Friday, August 19, 2022

Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson Rematch Full of Question Marks

Just over five years ago, Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson met in the center of the Octagon at UFC 165 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and dazzled fans in what is widely considered to be one of the greatest MMA fights of all time. At the time, Jones was expected to run through Gustafsson and easily retain the UFC light heavyweight title, but the big Swede wasn’t having any of it. The two battled back-and-forth for five rounds that night, enthralling the crowd at Air Canada Centre and leaving those watching around the world on pay-per-view with their jaws dropped. While Jones did get his hand raised by unanimous decision that night, Gustafsson gave Jones by far the toughest fight of his career. To this day, there are still those who believe Gustafsson should have got his hand raised that night. Just over five years later, he will get the chance to rectify the decision when he takes on Jones this Saturday night in the main event of UFC 232.

The rematch has been a long time coming, and there’s been a lot of controversy through the years that made it seem like we may never get to see Jones and Gustafsson go at it again, but we are finally going to see these two throw down for a second time this weekend. In hindsight, the UFC made a huge mistake not booking an immediate rematch of this fight. Instead, Jones fought Glover Teixeira and Gustafsson fought Jimi Manuwa. The UFC could have booked the rematch at that point, but Daniel Cormier emerged as a viable challenger to Jones, and eventually turned into this greatest rival. Gustafsson, meanwhile, was knocked out of title contention temporarily by Anthony Johnson. Despite that, fans have always craved this rematch. And now, five years later, we are finally going to see it, though the fight is not without question marks for both men.

For Jones, the question marks surrounding him are obvious. After the Gustafsson fight, Jones went on to test positive and be suspended numerous times for banned substances, and many have called the legitimacy of his title run and accomplishments into question. After another failed drug test following his knockout win over Cormier at UFC 214 in July 2017, Jones was looking at a four-year suspension, but USADA cut the length back to a year, leaving him free to return at the end of 2018. Just last week, though, Jones and the UFC revealed he had failed another test, this time for minuscule picograms. UFC president Dana White and USADA took Jones’ side on the matter and decided to move UFC 232 from Las Vegas to Los Angeles after Nevada wouldn’t sanction the bout but California would.

Not only is Jones coming off of a long layoff, but he’s never been more scrutinized than ever before regarding his drug test failures. Jones has never had more question marks surrounding him than leading up to this fight, an it will be interesting to see if he can channel his energy and focus on the task at hand. It’s not like Gustafsson isn’t without his own question marks himself, though. Since the first Jones fight, Gustafsson has only averaged one fight a year himself. Everyone is talking about Jones’ long layoff, but many are forgetting Gustafsson hasn’t fought since an April 2017 knockout win over Teixeira. He’s still one of the best in the world, but it’s unfair to knock Jones on not fighting for over a year and ignoring that Gustasson has as well. Both men have very real question marks.

Despite everything that’s happened, the rematch between Jones and Gustafsson is about as intriguing as an MMA fight that could happen. Gustafsson is maybe the only fighter who has exploited any of Jones’ potential weaknesses and in many ways is maybe the only stylistically bad matchup for Jones imaginable. Jones has looked essentially unbeatable in MMA, but given Gustafsson’s comparable reach and length, he makes for one of the few fighters who can actually give Jones issues. We saw that in the first fight, and we may see something similar this second time around. The first fight between Jones and Gustafsson back at UFC 165 was the stuff of legends, and one would hope the rematch is just as good, if not better. It’s just so hard to say for sure given everything that’s happened to both men since then. It’s unfortunate we have to talk about the drug tests and not just about how great of a matchup this rematch is. Either way, we’ll have a new light heavyweight champion come Saturday night. Let’s just hope this time it comes without controversy.

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