It is one of the biggest fights in the history of the UFC light heavyweight division. The flashy, creative, newly crowned light heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones will attempt make his first title defense. He is in for his toughest fight to date as he faces heavy hitting former UFC champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. The fight headlines UFC 135 in Denver, Colorado at the Pepsi Center. This event marks the UFC’s return to it’s birth place in Denver, where the first ever UFC event was held.
The champion Jon "Bones" Jones is considered by many the most exciting prospect the UFC has ever seen. Jones exploded onto the MMA scene with dominating wins over every opponent standing across from him. His style, an unusual mix of flashy spinning and jumping kicks, punches, knees, and elbows, with unbelievably powerful clinch throws and trips, has surprised MMA fans and fighters alike.
Jones is considered the face of the "next generation" of MMA fighters. Because of his flashy striking, explosive wrestling, and dominating ground game, there is no where to fight Jones where an opponent is safe. Watching Jones’ domination of the then-UFC Light-Heavyweight champion Maricio "Shogun" Rua, especially in the striking aspect, would lead one to believe that Jones’ stand-up is nearly unstoppable. Since then, questions over Rua’s physical condition leading into the fight have clouded the dominating performance of Jones. The stand-up of the new champion will now be retested as he fights a striking legend in his first title defense.
For years, Rampage has been one of the biggest names in combat sports. He is one of the most main stream and marketable fighters in the world, having a lengthy highlight reel of knockouts over some of the biggest names in MMA and even staring in a major motion picture, ‘The A-Team’.
For his last two fights, Rampage stayed close to home in Orange County, California, training under Lance Gibson. For this camp, he has been at the new MusclePharm facility in Denver, Colorado, adapting to the high altitude that will factor into the fight. The word from everyone who has helped him prepare is that Jackson is in the best shape of his life. Putting Jackson under intensive state of the art training and body monitorization at his new gym, MusclePharm president Cory Gregory has stated that, "(Rampage) is literally a science project at this point." He is literally living at the gym, sparring with the likes of heavyweights Check Kongo and Rob Broughton. His trainers are saying that they have never seen him so determined and so ready for a bout.
Breaking the fighters down, both of them are clearly top five light heavyweight’s in the sport of MMA. Both men have fought strikers and grapplers alike, and have impressive records. If their records had to be compared, it is obvious that Rampage is the one who has fought the who’s-who of MMA, not Jones. Rampage has been fighting since 1999, compared to Jones who had his first pro fight in 2008. This means that when Jackson was the UFC light-heavyweight champion, Jones wasn’t even a pro fighter yet. While being extremely dominant and impressive, Jones has only fought two top 10 opponents.
In striking, the pair are sure to collide in a very high level affair. Jones has displayed phenomenal skills in every area in his eight fights in the UFC. Most praised would be his flashy, unorthodox striking that he can attack with from great distances away. While commonly criticized for lack of power, his spinning and jumping strikes are some of the most accurate that the UFC has seen.
Jackson has been known as a dangerous striker, especially since he made it to the UFC and relied solely on his hands to win him the UFC belt and claim his success against some of the best. When one thinks of a power puncher in MMA, "Rampage" is likely the lead name on the list. His hands are sure to be Jones’ main focus in his training camp; trading punches with Jackson would be suicide.
The wrestling pedigree of Jones has been showcased in a highlight reel of Greco throws and trips he has executed in the octagon. He has dominantly out-wrestled every opponent that he has faced, which was especially impressive in his lopsided victory over talented wrestler Ryan Bader where Jones defended and executed take-downs with ease. Jackson believes that Jones will be trying to take him down throughout the fight, and has prepared accordingly.
In Pride, Jackson was well known for big slams and powerful wrestling. Rampage out-wrestled and KO’d who, at the time, was considered one of the very best wrestlers in MMA, Kevin Randleman.
Submission defense and a solid top game also have been used to dominate opponents by Jones, most recently implemented in his fight with Maricio Shogun Rua. Jones used his clear size and strength advantages to damage Rua from the top. He has also finished Ryan Bader by submission with a rare guillotine inside Bader’s half-guard. If Jones is successful in taking Jackson down, he may look to tap the veteran out.
In 40 fights, Rampage has been submitted only once, not to mention that the lone submission loss was to Sakuraba over a decade ago. While he has seven submission wins to his credit, it would be a shock to see Jackson looking for any in this fight. If Rampage wants to be anywhere on the ground, it is on top raining down punches.
Mike Finch’s Prediction
Jones needs to keep this fight at a distance on the feet and use lots of kicks and footwork to evade the hands of Jackson and accumulate damage on the veteran. In a clinch situation, Jones should look to take Rampage down and dominate from the top position. It is clear that Rampages inactive bottom game will fall victim to Jones’ vicious and dominating top game if he doesn’t get back to his feet. Jackson should be ready to wrestle in this fight, and because of this Jones can’t afford to hesitate in his Greco. Speed and distance will be they key, in striking and in wrestling, to beat Rampage.
I believe that in this situation, a title fight where he seems so predictable in his boxing approach, that Jackson may pull some tricks on Jones. If Jackson comes out of the gate like BJ Penn did against John Fitch and tries to take Jones down, not only will this mess with Jones mentally, but he may just finish the shot due to Jones neglecting take-down defense in his camp. If Jackson decides instead to kickbox with Jones, he needs to catch the flashy champ coming in. Rampage’s one-punch knockout power is likely his greatest tool against the untested chin of Jones. He can’t stay on the outside, Jackson needs to close the distance and make Jones pay for every spinning and jumping strike he throws. In a clinch situation, Rampage needs to land punches and not allow Jones to out position him. If he is taken down, he needs to use his explosive power to stand up and get Jones off of him to avoid major damage that can be dealt to him there.
I believe that Jackson will come out in great shape and ready to go, but Jones may be too fast and too long to handle. He can cover distance and strike just as fast as Rashad Evans, who was too quick for Jackson in their fight. Jones is also a phenomenal wrestler, and may dominate Rampage from the top as well. Jackson can absolutely catch Jones and finish him, but the chance is too slim to rely on. I am predicting Jones will win via TKO in the fourth round.