Friday, February 26, 2021

Is There Anyone In The Way Of Jon Jones At Heavyweight?

At UFC 205: Alvarez vs. McGregor, the Irish turned the MMA world upsidedown when Conor McGregor made history in becoming the first simultaneous two-weight division world champion. McGregor ascended into superstardom and activated the demand for multiple belts. Meanwhile, superstar Jon Jones continued a downward trend toward the possibility of never fighting again. Though five years later, despite a series of problems stemming from outside the cage, nothing has stopped Jones from achieving excellence. Now, the former light-heavyweight champion plans to take his career to the next level by winning his second belt at heavyweight.

Since relinquishing the LHW title, many have speculated about who Jones will fight first at heavyweight. Initially, the promotion danced around the idea of Jones immediately challenging for the heavyweight title. But last week, UFC President Dana White indicated Jones will indeed get the winner of the UFC 260 main event between Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou 2. While Jones awaits the winner of this bout, here are some of the potential challenges he will be met with along his new journey.

Who Is In The Way of Jon Jones?

At this stage and given Jones’s resume, only athletes among the elite of the division make sense for him to square off with. Obviously, Miocic and Ngannou are clear frontrunners, regardless of the winner or loser at UFC 260. However, two other names that present a difficult matchup for Jones are Curtis Blaydes and the tall, unorthodox Alexander Volkov.

The Power of Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones

Francis Ngannou - A possible opponent for Jon Jones
Image Credit: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Power at light-heavyweight is a constant force, but within the heavyweight division, it’s the equalizer of all men. Jones is familiar with power punchers. With wins over former champions like Rashad Evans, Quinton Jackson, and more recently, hammers like Thiago Santos and Dominick Reyes, the longstanding champion Jones has seen it all.

At UFC 152, Jones’s submission defense was put to the test, too when he met the heavy-handed Vitor Belfort in his prime in 2012. Interestingly, right as the fight began, Jones closed the distance and snatched a quick single-leg takedown. As a result of his efforts, Belfort nearly broke the arm of Jones in a very tight arm-bar attempt.

Jones’s successful performance at UFC 152 was comparative in nature to the title fight between Miocic and Ngannou. Consequently, Miocic did the same and used a single-leg takedown at the start of the round to relay the sentiment that the fight is within his control. Given Miocic’s first run with Ngannou coupled with Jones’ experiences, foundational wrestling will be essential to Jones handling heavy hitters like Ngannou in his new weight class.

A Committed Wrestler Against The New Jones

Curtis Blaydes - A potential opponent for Jon Jones
Curtis Blaydes (Photo: Dylan Buell/Zuffa)

While Daniel Cormier presented a challenging game plan for Jones both times out, the former Olympian refused to chain-wrestle and mostly slung leather instead. Even though wrestlers often fall in love with their power, Blaydes won’t fall into that trap. In fact, the No.2 ranked heavyweight doubled down on that concept, saying,

“If I win the exact same way, I would be fine, because guess what, it’s another win, it’s a win bonus. I don’t know if a lot of people care, but I have a family. I’m trying to feed my family. I don’t care if you want me to risk my win bonus, which is $100,000, to stand and bang with a guy who has terrible wrestling. I’m just not going to do it. Unless you defend every takedown attempt, I’m not going to stop trying to wrestle you. You have to deter me, and I don’t think Derrick is going to deter me.”

As mentioned, Blaydes will not deviate from the game plan. Jones’s wrestling held up against “D.C.,” which is a testament to its effectiveness. In the second Cormier vs. Jones fight, the former Olympian initiated zero takedowns. However, in the first bout with “Bones,” Cormier attempted three and succeeded with one.

While the wrestler from Louisiana wasn’t able to control Jones, he arguably won a few rounds and went to a decision. The challenger picked up a few rounds from the champion with wrestling-initiated clinch work and dirty boxing. Consequently, Blaydes’s wrestling ability presents a credible threat to Jones’s run through the heavyweight gauntlet.

Out of all the threats to Jones, a wrestler willing to hold him down is the most threatening. As Blaydes continues to improve his ground and pound, “Bones” could find himself in a position he hasn’t been in before–on bottom for an extended period of time.

The Old Nemesis of Jon Jones – Length and Reach

Alexander Volkov
Image Credit: Getty Images

Ever since Jones’s first encounter with Alexander Gustaffson, fans could not wait for the rematch. Why? Because the rangy striker gave Jones fits because his size essentially nullifies the natural advantages Jones brings into a fight. Without reach and being taller than his opponent, certain weapons become less useful or utilized. For instance, against an opponent as tall as Alexander Volkov, the oblique kick becomes difficult to land. At first, that seems minimal, but those kicks were the reason Jones handled Santos’s power and disabled him after his title defense back in July at UFC 239.

As mentioned above, Volkov represents danger to any heavyweight, including Jones. With a takedown defense of 66%, the Russian knows how to keep the fight standing. Former champion Fabricio Werdum attempted nine takedowns in four rounds against Volkov, but Volkov fended off six of them. Following all of Werdum’s failed attempts at defense, the giant Russian finished him in the fourth round. Standing at 6″7,” his takedown defense and unusual striking get even harder to deal with as the rounds progress.

As Jones makes his move up in weight, plenty of challenges are abound. Most notably, harder hitters and better wrestlers await him. At heavyweight, power is wholesale, and skillsets are just as varied as the other weight classes. However, Jones will have to compete with athletes similar to his size, and I think I speak for most when I say, that is a very exciting idea.

Who do you want to see Jon Jones face at heavyweight? Do you think he will be as dominant as he was at light-heavyweight? Let us at MMANews know what you think in the comment section below!