The recent Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson fight has been proclaimed as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, light-heavyweight title fights of all time. Jones had been so dominant a champion that analysts and even other fighters weren't really counting on anything to change in his 205 pound championship run.
But after Round 1 of the championship main event at UFC 165, there was not a person watching who wasn't on the edge of his seat…because Jon Jones had lost the round. His take-down attempt got stuffed. He was taken down, and blood was streaming from a gash above his eye. Jones was getting beat up.
The fight went to a decision after a back-and-forth tilt that saw Jones gain momentum towards the end up the fight, where he hit Gustafsson with some big spinning elbows and high kicks. Controversy has arisen from the outcome — the fight, as we know, was scored in Jones’s favor — as many still believe Gustafsson was robbed. Regardless, both men were too beat up to make it to the post-fight press conference, and they were both taken directly to the hospital.
Jones finally got his “dog fight," as he said in his post-fight interview. He had run through so many other guys before Gustafsson with ease. Then comes Gustafsson, known to most as "The Mauler."
Jones has been able to dominate so completely because there are a number of fighters who aren't true light-heavyweight body types fighting in his division.
Gustafsson is taller than Jones, and he is a true light-heavyweight; he could never make middleweight. It was a major change of pace for Jones, who has fought mostly guys who have had middleweight-sized body types throughout his title reign.
He’s defended his title against Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort. Both are guys who were storied in pre-fight talk as coming up from middleweight to fight Jones and both have fought for middleweight titles. Rashad Evans has often been mentioned as someone who should think about a cut to 185 pounds at some point in his career. Lyoto Machida’s next fight is already set to be his first fight at middleweight. Even Shogun Rua could make middleweight if he was to get in better shape for his fights.
These are all much smaller guys than Jones, who himself is a very big, true light-heavyweight. He could never make middleweight. He may one day even fight at heavyweight. He has been able to dominate so completely because there are a number of fighters who aren't true light-heavyweight body types fighting in his division. So Jones was given a strength and size advantage to go with his freakish 84.5 inch reach advantage that he has over everyone. In Gustafsson, he finally fought a guy who was his size, and had his hands full as a result.
The question now stands: is Gustafsson the best guy to fight Jones next? Many were clamoring for an instant rematch after the controversial conclusion. It may have seemed logical considering Gustafsson was the only guy to ever take it to the champ, but that hope was quashed when Jones turned down the rematch in favor of a fight with the already-scheduled next contender, Glover Teixeira.
Teixeira is a big light-heavyweight with powerful hands and a strong grappling base. After witnessing Jones facing his first even-statured opponent in a while, Gustafsson’s success could be an indication of potential success for future up-and-coming contenders. Because, as good as Jones is, it has been shown that he is still a man, and if he can’t manhandle the little guy, he might be at risk of getting beat up by guys his own size if they have better hands and stronger wrestling skills.
Even if Glover loses, Gustafsson isn't necessarily the most interesting fight for Jones. Former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier has been talked about as being someone who could make the cut to 205 pounds and potentially challenge Jones for a title. Cormier is something of an athletic freak. Short and stalky, he is a boulder of a man. He is a former U.S. Olympic wrestling team captain and has shown much development in his stand up fighting since entering into MMA competition.
The question now stands: is Gustafsson the best guy to fight Jones next?
Cormier has very fast in-and-out movement, good combinations, plus power with his hands, and the grappling technique to throw big heavyweights like Josh Barnett around and not get taken down himself. He is currently competing against larger men in the heavyweight division and, considering Jon Jones could not take Gustafsson down, it is unlikely Jones could dictate where the fight takes place against Cormier.
Gustafsson was not known for his grappling going into the fight, but he had obviously learned some good tips and tricks from Phil Davis in his preparation; enough, at least, to avoid all but one out of 12 takedown attempts from Jones in the fight. And that is the area where Cormier excels to begin with.
Cormier’s speed and ability to mix it up with his hands, his fight instinct, and having the advantage of taking the fight wherever he chooses may be the recipe to overcome a fighter like Jones. Gustafsson did well, but he lost. He slowed down at the end of the fight and Jones was able to turn up the heat.
If you look where the fight was heading, in a real combat situation with no time limits, Jones likely would have gone on to kill Gustafsson. Jones survived Gustafsson and came back to win the fight. Controversial as it might have been on the scoreboard, the mantra that states “You have to beat the champ” was never more fitting an epitaph for this so-called greatest light-heavyweight title fight ever.
So if Jones gets past Glover Teixeira, he has said he would then rematch Gustafsson. Jones may be able to make certain adjustments and win a rematch more decisively.
But a different challenger poses different problems and can catch the champion by surprise. And to look at skill-sets, based on the ways Gustafsson demonstrated to compete well against Jones, Cormier would appear to have the wrestling base, striking skill and experience to keep the fight standing and do some damage to Jones on the feet. Or, at least, he can still take it to the ground and control Jones if he got in a bad spot standing.
The ability to control position over Jones is vitally important to nullifying his attack. Deciding on the next contender might have to be chosen based on who poses the more intriguing problems against the current champion's style. But if a Gustafsson rematch is a bigger money fight to do first, then the UFC may go with that. That is, if things stay in Jones's favor, and he remains champion that long.