Despite UFC promo efforts, don't expect Jones-Gustafsson to be game of inches


jon-jones-53.jpgBased on the ads I’ve seen for UFC 165 so far, we’re in for a thrilling contest of measurements on Saturday night.

I don’t know if you’ve heard this yet or not, but Jon Jones, the UFC light heavyweight champion? Yeah, he’s kind of tall. He has long arms and legs, too. Probably has something to do with how tall he is.

But wait! The challenger, Alexander Gustafsson, is also tall. A little taller than Jones, in fact, though his arms and legs are not quite so long (but they are longer than people think, so there).

Point is, two tall guys with long limbs are going to get in that cage in Toronto this weekend and, I don’t know, take turns getting stuff off the top shelf or something.

I don’t totally blame the UFC for acting like this is a fight that’s going to be determined by slashes on a ruler. More than anything, it’s a testament to Jones’ dominance as champ. When you’re trying to sell tickets and pay-per-views, it helps if you can convince people that there is at least some doubt about the outcome. Jones makes that difficult at times, though I’m not sure it’s his height and reach that account for it.

It’d be one thing if Jones was beating everybody from a great distance. If he stood on the outside of each opponent’s range, peppering them with faraway punches that no one could get inside of. And sure, he has that option when he wants it. Getting close enough to hit him without swallowing a mouthful of leather is its own problem, but not one that has proven to be impossible.

In fact, you look at Jones’ recent wins and you see a lot of violence that took place up close. Either on the mat or in the clinch, the problem most opponents have run up against is not that they can’t reach him, but that they can’t do much about it once he’s on top and in their faces. Given that track record, it’s not so surprising that those in the Gustafsson camp are shrugging off any and all height and reach concerns leading up to this fight.

“I think Alex has a speed advantage,” Eric Del Fierro, one of Gustafsson’s coaches at Alliance MMA in San Diego, told me last week. “I really don’t think range is going to matter that much.”

Fellow UFC light heavyweight and Alliance MMA sparring partner Phil Davis concurred. It’s nice to be able to reach out and hit someone who can’t do the same, he pointed out, but in MMA, where the option for clinch fighting and takedowns and thigh-tenderizing leg kicks provides plenty of opportunities to do something other than stand at the end of someone’s jab, it’s not enough just to have long limbs.

“It’s about your technique, your footwork, and what you’re able to do with it,” said Davis. “That’s where Alex is as good as anybody in the world.”

If anything, maybe trying to sell Gustafsson on the basis of height and reach alone is too dismissive of the actual skills that got him here.

Then again, as Jones has been quick to point out, just because the two fighters have similar dimensions doesn’t mean they share too many other common traits. They have different styles, different strengths, different resumes.

As Jones boasted on a recent conference call, “(I’m) fighting against the best guys in the world, and a lot of them never even get a chance to punch me in the face throughout the fight.”

Does anyone really believe that a couple inches in height or reach would have made all the difference in those situations?

Maybe not, but you’ve got to tell the people something. At least it’s no worse than promising that their heads might explode.

For the latest on UFC 165, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

(Pictured: Jon Jones)

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