Who are the future stars of the sport? It’s always a favorite topic of discussion among MMA fans, and one name that crops up as often as any in recent times has been Jon ‘Bones’ Jones.
Standing 6ft 4′ tall, and with an unusually long reach of 84 1/2 inches, Jones certainly has the physical attributes to be a fighter. He does however admit that his nickname - ‘Bones’ – was given to him by his friends who would tease him about how skinny his legs were in relation to the rest of his body when he was growing up.
At the age of just 22, he has already amassed a record of 9-0 in the light heavyweight division, including three victories in the UFC. What’s even more remarkable about this fighter however is that he has only been fighting professionally for a little over 18 months, and training mixed martial arts for approximately three years.
Considering his relatively short time in the sport Jones has demonstrated a number of key skills in his repertoire.
Jon Jones wasn’t completely wet behind the ears when he started his journey to becoming an MMA fighter, having previously been a national junior college wrestling champion. This has of course proven to be a successful base for MMA over the years, from the early days of Mark Coleman and Randy Couture, through to modern stars like Brock Lesnar, and countless others.
What’s particularly pleasing about Jones’ use of Greco-Roman wrestling is his repertoire of takedowns, including moves not commonly used in the sport such as the german suplex and salto throw (similar to a lateral drop).
He has stated in the past year that even in wrestling competition he thought of himself as a ‘stand-up wrestler’, winning matches by repeatedly taking his opponent down rather than attempting to pin them.
It’s a philosophy that he’s adapted to work for MMA as well, and one that helps distinguish him from a number of other wrestlers in the sport who’s style has been branded ‘lay and pray’ due to their preference for stifling opponents on the ground.
What has made Jones style so effective in his career so far is that in addition to his wrestling skills, he has also been developing other aspects of his game, particularly his striking.
Incredibly he began learning striking from video clips, rather than receiving professional guidance. This appears to partly account for some of his eye-catching and unorthodox striking techniques, including frequent use of spinning backfists, elbows and flying knees. These are largely self-taught moves that he practiced over and over until they became second nature to him.
He has since tightened up his stand-up skills at various gyms, before recently ending up with one of the sports top coaches, Greg Jackson, who appears to be further refining his game, while also encouraging rather than stifling his unique approach to fighting.
By his own admission Jiu Jitsu is the weakest part of Jones’s arsenal, though he has ended two of his nine fights via submission – guillotine choke to be precise – including against his last opponent in the UFC, Jake O’Brien at UFC 100.
Despite having found more success in other arts so far, Jones isn’t disregarding this important component of his game. Far from it in fact, as since joining Greg Jackson’s camp he has stated that he has been working heavily on this aspect in order to become a well developed fighter.
At such an early stage in his career, that would appear to be a wise strategy, and one that may well pay dividends in the longer term.
There has been something of a whirlwind effect to Jon Jones early rise to prominence in the sport. He took on his first professional fight on April 12th, 2008.
Less than a month later his record stood at 4-0.
Let’s rewind back to his first fight though. Luckily someone had the foresight to video the fight at FFP – Untamed 20, where Jones faced off against another newcomer Brad Bernard who at the time had a record of 0-1. Check out the footage from the fight below.
As you’ll have seen for yourself, Jones dismantles his opponent in less than two minutes. It’s clear at this early in his career he is most comfortable utilizing his wrestling background, something that Bernard seems ill-equipped to deal with. The most notable action of the fight is the impressive salto throw that he uses to take the fight to the mat, something he would repeat to considerably more fan-fare in his fight against Stephan Bonnar in the UFC.
Emerging from the fight relatively unscathed Jones stepped back into the cage for his second fight just seven days later, this time against Carlos Eduardo at Battle Cage Extreme 4. Eduardo was 1-0 at the time, and to his credit took Jones to early in the third round before being knocked out due to punches.
Not content with that Jones was back in action six days later against Anthony Pina at an event called Ice Fighter. According to the record books it was both Pina’s first and last fight in the cage, and he lasted just 1.15mins of the first round before Jones had earned the first submission win of his career.
After this win Jones would give himself a whole two weeks break from fighting, and then promptly went back to it, this time taking on Ryan Verrett who was 0-2 going into the fight (though he has since improved to 2-3). As luck would have it someone filmed the action. This footage is widely available on the net, but it is generally wrongly labeled as being Jones Vs Parker Porter.
The video begins just as Jones is recovering from an illegal groin strike. Watch what happens next below.
Pretty good for a self-trained striker I think you’ll agree. Though the action was brief, it certainly serves an early indication that there was more to Jones’s game than just a solid background in wrestling.
After his four fight winning streak, in which only one fight lasted beyond the first round, Jones took his biggest break between fights so far – a little over a month – and then faced Parker Porter at World Championship Fighting 3. Porter went into the fight with two wins to his name but was no match for Jones who notched up another knockout win after just 36 seconds of the first round.
A few weeks later on the 12th July, 2008, Jones would return to Battle Cage Extreme to take on Moyses “The Savage” Gabin. In hindsight it was perhaps the toughest fight in this formative stage of his career. Gabin held a 2-1 record going into the bout, and has since moved to 4-2, with his most recent victory coming in the Bellator Fighting Championships.
Despite this Jones would claim victory in the second round as he overwhelmed Gabin with strikes to claim the TKO victory.
After six fights and six victories in just three months, Jon ‘Bones’ Jones had proven that he was good enough to take a step up the ladder. As it turned out he was about to take a giant leap up it as the UFC came calling.
Fighting In The UFC
On August 9th, just one month after his fight with Gabin in a small scale show, and four months since his pro debut, Jones was preparing to step into the octagon for his octagon debut. At the time he was the youngest fighter on the UFC’s roster, just 21 years of age. His opponent was another newcomer to the UFC, the Brazilian Andre Gusmao.
Like Jones, Gusmao was on the rise with a record of 6-0, but he had been fighting in the higher profile IFL promotion for much of his career, and held two wins over veteran Mike Ciesnolevicz (who has also fought in the UFC).
The fight, which took place on the undercard of UFC 87, would mark the first time that Jones had been taken the full three rounds in a competitive bout. Despite that he put on an exciting display full of his trademark striking techniques, some of which can be viewed in the GIF opposite.
The slow motion footage perfectly captures how Gusmao struggles to read his intentions and is caught off-guard by Jones’s unorthadox strikes. While all three moves shown are found in MMA matches from time to time, it is very rare to see them all being thrown – and finding their target so readily – by one fighter in a single bout.
While Jones may not have been able to end the fight as decisively as some of his earlier ones, he had given both fans, and perhaps the UFC officials themselves, an indication of his potential. The one drawback was that his fight hadn’t aired live. It was time for him to be given a chance to shine on the main card.
Jones would have to wait five months for such an opportunity. It was perhaps a welcome break to continue to develop his still somewhat raw skills and give him time to prepare for his toughest, and most experienced opponent yet – Stephan Bonnar.
At the time Bonnar had a career record of 11-4, and was on a two fight win streak in the UFC. The bout was scheduled for the main card of the eagerly anticipated Penn Vs GSP 2 event – it was a perfect opportunity for Jones to showcase his skills, and quite literally he did just that.
It was a night in which virtually everything that Jones tried worked perfectly, with Bonnar being relegated to the role of human guinea pig as his opponent unleashed an assortment of spectacular throws and strikes. The only thing it lacked was the one killer blow that would ended the fight inside regulation time. Still, it was the kind of performance that fighters dream about and left a lasting impression on the millions who watched the fight air live around the globe.
Despite his impressive showing Jones wouldn’t feature on the main card in his next fight, but he did earn a spot on one of the promotions most historic, and most watched events ever – UFC 100 in July of this year. This time he was set to face Jake O’Brien, a wrestler with a record of 11-2 who had previously fought at both heavyweight and light heavyweight for the promotion.
In the first round Jones pressed the action, but his strikes, which now included a number of low and high kicks, were less effective than in the past. Things came together a little more as the fight progressed however and in the second round his now infamous spinning backfist clipped O’Brien’s head and appeared to stun him. Jones was swift to capitalize on the slumped over fighter and managed to secure a modified guillotine choke to claim the first win inside the distance of his UFC career, the second submission victory of his career, and his third win in the promotion.
So now that we know his past, what does the future hold for Jon ‘Bones’ Jones?
Of course his next fight, against Matt Hamill at The Ultimate Fighter Season 10 Finale, is only a few days away. The bout is scheduled as the main event of the evening and due to the fact that Kimbo Slice, a fighter who is capable of adding millions of viewers to an event, is also scheduled to fight means this is another excellent opportunity for him to make his mark.
Hamill (7-2) is a strong, durable fighter with well respected wrestling skills, but Jones believes he can match him in that department, and he is certainly the better striker of the two. It won’t be easy, and it may go the distance, but this is a fight that Jones can win.
If he does it should allow him to take the next step up the ladder, confirming his place in the main card of future UFC events, and putting him into the mix with some of the more established mid-ranking stars in the division. Names like Keith Jardine, Rich Franklin and perhaps even Tito Ortiz spring to mind for instance.
A loss would undoubtedly derail some of the hype surrounding him, but he is not a fighter who is likely to be cut from the roster in the near future, and he would be given time to redeem himself.
Can he become a future champion in the division?
At this stage it’s perhaps still too early to tell. We have to remember that he is still a young fighter learning the ropes after a little over a year and a half of fighting professionally.
In his short career so far we have yet to learn how he will cope with adversity if he gets caught or things don’t go according to plan. How will he cope when he is the one that gets taken down? Also, while his striking brought him a number of K.O’s and TKO’s in his early fights, he has not achieved the same level of success in the UFC so far. As the quality of his opponents increases we will get an opportunity to see just how effective his striking actually is.
It will also be interesting to see how much of a help or hindrance his unorthodox style will be as he faces tougher opposition. While his eye-catching skills have helped to jump-start his career they may also be his downfall if he feels the pressure to entertain, rather than simply to go out and win a fight. There is also the risk that his opponents will start to become familiar with his trademark moves and will be ready to counter them – a problem that current light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida has recently discovered with his unique style.
One thing that is clear is that he is a quick learner, and there’s no doubt that at just 22 years of age he’s only going to improve over the next few years. If he can continue to develop at his current rate then he is likely to become a serious threat for anyone in the division.
Before we conclude it should be noted that Jones himself believes that he will eventually move up to heavyweight. Considering his age and build that doesn’t seems to be an unreasonable goal. He would need to add on considerable size though to compete on an even footing with the increasingly large competitors that currently dwell in that division.
Overall, in Jon Jones we undoubtedly have one of the most exciting up and coming fighters in recent times. Over the next year or two, starting with his fight against Matt Hamill, we will find out whether he can truly harness his potential and become one of the most dangerous.
Article By RossC
Pictures courtesy of sherdog.com
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