. I’ve known Jon a long time, and one thing he and my buddy Ben Askren have — it’s what makes them special — is their mindset. Jon is a guy who knows how to win, and that’s something special in this game.

Firas Zahabi, Tristar MMA

Gustafsson has had some key losses that I think put his career in question, so he’s going to have to show the world he can rise above — and it’s not that easy to rise above. Gustafsson has a similar reach, and that’s something that will be difficult for Jon to deal with. I think Jon relies on his reach more than Gustafsson has in his career. He is a master of reach and uses it very wisely.

That said, I think Jon won the first fight because he was more complete. He threw elbows and knees. Gustafsson’s boxing is excellent, but he falls into the Muay Thai traps. He gets hit by Muay Thai techniques I feel he just doesn’t understand well. Jon Jones has phenomenal elbows. If Gustafsson overlooks them, he will get knocked out by them. He has to block them with the forearm, stay out of range of them, counter them. There are certain things you can do in boxing you can’t do in MMA because of the elbows.

Gustafsson will be a very difficult guy to beat; however, I feel Jon is too well-rounded. There will be a key takedown or a key strike that will come from his Muay Thai background, and that will win it for Jon. I think it’s likely to go the distance, but it won’t surprise me if Jon finishes it.

Javier Mendez, American Kickboxing Academy

Watching the first fight, I saw an unmotivated Jon Jones at the beginning versus a very hyped-up, motivated Jon Jones at the end. If he’s super-motivated this time, I expect to see the guy we saw at the end of the first fight.

Both are great technicians, but Jones has more weapons. I believe Gustafsson will have a lot of confidence because of how well he did the first time, but if Jones is motivated, he just has more weapons. That’s the key for me. Cardio is no problem for both of them. It’s hard to say how Gustafsson will beat Jon Jones because Jones has never been beaten. You have to fight him, and you can’t make mistakes.

One thing about Gustafsson is he runs too much. Personally, I don’t think he needs to do that. He needs to come forward. He has a good skill set, but he wastes a lot of movement. He did that when he fought Daniel [Cormier in 2015] . Watch that fight. He was not engaging, let’s put it that way. And that’s something you won’t get from Jon. He’s going to engage. Gustafsson doesn’t always engage, and that could be the difference between these two.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Alex with the title around his waist, just to change things up and challenge Jon Jones. I’ll go with Alex by decision.

Since you have two guys with similar reach, it’s all about the power zone. The power zone is when you take your hands and interlock your fingers, put that in a hoop in front of you. That’s your power zone. The longer you extend it, you lose leverage, right? It’s about wherever your power zone is in relation to your opponent’s. Put them in front of your power zone while making sure you’re not in front of their hips. And you can extend that power zone using head motion as you’re throwing punches, and that motion can be generated into your punches as long as you have the correct coordination.

The first fight was very close, and there were rumors circulating that Jon wasn’t focused during that camp. Maybe because it was such a tough fight, he’s more focused this time. I could see Jon adding a little more wrestling and changing things up a little bit.

It’s such a long layoff. Who knows what he was doing during that time? I think that’s where the questions lie. This is a tough fight for both because they’re usually the longer guy. That’s usually their big advantage. Gustafsson seems to be a complete package to me — conditioning, he’s good technically, physically tough. Jon can do it all, and he adapts very well. I’m going to go with Jon Jones in a hard-fought decision. I know that’s not a very bold prediction, but I think history might repeat itself.

It’s hard to know which Jones is going to show up. He was off for a long time when he fought Ovince St. Preux, and he didn’t look great in that fight. I think the key here is how well Jon can manage distance. That’s what he does, but Gustafsson is as long as Jon, and that could present a problem.

I think Gustafsson has better hands than Jon, so Jon has to manage that distance, use his oblique kicks. It’s hard to bet against Jon, but even at his best, Alex gives him problems. Because Gustafsson is a better pure boxer than Jon, I think he should use his footwork and control some of that distance, get in and out using lateral movement. If he can get in and out, with his hand speed, I think that could be an advantage he has. Use feints, and get Jon out of position.

I really can’t see Jon doing anything different from what he has done in the past, especially considering the formula [trainer Mike] Winkeljohn uses. And Jon is so crafty with his elbows. That’s what he does — oblique kicks and stabbing punches force opponents to come forward, and then he elbows them. I can’t see him deviating from that.I think Jones beats him by decision again.

Mark Henry, New Jersey striking coach

Jones has great wrestling, and when you have someone with that ability, you have to keep it in the back of your head: This guy could take me down. You can’t step into your punches as hard as you want. Guys who are specifically strikers, those fights aren’t easy for them because they have to be careful taking these big steps in.

I think Jon should use that game plan more. Even if the shot doesn’t work out for him in the beginning, he should go back to it, because by the third round, guys are tired, their reactions are slower. If I were Jon, I’d try to wrestle in all five rounds.

Jon has had one close fight, and it was against Gustafsson. He was bringing pressure, throwing combinations. He was bringing the pressure to Jon. If his defense is a little better and he doesn’t eat as many shots, it could be different for Gustafsson.

The range is so interesting. They both have other things that make them great, but the height and range advantage they usually have — it’s the No. 1 advantage in the sport, in my opinion. I’m going to take Jon by decision, solely because he’s the best fighter there has ever been in MMA.

Rener Gracie, Gracie University

Jon Jones is the more complete martial artist, and he has so much to prove right now. I don’t see him letting this one slip away.

Jones is the better grappler. He’s the better wrestler, submission grappler, jiu-jitsu — everything. He isn’t uncomfortable anywhere. He was uncomfortable in the war with Gustafsson, but I think he underestimated him that fight. I don’t think that will happen again.

I’m aware of Jon Jones the wrestler and have always admired his ability to blend that with his striking. He has the ability to end it on the ground and on the feet. He isn’t one to initiate too many takedowns, so I think if you just go historically, Jon Jones by knockout.

Marc Montoya, Factory X

If I’m Gustafsson’s coach, I’m looking to apply pressure and blend. I think that’s the key: He has to blend his entire game. If he can blend his wrestling — whether he takes him down or not — it just opens up a whole other element of Gustafsson’s game.

If you’re looking at Jon Jones, he has done a phenomenal job of blending his striking with elbow techniques, being a little flashy but also doing fundamental stuff.

If I were betting on it, I’d probably pick Jon Jones. I thought Gustafsson won the first fight, but I have a hard time counting Jones out. Another reason I say Jones is because Gustafsson hasn’t fought a ton in recent years — and that, to me, says he’s injured. If he had been more active and we could see the evolution of his game, I’d be more confident picking him. I’m guessing right now because I don’t know, but when you have a layoff like that and it’s not by choice, that’s never great.



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