Why Alexander Gustafsson really is the biggest test of Jon Jones’ career


Courtesy of the UFC.

September 21st marks UFC 165 and with it the potential sixth title defence of light heavyweight kingpin Jon “Bones” Jones when he faces Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson. So far the champion’s reign has been simply sublime, trampling through incredible competition and doing so in record time. In fact, excluding a single punch from Lyoto Machida and a very sneaky arm bar attempt from Vitor Belfort, Jones has been able to have his way with every single opponent the UFC have put in front of him with little to no resistance. Despite his incredible skill, technique, and the borderline-clairvoyant strategizing of head coach Greg Jackson Jones’ success has been, rather ironically, somewhat overshadowed by his incredible physical advantages over his opponents.

This is one critique Jon himself is certainly not deaf to for he has personally stated numerous times in the promotion of this fight that it presents an opportunity to “disprove the haters”, demonstrate that his continued success is not overwhelmingly influenced by a considerable height advantage and the longest reach in the UFC.  At 6’4” and boasting an enormous 84.5” wingspan, several of Jones’ title defences have involved him using these qualities in tandem with his wrestling and striking offence to batter smaller opponents.  Enter Gustafsson. Although his reach is still several inches smaller than that of Jones he is actually the taller man, standing at 6’5” and also, like Jones, very adept at fighting from distance. Alexander and Jon are also the same age, not bringing to the octagon the “wear and tear” of years of competition. Although this fight could be as dominant as the others Jones has built his name upon Gustafsson is the only opponent who can match “Bones” in size as well as youth.

There is another reason this defence is the most important however, one which takes into consideration the stage each fighter is at within their careers. In 2011 Jon Jones was the fiery youngster, eager to win the title and prove himself against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Two years of title defences, mass media exposure and Nike sponsorships later, one can reasonably assume the “champion lifestyle” is one Jones is accustomed to. Much like those he has defeated throughout his reign, Jones knows what it means to reach the top and unlike any of his contemporaries in the division he also knows how one goes about staying there. Alexander Gustafsson in contrast is yet to have any such success, the greatest moments of his career coming through one sided beatings of Thiago Silva and Mauricio Rua. The glory of the championship is very much a reality for the 26year old Swede, as is the chance to be the first Swedish champion in UFC history and only the second European UFC champion ever. It is difficult to think there is a motivation for Jones that is even comparable outside of surpassing Tito Ortiz’s record for most successful title defences and therefore staking a claim to the title of “greatest light heavyweight in UFC history”, an honour that the majority of MMA fans would hardly argue is not presently the case.

UFC 165 presents the first time in Jon Jones’s entire title reign that he faces an opponent who could be far hungrier than he is for the victory. This is not to say Jon will become complacent, he never has and will certainly show up on fight day as ready as he possible can be. What it does mean however, is that the will and desire of Alexander Gustafsson coupled with his stature negating many of Jones’s physical advantages means Jones could very well be in for the first true test of his career.

Naturally, equating a fighter’s chances to such intangibles as “will” and “desire” is not going to produce any kind of objective analysis of how the fight will transpire. What the UFC 165 main event will provide no matter what is the first real clash between the next generation of UFC light heavyweights and the chance for either young fighter to make history.

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