Shogun vs. Jones: The Fight we really wanted to seePosted on March 8, 2011, 11:06 AM by codemaster
(Credit to Scott Peterson of MMA Weekly for the excellent photograph)
When it was announced that Rashad Evans had injured himself and was unable to fight Shogun on March 19, the UFC brass scrambled for a replacement. Rampage was not in fighting trim, and was unlikely to make the weight cut with less than 6 weeks warning.
Jones the Only Choice
There were not many choices available in the top of the LHW rankings. Another fight with Machida was probably premature and not a fan favorite since Shogun and Machida have already fought twice recently. Opponents like Forrest Griffin or Thiago Silva did not make sense either, from a promotional angle or from a rankings point of view. Jones was the natural next choice after Rampage.
For the last couple of years, fans have speculated on how Jones would do against top 5 LHW competition. Many have been impatient for Jones to be allowed his chance to shine by giving him a top opponent. At last, it seems, fans are going to get what they wanted.
Shogun vs. Evans Not Compelling
Many fans did not view the upcoming bout between Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua to be a compelling fight. Rashad was knocked out cold by Machida, but came back to win against Rampage and Thiago Silva via close decisions. It was the way Rashad won against these last two opponents as well as his decisive loss to Machida which had fans wondering how good the fight would be with Shogun.
Both the Rampage fight and the Silva fight followed a similar path. Rashad used his wrestling to take down his opponent, but once on the ground, he did little damage with ground and pound, and never threatened with submissions. While Rashad showed excellent top control, he could not take the next decisive step. In the 3rd round of both fights, Rashad was badly rocked, and barely survived to the end of the round. (both fights should have been 5 rounds) This did not inspire confidence in fans that Rashad could defeat Shogun, and if he did defeat Shogun, it would be through top control only--and not be a decisive win.
The Scripted Hollywood Moment
Even though it appeared Jones was hearing for the first time that he would fight Shogun when Joe Rogan told him after the fight with Bader, Dana White had asked Jones moments before whether he would take the fight and Jones accepted. In addition, Jones trains with Rashad, and knew of his injury, so it should not have been a total shock that he would be offered the fight. But this scripted moment will become a highlight reel for years to come, thanks to Dana White's clever marketing.
Does Jones Deserve to Fight Shogun?
Although Jones has not fought Machida, Rampage or Silva, he has definitely proven he is a worthy adversary for Shogun with the defeat of Ryan Bader. Jones uses wrestling more aggressively than Rashad by always threatening with ground and pound and submissions once he takes his opponent down. Ryan Bader is an top wrestler and Jones made him look like an amateur, seeming like a wolf attacking a lamb, rather than two wolves fighting for dominance.
All of this discussion is moot when you consider that the UFC had no other good choices.
1. Rampage was too fat, and not willing to take a title fight on such short notice.
2. A rematch with Machida is premature given two recent matches with Shogun.
3. Thiago Silva is under a cloud due to possible PED use following the Vera fight.
4. Forrest Griffin just fought for the first time in a year and really does not deserve a title opportunity.
5. Others like Couture or Noguera or Davis also are not close enough in rankings to deserve a title shot.
So in the final analysis, Jones was the only available and worthy opponent for Shogun, not to mention a fan favorite for this match.
Who Will Win This Fight?
This fight is very hard to predict because Jones will at last be fighting at the highest level, at which he has little experience. Shogun Rua as a wealth of experience at this level of competition and much success.
Jon Jones has the advantage of height and reach. With an 84 and a half inch reach, he as the longest reach ever in the UFC. The problem is that he does not fully capitalize on his reach by developing and using his jab to good effect. Jones also has reach with his legs, but has not fully utilized his kicking reach effectively, as someone like Anderson Silva has. But anyone who fights Jones has the burden of getting inside his reach to deliver blows--at which time Jones can take the fight to the ground in a flash.
Jones has some unorthodox striking, including devastating spinning elbows, which make him always dangerous and unpredictable. Jones is young, strong and in top physical condition--able to go 5 rounds with a full gas tank. The only question mark with Jones is his mental toughness. Since Jones is undefeated, (he won the Hamil fight) he has not faced someone who gave back as good as he got. How Jones reacts to a tough fight with Shogun and possibly getting hit harder than he ever has in his life will be the question in many fan's minds.
Shogun Rua is a living legend in MMA. Shogun can knock you out or submit you, and he is much more likely to do either than to go to a decision. Shogun has been tested against a who's who of MMA, unlike Jones, and come out on top in most fights. Shogun is a black belt in BJJ and a phenomenal Muay Thai specialist who can deliver crippling kicks and knees as well as rapid fire combinations with his hands. When one looks at Shogun's resume, it is a wonder that Jones was a favorite to beat him after the bout was first announced.
Shogun has a couple of question marks on his recent resume including a loss to Forrest Griffin and a lackluster performance against an aging Mark Coleman. Most of these question can be answered by Shogun's health and ring rust. In Pride fighting, soccer kicks and foot stomps were legal--and Shogun used them effectively. In the UFC, the rules take away a few weapons in Shogun's arsenal, and he must adjust to this. In his battles with Machida, he seemed like the Shogun of old, and that he had made all of the necessary adjustments.
The Keys to Winning
If Shogun wants to defeat Jones, he will have to stuff his takedowns. While Shogun is capable of threatening submissions from guard, it is not a smart move to allow Jones' elbows to be on top, and Jones has been training with elite wrestlers and will be hard to submit from guard. The hard part for Shogun is to achieve a balance between defending takedowns and letting his hands and feet go. When takedowns are threatened, it makes the striking game more cautious, since striking can open up takedown opportunities for your opponent. Shogun must be ultra-aggressive to get inside Jones' reach to strike effectively, and cut off Jones's retreat. Shogun must practice his escapes--since Jones will win if he is on his back for the entire round. In addition, Shogun must have a full 5 round gas tank, since if the fight goes over 3 rounds, he will be vulnerable to Jones' youth and conditioning.
The keys to winning for Jones are pretty much the reverse of Shogun's. Jones needs to use his reach and stay on the outside of Shogun's devastating kicks and punches. He needs to set up his takedowns with strikes, and then do his ground and pound (avoiding 12-6 elbows) or submission attempts. He needs to keep Shogun down, once he has taken him down. When needed, he should clinch with Shogun against the cage and tire him out--as Shogun will have a hard time with the Muay Thai plum and knees against such a tall opponent. Jones should use his unorthodox striking when appropriate, since this style got him where he is now.
I honestly cannot pick a winner for this fight, but I can tell you that I am looking forward to this contest with heightened anticipation. This fight has the possibility of being an all-time classic--whoever wins or loses. By accident or fate, it will be the fight we really wanted to see.