Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look ahead to the main event of UFC 232 as the world’s best fighter, Jonathan Dwight Jones, takes on Sweden’s Alexander Gustafsson in a rematch of their classic title bout in September 2013.
Alexander Gustafsson (Record: 18-4, +235 Underdog, Power Ranking: A)
The best MMA fighter to ever come out of Sweden returns to the Octagon for the first time in over a year and a half. The 31-year old Swede has fought a who’s who of top light heavyweights over the his career. While he was unable to beat either Daniel Cormier or Jones, he showed in those fights that he can give them a difficult bout and make it a close decision on the scorecards.
Gustafsson’s fight game starts with his length. At 6’5” and a 79 inch reach, he’s second only to Jones in the division when it comes to length of light heavyweight’s top fighters. Gustafsson has some of the best footwork in the division. He utilizes that footwork in combination with a high IQ boxing prowess. He has excellent hand speed and is the best boxer in the division with his ability to throw and connect combinations. He doesn’t have the power that most of the top light heavyweights have, but he makes up for it with his high work rate, landing 4.18 significant strikes per minute. His ground game is certainly not his strength, but he has excellent takedown defense at 85%. In a combined 50 minutes in the cage with Cormier and Jones, he was only taken down twice.
Jon Jones (Record: 22-1-1, -255 Favorite, Fighter Grade: A++)
The 31-year old Rochester, NY born fighter is the consensus number one mixed martial artist in the world. In 24 fights, his hand has been raised in all but one of those matches. The lone time it wasn’t raised was due to a disqualification in a fight he was winning decisively. Jones returns to action for the first time since July 2017 when he was the first and only fighter to date to finish Daniel Cormier. Multiple issues outside the cage have sidelined Jones for an extended period of time. It’s the longest layoff of Jones career.
The long time Jackson’s MMA product is the top fighter in the world for many reasons. To start, physically he’s very gifted in that his 84.5” inch reach is right near the top of the sport. Jones uses his length very well. He lands a whopping 2.29 significant strikes a minute more than he absorbs. That puts him right near the top of the UFC in that regard. He combines that with 95% takedown defense. Jones is difficult to hit and difficult to take to the mat. He mixes that defensive prowess with a creative striking game using a lot of unorthodox kicks. On the ground, Jones has as brutal of ground and pound as anyone in MMA. He delivers vicious elbows in top control and is capable of finishing in any fight from that position. If there’s any weakness in Jones game it’s lack of big-time power. With that said, he’s put on muscle mass in his time out of the cage and it’s plausible he will move up to heavyweight in the near future to challenge for that championship as well.
In a rematch of one the five best fights in the history of the UFC, Jon Jones will once again look to become the light heavyweight champion of the world as he takes on one of his biggest rivals in Alexander Gustafsson. Both fighters are returning from extensive layoffs, so off the bat there are some question marks on ring rust and if there has been any regression in abilities. Furthermore, the fight being moved from Las Vegas to Los Angeles on less than two weeks’ notice forcing changes fight week preparation creates even more inuendo around the bout. With both fighters affected, one has to handicap that aspect a wash and look at it strictly from a competitive perspective.
While the sample size is small, Jon Jones has had perhaps his biggest struggles with long, rangy fighters. The toughest fight of his career was his first fight with Gustafsson. The Swede landed 110 significant strikes in that bout in comparison to the 134 landed by the American. With that in mind, Gustafsson threw 71 more significant strikes throughout the fight. Gus was certainly more active, but Jones landed the bigger, more meaningful punches especially in the later rounds. As Jones has added more muscle since that bout, expect power to be even more of a factor in this bout. Gustafsson will have confidence from that first fight, but the X Factor is Jones’ increased power allowing him to land more devastating blows. I expect this to be another classic bout, but Gustafsson’s lack of one punch knockout power will be his undoing as Jones will be able to take control in stretches knocking Gustafsson backwards. In the end, I expect this bout to go to the scorecards with Jones once again continuing his tremendous run at the top of the light heavyweight division. Jones by decision +225 is the best play on this fight.