At the tender age of 25, Jon “Bones” Jones has accumulated an impressive amount of accolades over the course of his short MMA career. The youngest champion in UFC history, he has already equalled the number of title defences achieved by the likes of Chuck Liddell and Frank Shamrock (4), one less than Tito Ortiz and Matt Hughes, but still a ways behind Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva.
For a fighter only five years into his career to be mentioned in the same breath as fighters who helped to define the sport and ruled their divisions for years is quite incredible. If you look at Jones’ record, including submission victories over legends like Vitor Belfort, Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida, brutal TKOs of Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Brandon Vera and comprehensive decision wins over Rashad Evans and Stephan Bonner he already looks to have done it all.
Despite new challenges from the likes of Alexander Gustafsson, Gegard Mousasi and let’s not forget Chael Sonnen to face at light heavyweight, it seems inevitable that Jones’ career must take him to a face off with the Greatest Fighter of All Time, Anderson Silva and then a move up to heavyweight having cleaned out the 205lb division and put on his man weight. At this rate, Jones could be a two division champion, holder of all sorts of records and unanimously acclaimed as the Greatest of All Time before he’s thirty years old.
Who could fail to be impressed by this Titan?
Well, me. I fail to be impressed.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve to be the champion. He’s beaten everyone placed in front of him, often with near contemptuous ease and like any fighter who ever steps in a cage he has my upmost respect for having the stones to do so.
There are a few facets to my lack of awe at ‘Bones’ and I’ll freely admit that the first is that I don’t like the way he comes across. Of course, it’s impossible to truly gauge a fighter’s true personality from video packages and post fight interviews and it’s evident that some fighters play up their good guy or heel characteristics in order to better sell their fights and win their endorsements.
However, with Jones I have always had a sense that he’s a cocky, arrogant jock. His expression constantly seems mocking, contemptuous and his easy assurance that he’s the top dog just screams ‘bully’ to me. We are only a few weeks into his stint as a coach on the Ultimate Fighter, but even on that show – one which has revealed the true character of more than a few well known fighters – he’s not coming across all that well.
Then of course, there is his decision, having choked Lyoto Machida unconscious at UFC 140 to simply drop his opponent to make an unprotected face-first fall to the mat. Sure, MMA is a combat sport and seconds earlier, Jones and Machida were doing their best to knock each other out, but it’s also a sport and a degree of respect, even concern for your opponents well being is expected.
I’m not saying he should have performed CPR on Lyoto or anything, but taking a second to lower him to the ground, or pass his dead weight to the referee before waltzing off to celebrate would have indicated a more likeable character.
All of that is secondary, and I’m not so bigoted that I could deny a fighters skills just because their promos rubbed me up the wrong way. Hell, there are plenty fighters who I don’t exactly root for that I’d still choose in a betting game, because I respect their skills.
Thing is, Jones doesn’t greatly impress me from a skills point of view either. He doesn’t inspire my awe in the same way that Cain Velasquez, Anderson Silva, GSP, or a dozen other top fighters do.
Of course, he’s a dangerous striker, with a capable submission game and some quality wrestling and I can’t discount his record purely because I don’t particularly look forward to watching him fight.
I just can’t get away from the idea that Jones is this unbeatable monster due more to his dimensions than his skills.
Lets look at his fights, he’s beaten some of the biggest names in the division largely because of his reach. The likes of Shogun, Rampage and Rashad have been unable to mount any meaningful offence because Jones’s jab range is so long.
Only Machida, with his speed and karate style has managed to expose Jones’ striking and movement as being less than excellent. Denied the advantage of his reach, Jones lost the first round against Machida.
Of course, in the second (no doubt coached by the canny Greg Jackson), Jones pressed the distance (not his usual tactic) and forcing Machida against the cage, unleashed his deadliest weapon – his elbows. One particularly nasty elbow sliced Machida open, dazed him and allowed Jones to sink in the match winning choke.
In fact, most of Jones wins can be attributed to some combination of his reach, his solid wrestling and his use of elbows (as coached on this week’s Ultimate Fighter).
Jones has shown himself to be vulnerable to jiujitsu (against Vitor Belfort), quality movement and striking (against Machida) and mental weakness (leading to his DQ loss against Matt Hamil) but in the main, his stature combined with his not to be discounted skills and training have brought him through.
Of course, that’s what MMA is all about, your physical gifts allied to your trained skills and I’m aware of the mild hypocrisy in what I’m saying.
It’s just that, I’m not that impressed by a fighter winning a fight just because he’s BIGGER. It almost feels like Jon Jones dominates the light heavyweight division via what amounts to mathhammer – a wargaming (yes, I’m a massive geek, hadn’t you noticed) term used to describe folks who win games of toy soldiers by working out the most mathematically effective way of exploiting the rules – and that rubs up my competitive and aesthetic sensibilities the wrong way.
It’s the same reason that GSP’s victory over BJ Penn didn’t seem as special as it maybe should have, and the inverse of why Frankie Edgar’s brave displays against the larger Penn, Maynard and Henderson were so much more impressive.
To paraphrase the Hunger Games, a fighter who seems to come into the cage, fully aware that ‘the odds are always in their favour’ doesn’t really appeal to me. MMA should be a game of chess where your skills are played against your opponents in such a way that the outcome is in reasonable doubt by something more than ‘a puncher’s chance.’
Thus far, Jones found great success against significantly smaller, older and less fit athletes. That sounds pretty damming against the likes of Shogun and Rampage, but everyone can see that these guys were well short of their best and came in as long odds outsiders.
Jones will impress me more once (if) he’s defeated some credible, contemporary challengers at Light Heavyweight, like Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira rather than the injured, past it or ring rusty stars or the past or some converted Middleweights.
He’ll also impress me more if he shows more respect to his opponents and a tiny amount of humility. For someone who’s got a verse from the Bible tattooed on his chest, he strikes me as anything but meek.