Jon Jones has finished seven of his last eight opponents. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
It is a bout that has been seven months in the making, thanks to sound bites, social media and taunts -- nearly anything one can think of except, of course, actual fighting.
On Aug. 7, 2010, Chael Sonnen gave Anderson Silva the hardest four and half rounds of “The Spider’s” Ultimate Fighting Championship tenure, and he continues to reap the benefits today. Without having earned a single victory in the weight class, Sonnen will challenge Jon Jones -- who is well on his way to matching Silva in terms of divisional dominance -- for the 205-pound championship at UFC 159 on Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Never mind that Sonnen came up short against Silva on that summer night more than two years ago or that he was woefully outclassed in their middleweight title rematch at UFC 148. On the basis of 23 minutes plus some astute self-promotion after the fact, the “Gangster from West Linn” has enough people convinced that lightning can (almost) strike twice. Thankfully, the time for talking has neared its end. Now Sonnen must prove himself against Jones in the Octagon, where thus far, everyone else has failed.
Here is a closer look at UFC 159 “Jones vs. Sonnen,” with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC 159 Free Fan Pick’Em
UFC Light Heavyweight Championship
Jon Jones (17-1, 11-1 UFC) vs. Chael Sonnen (27-12-1, 6-5 UFC)
The Matchup: Give Sonnen credit for realizing that his fame has an expiration date. Instead of continuing to toil in the middleweight division after two losses to Silva, Sonnen elected to move up to 205 pounds and pick a fight with Jones. His timing could not have been more perfect, as he offered to step in and face Jones at UFC 151 when Dan Henderson withdrew from the bout with an injury. Jones’ refusal to face the Team Quest product on short notice only served to stoke the flames for a future matchup, and the two were installed as rival coaches on Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
The fighters were fairly cordial on the show, but Jones appeared to have grown tired of the promotional aspect of the fight when Jon Anik interviewed both men at “The Ultimate Fighter 17” Finale, offering abbreviated responses to the commentator’s queries. Sonnen, of course, was more than happy to bask in the spotlight when his turn on the microphone came. Love him or hate him, Sonnen is one of the smartest fighters in the sport today when it comes to selling himself, but even he has to realize that his relevance as a title contender will be all but over with another defeat.
Jones has encountered trouble twice thus far during his dominant title reign. The first instance came at UFC 140, where Lyoto Machida utilized movement and striking to vex the champion during the first round before “Bones” asserted himself and submitted “The Dragon” in the second frame. Jones’ most significant danger came in his last outing, when Vitor Belfort trapped him in a tight armbar in the first round of their UFC 152 showdown. Jones escaped, however, and dominated the rest of the encounter en route to tapping “The Phenom” with a keylock in round four.
The problem for Sonnen is that he is unlikely to follow the path of Machida or Belfort with much success. Although he managed to get the best of some standup encounters with Silva at UFC 117, Sonnen’s striking is basic, as he throws one-two combinations while relying on forward movement to keep opponents on their heels. While it is not unreasonable to think that Sonnen could land some decent punches due to sheer pressure, he is far less likely to pull off a submission if planted on his back. The Oregonian thrives on top control, from which he wears down foes with a consistent barrage of punches and elbows. He does a good job of posturing up inside guard and remaining active to avoid referee restarts. Unlike Silva, who proved to be susceptible to takedowns, Jones controls fights with his wrestling. His Greco-Roman background enables him to get takedowns from unusual angles, and his length allows him to maintain position on the floor. If Sonnen finds himself on his back, he will have to defend against Jones’ trademark elbows, as well as a creative submission game.
It will be a tall task for Sonnen to even move into takedown range against the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product. Jones will have an 11-inch reach advantage, and he understands better than most how to use that length in his favor. The New York native is creative in landing a variety of punches, kicks and elbows on the feet. Kicks to legs and knees, in particular, will gradually slow Sonnen as he attempts to close distance.
However, there do not seem to be many alternatives for Sonnen to pull off the upset. When he attempts to get too creative on the feet, the results can be disastrous, as evidenced by the ill-advised spinning back fist that sealed his demise in the UFC 148 rematch with Silva. Jones has yet to be taken down in UFC competition, so it is worth the risk to see how he would respond in such a situation. By transitioning from striking to takedowns and chaining together multiple attempts, Sonnen at least has the ability to make Jones work to defend his attacks.
The Pick: Scary as it seems, Jones should only be getting better. He will first pick apart Sonnen on the outside before taking the action to the canvas to expose his opponent’s faulty submission defense. Jones coaxes a tapout in round two.
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