A crash course to UFC 165: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Crash Course: Jones-Gustafsson
Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.
Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones (left) will fight Alexander Gustafsson on Saturday. (Getty Images)
Through five dominant title defenses over 2½ years, competing with UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has proven to be a tall order.
So maybe a 6-foot-5-inch man is the one for the job.
That's the UFC's promotional theme, in a nutshell, in advance of Saturday night's challenge by the gigantic Alexander Gustafsson in the main event of UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto (10 p.m. ET, PPV, $54.99).
The 26-year-old Jones (18-1 overall, 12-1 in the UFC) is in his second month back in the No. 1 position in the SI.com pound-for-pound rankings, elevated in the wake of the Anderson Silva dethroning at middleweight in July. Jones secured that spot by thrashing everyone who's stepped into the cage with him -- including the fighter responsible for the only loss on his resume. Back in 2009, Matt Hamill was in the midst of a trouncing when Jones landed an illegal elbow strike that resulted in a questionable disqualification. Three fights later, in March 2011, the man known as "Bones" won the 205-pound belt by devastating Mauricio "Shogun" Rua via TKO. Jones then beat up four former champions in succession -- Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort -- before a first-round finish of Chael Sonnen in his most recent defense, in April.
Gustafsson (15-1, 7-1 UFC), No. 2 in the SI.com light heavyweight rankings, earned his shot at the belt by winning his last six fights, the latest victory being a unanimous-decision triumph over Rua in December. Though his last two bouts have gone to the judges, the 26-year-old Swede had a run of finishes before that, mostly on the strength of his fast hands. Prior to focusing on mixed martial arts, Gustafsson was an amateur boxer who once beat the national champion in his homeland. In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (8 p.m. ET) and the card's other four will stream on the UFC's Facebook and YouTube pages (6 p.m.).
The storyline that has flowed through the entirety of Jones's reign is that, at 6-4 with a 747 wingspan of 84½ inches, he is simply too much man for any of his opponents, even champions, to handle. As "Bones" has savaged his way through 205-pound challengers, he's become viewed more and more as a heavyweight waiting to happen.
That future can wait, though, now that the UFC can put Jones in with a light heavy who actually casts a downward glance at the champ when they go eye to eye.
Height is only one size measurement, though, and with regard to the other significant one -- reach -- we're not quite sure what we have in Gustafsson. The Swede is officially listed as having a reach of 76½ inches, which puts him at an 8-inch disadvantage against Jones. When the subject was brought up in a conference call with media members last week, however, Alexander insisted that the listed measurement was incorrect, that he actually has a reach of 81.2 inches. Hey, any chance that, at the Friday weigh-in, the UFC can have the fighters line up behind one another, arms stretched to each side, so we can settle Reachgate once and for all? Probably not.
Official weights announced at Friday's weigh-in (4 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 2)
Other Numbers To Count On
5: Title defenses for Jones, tying him with Tito Ortiz for most in UFC light heavyweight history.
3.98:Strikes landed per minute by Gustafsson, which essentially puts him on par with Jones (3.94). However, while the champ connects at 53 percent, the challenger's accuracy lags behind at 36 percent. (All statistics by FightMetric.)
1.41:Strikes absorbed per minute by Jones, a significantly better number than the 2.29 of Gustafsson. Jones's 2.50 strike differential (the difference between how much you hit and how much you get hit) is seventh best in UFC history.
2:Takedowns surrendered by Gustafsson in his six fights -- all wins -- since being taken to the canvas by Davis and choked out.
0:Five-round fights for Gustafsson, who has gone the distance in his last two bouts, both three-rounders, but before that had finished (or been finished in) 13 of 14 bouts.
Gustafsson's toughest fight, vs. "Shogun" Rua:
Size matters. That's what the UFC has been telling us in the leadup to Jones's first fight against a man taller than him, one who, unlike any previous challenger, can fight from a distance and still reach the champ.
What makes the matter of size particularly intriguing is that Gustafsson's boxing background allows him to make the best use of his rangy physique. Typically, Jones has been able to establish a fighting range that allows his long arms and legs to connect while his opponents have had nothing but air to swing at. That won't be the case against "The Mauler."
If Gustafsson is in range, however, that puts him in as much peril as Jones. Perhaps more, because the champion complements his unorthodox striking game with an irresistible grappling assault. Jones backs down from no one on the mat. In his last fight, he attacked Chael Sonnen at his strength, taking the onetime Olympic alternate wrestler to the canvas within seconds of the start. Can Gustafsson handle that? In his one loss, Alexander was quickly taken down and dominated by Phil Davis, a former NCAA Division 1 wrestling champ. Gustafsson now trains with Davis, so his takedown defense no doubt is better. But better than Chael's?
"I've been able to study him a lot over the last several months, and I realized there's actually nothing he does that frightened me." --Jones on Gustafsson, speaking on a media conference call last week
"It's not always about reach, it's about footwork, it's being fast, in and out. Stuff like that. ... I will win this fight and stay on the outside. No doubt about it." --Gustafsson, on the same conference call, talking about penetrating the reach of Jones
Jones is a huge favorite at all sports books checked, with odds ranging from -650 (bet $100 to win $15.38) to -1,250 (bet $100 to win $8). Odds on Gustafsson range from +645 (bet $100 to win $650) to +450 (bet $100 to win $450).
There's no disputing that Jon Jones has never been in the octagon with someone like Alexander Gustafsson. None of his five opponents since winning the belt has stood taller than 6-1. But one thing that all of them but Sonnen did have was championship pedigrees. Even Chael was in three title fights. That's where Gustafsson's resume comes up a little, um, short. He's had but one foe of championship quality, and by the time he got his hands on "Shogun," the Brazilian was in decline. So, given the choice between taking on taller opposition or better opposition, I'd say "The Mauler" faces the more uphill battle. It could be an interesting fight if Jones opts to put his creative standup to the test against Gustafsson's slicker boxing. I'm thinking "Bones" will test those waters briefly, then take down the Swede when he's ready, do some damage on the mat and finish with a submission.
Jones' lengthy reach on punches and kicks will be to his advantage. (Al Bello/Getty Images)
The Tweet Beat
Join the conversation about Jones vs. Gustafsson on Twitter. Track the hashtags #JonesGustafsson and #ufc165 to see who's tweeting what about Saturday's fight. And get blow-by-blow coverage on SI.com via Loretta Hunt's live blog.
· Renan Barão vs. Eddie Wineland, for Barão's interim bantamweight title
· Brendan Schaub vs. Matt Mitrione, heavyweight
· Costa Philippou vs. Francis Carmont, middleweight
· Pat Healy vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov, lightweight
· Non-PPV fights (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Mike Ricci vs. Myles Jury, lightweight; Ivan Menjivar vs. Wilson Reis, bantamweight; Chris Clements vs. Stephen Thompson, welterweight; Mitch Gagnon vs. Dustin Kimura, bantamweight.
· Facebook/YouTube fights (6 p.m. ET): John Makdessi vs. Renee Forte, lightweight; Jesse Ronson vs. Michel Prazeres, lightweight; Ronald Delorme vs. Alex Caceres, bantamweight; Nandor Guelmino vs. Daniel Omielanczuk, heavyweight.
· Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the PPV and prelims on Fox Sports 1, Facebook and YouTube. An hour-long postfight show begins at 2 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 2.
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