Not one, not two, not three…

In 2010, NBA superstar Lebron James made it all the way to “not seven” before he stopped predicting the number of championship rings that he, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade would bring to the Miami Heat franchise after his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for greener pastures. At this point, three seasons later, James and company have brought two rings to the city, bringing his record to 2-1. UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones has done much better.

Since stepping in as an injury replacement for former training partner and friend Rashad Evans in a title eliminator fight at UFC 126, Jones has won and defended the light heavyweight strap six times in two years. This Saturday night, at UFC 165, he will get that seventh chance at a title win that James is several years away from, if at all. Live from Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Jones will defend his belt for the sixth time when he goes up against Swedish veteran Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson.

For all intents and purposes, the 18-1 Jones has never been defeated. His sole loss came by disqualification while he was handling Matt Hamill in his third UFC fight. In that fight, Jones was called for illegal “12-to-6” downward elbow strikes. Other than nearly getting submitted by Vitor Belfort almost exactly one year ago, Jones has done nothing but dominate every major player in the UFC light heavyweight division. Gustafsson looks to change that this weekend.

At 15-1 as a professional fighter, Gustafsson’s only career loss also took place in the Octagon. However, unlike Jones, his was a legitimate defeat. At UFC 112, Phil Davis submitted the Swede by anaconda choke with only five seconds left in the first round. While this was his first loss, Gustafsson went on to defeat a half dozen world-class fighters on his path to title contention.

Gustafsson has been waiting a long time for this shot at the title. In December 2012, he went the distance with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to earn his shot at Jones’ belt. In April, Jones defeated Chael Sonnen by first-round TKO to successfully defend the championship. That belt is up for grabs again this weekend, and Gustafsson will look to bring Sweden its first-ever UFC championship.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Wrestling: Jones – 10, Gustafsson – 9

Jones was a state champion wrestler in high school and went on to win a national champion in junior college, where he also earned All-American status. He dropped out of college to begin his career in MMA, but his superior wrestling has always translated into his new fighting modality.

In his five years as a pro, Jones has dominated many NCAA Division I wrestling standouts, including Chael Sonnen, Rashad Evans and Ryan Bader. Jones has a great double-leg takedown, amazing takedown defense, has never been taken down, and is a monster in the clinch. Once he gets his opponents on the ground, if he is in top control, it is only a matter of time before his dominant wrestling opens the window to a TKO beatdown. This is not an area that would be considered his opponent’s strong suit.

Gustafsson is not the typical wrestler-turned-fighter. He entered the sport from more of a striking background. However, Gustafsson does have one feature, primarily tied to his height, that makes him dangerous to a ground fighter. He has successfully defended 84 percent of takedown attempts. That’s a lot. While Jones has shown in the past that he has little problem taking down his opponents, even a wrestler like Bader has been taken down more often than Gustafsson. After Gustafsson’s loss to Phil Davis, he began training with the NCAA Division I champion and All-American at Alliance MMA in California. Since this change, Gustafsson’s wrestling has improved greatly.

Unfortunately for the Swedish fighter, Jones will most likely still be able to take him down, and, from a purely wrestling perspective, Jones will dominate.

Submission Grappling: Jones – 10, Gustafsson – 10

Wrestling is great for body control and takedowns, but MMA, unlike wrestling, also includes submissions. So it’s not just getting to the ground that counts, but what a fighter does once he gets there. From a statistical point-of-view, Jones has six submission wins, mostly of the wrestler type, like guillotine and rear-naked chokes, and Gustafsson has three submission wins, all by rear-naked choke.

Neither of these guys would be considered slicksters by any means. Gustafsson has formal training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and currently holds a purple belt, whereas Jones has no formal BJJ training, but has been receiving some great instruction in submissions at Jackson’s MMA. Gustafsson’s training with Alliance MMA has helped his grappling game a lot, but he still tends to stand up.

Neither of these guys spend a lot of time on their backs, so it’s hard to say who has the better guard attacks, but Jones has definitely shown the better submission defense. Even when Belfort appeared to be ripping Jones’ arm off, he still couldn’t complete the finish. Meanwhile, Shogun couldn’t do anything to Gustafsson in terms of submission grappling.

When it comes down to it, Jones and Gustafsson are not about to go win an Abu Dhabi title in submission grappling, but both are equally effective at sealing the deal when the striking isn’t doing the trick.

Striking: Jones – 10, Gustafsson – 9[/box_light]

Striking is the strongest aspect of Gustafsson’s game. Boxing since the age of 10, the Swede was a striking purist prior to entering the world of MMA. With nine of his 15 wins coming by first- or second-round knockout, “The Mauler” earned his nickname by brutalizing his opponent’s early in his fights. Gustafsson’s striking style is very straightforward and mostly dominated by his hands. His laser-like accuracy in his counter-striking is very comparable to the counter-striking of Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. He’s tall and long, but not as long as Jones.

Jones may be one inch shorter than Gustafsson, but he has an eight-inch reach advantage. This is the reason that Jones can throw his patented spinning elbow strike at the same distance a fighter like Gustafsson can throw a spinning backfist.

This brings up another important point. Gustafsson is a very straight puncher. He uses classic angles for classic strikes. He just throws them faster and more accurate than most of his opponents. Jones, on the other hand, utilizes unique strikes, like his spinning elbows, flying knees and stomp kick jabs, and he also uses creative angles for his uppercuts and hooks.

In addition to the strikes thrown, the lateral movement of both fighters is hardly comparable. Gustafsson doesn’t use kicks as often as he could, and his lateral movement is almost nonexistent. He moves straight in and straight back, with very little time spent moving side-to-side, like Alliance teammate Dominick Cruz has been so successful in doing. Jones uses a lot of footwork to create his odd angles and also uses his feet to avoid straight-on attacks, like those of Gustafsson.

Gustafsson may be the more classically trained striker, but Jones is a freak on his feet. Jones could easily take this one by knockout.

[alert type=white ]Speed: Jones – 9, Gustafsson – 10[/box_light]

Jones and Gustafsson are easily two of the faster guys in the light heavyweight division. They may not be as fast with their hands as the old Vitor Belfort, but they are pretty close.

Jones has speed and length, which combines for an amazing striking game, but sometimes he overcompensates with his length and doesn’t utilize his speed as much as he could. Gustafsson never pushes his speed aside.

Gustafsson may not be the longest-armed 6-foot-5 fighter, but what he lacks in length, he makes up for with speed. His counter-attacks and swarming look like something from a sci-fi movie. When he kicks it into gear, his hands almost move faster than can be seen with the naked eye. In fact, if he clips or hurts Jones, even if just for a second, the fight could end in his favor. Like a shark in bloody water, Gustafsson’s speedy swarm has proven to be a game-ending switch.

Jones has the speed, but speed utilization is definitely in Gustafsson’s favor.

[alert type=white ]Accuracy: Jones – 10, Gustafsson – 10[/box_light]

Jones lands more spinning strikes than most guys throw in their careers, and Gustafsson’s straight counters are the reason he has finished so many fights. The common theme is accuracy.

Spatial recognition is a very important factor in MMA, and yet it’s something that rarely crosses the minds of most people. Whether grappling, striking or clinched up against the cage, a fighter has very little chance of throwing anything with accuracy unless they possess a clear understanding of the surrounding space. It’s the reason why the proverbial haymaker is so easily defended on the street by anyone with formal self-defense training.

Gustafsson understands the relationships between his opponent’s attacks and his counters so well that no matter who he fights, he lands his counter-strikes almost every time. Jones, on the other hand, uses his spatial understanding from an offensive standpoint. Very rarely does Jones throw his spinning kicks or elbows from a counter-attack, but mostly when moving forward. When he does throw an elbow or back kick, he almost always lands and is almost never looking at his target upon impact.

The accuracy of these two fighters is second-to-none and could easily be the single aspect that makes this fight so exciting. Both guys are ultra-accurate and fans should expect to see a ton of damage, regardless of the outcome.

[alert type=white ]X-factor

As with most championship fights, the X-factor is the champ’s experience. Both Jones and Gustafsson have fought on the UFC stage for at least four years, but Jones has fought five more opponents. Furthermore, the opponents Jones has faced are far beyond the opponents that Gustafsson has encountered.

In his initial title win, Jones took out Shogun, who, coincidentally, was Gustafsson’s last win to earn his title shot. Prior to Shogun, the Swede had mostly faced stepping-stone fighters, but, since winning the title, Jones’ last five fights were against a who’s who of the light heavyweight division. With the exception of Evans, Jones has finished all contenders to his title. With submissions of Machida, Belfort and Rampage Jackson and TKOs of Sonnen and Shogun, Jones has completely dismantled the top contenders of the division, while Gustafsson skated by with unanimous decisions in his last two fights.

The X-factor is Jones’ experience, and this will be something that will be difficult for Gustafsson to overcome.

Total: Jones – 49, Gustafsson – 48

Verdict: Gustafsson may be the best current contender for Jones’ title, but there is too much left to be desired. His wrestling is far inferior to the champ’s, his striking is far more rudimentary in style, and his submissions are comparable at best.

It’s been hard to predict anything less than a win for Jones since he obtained his title, and this fight is no different. Jones is an amazing all-around fighter. There is really no aspect of his game that is subpar, and he is only getting better. At only 26 years of age, he will finish his dominant run in the light heavyweight division with plenty of time left for some superfights and a run at the heavyweight championship. At this point, UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez may be the best challenge to Jones, but Gustafsson is not the one to end his reign.

Look for Jones to retain his title on Saturday night with a TKO of Gustafsson.

Photo: Jon Jones (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator