Jon Jones hasn’t fought within the Octagon since edging Thiago Santos on July 6, however his battle with motivation has performed out on social media ever since.
Jones simply could not appear to get enthusiastic about defending his mild heavyweight title in opposition to any of the highest contenders, together with ESPN No. 4-ranked Dominick Reyes and No. 5 Corey Anderson, who’re each coming off spectacular victories.
Jones tweeted on Sept. 9 that massive information was coming quickly. There was hypothesis he would transfer as much as heavyweight and presumably problem champion Stipe Miocic or possibly Francis Ngannou. Or possibly the talked-about struggle with middleweight champ Israel Adesanya would get fast-tracked.
But it surely may need simply been Jones having enjoyable with a tease on social media.
Clarity finally arrived on Nov. 6 when Jones tweeted that he selected Reyes after figuring out with this coaches that Reyes is a extra harmful opponent than Anderson.
The struggle grew to become official on Friday and can happen Feb. eight in Houston.
So how harmful is Reyes for Jones, whose solely loss was a controversial disqualification for an unlawful elbow strike? And did Jones’ unconvincing win over Santos, who had torn ligaments in his each his knees, reveal vulnerabilities within the champ? ESPN’s panel of consultants — Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim — breaks it down.
How harmful of a struggle is that this for Jones?
Helwani: Jones has had somewhat little bit of bother with lengthy fighters throughout this run, however in fact, he is received all these fights. We’re nitpicking right here. My largest concern is, is he motivated? It is no secret he is been on the lookout for a giant struggle. Drawback is, there is not one proper now. So, he’s sort of settling right here, though Reyes is a tricky and worthy opponent. Will he look previous him? Will he take this struggle severely? That is what I’m wondering.
Okamoto: When discussing the issue degree of a Jon Jones struggle, it is necessary to remember it is all relative, proper? Jones is the favourite to beat anybody. So, after we’re discussing these completely different opponents, it is not a query of, “Is that this the man to beat Jon Jones?” It is extra a query of, “Is that this a man who might, possibly, theoretically, on his finest night time, beat Jon Jones?” And comparatively talking, I feel Reyes is among the largest challenges to Jones proper now. Actually at mild heavyweight. It is a harmful struggle in that Reyes has professional energy, and he’s undeniably in his prime, which you have not at all times been capable of say about Jones’ opponents.
Raimondi: Each bit as harmful as Thiago Santos was and Jones was not capable of run by way of Santos by any means. Reyes is larger, longer and youthful than Santos. Whereas he may not be as proficient or as skilled of a striker as Santos, Reyes is six years youthful and nonetheless getting higher. In his previous 4 fights, he has knocked out Chris Weidman and Jared Cannonier and defeated the robust Ovince Saint Preux and Volkan Oezdemir. Reyes is arguably Jones’ hardest opponent since Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 in December 2018, as a result of we simply do not understand how good he will be but. Contemplate this: By means of 12 profession fights, Reyes has a greater résumé than Jones did (although Jones was considerably youthful).
Wagenheim: How harmful for Jones? Solely as harmful as Jon permits it to be. Actually, he ought to be insulted by this query. He is a raging hurricane of a fighter who’s spent years because the one inflicting the hazard upon opponents. And Jones continues to be able to that, is not he? We’ve not seen a lot of that man within the cage, actually, since DC II a very good two and a half years in the past. However Jon is simply 32, clear-eyed and wholesome, and if he is nonetheless Jon Jones, he ought to be approach an excessive amount of for Dominick Reyes to deal with. So I am inclined to say this struggle poses nowhere close to probably the most peril Jones has been by way of in his time on the prime of the game. Then once more, I am a bit haunted by the latest “Bones” persona of a champion bored by all of it (sigh), deigning to bestow a beating on the subsequent sufferer up. That, my associates, resides dangerously.
What did we find out about Jones from the Santos struggle?
Helwani: That he continues to evolve. He is ready to dig deep. He can take a giant punch. One of many largest questions on Jones all through his profession has been about his chin. I feel after that final struggle he proved he has a really robust chin and may take a punch from the heaviest of hitters.
Okamoto: For me, it is not a lot what I realized from that struggle … it is what I used to be asking myself after that struggle. As a result of the most important query I had was: The place did Jones’ killer intuition go? I’ve spent the final 10 years watching Jones, and one attribute he is at all times had is a sure degree of nastiness. There have been occasions the place he is really pushed that line of what may even be thought of combating soiled. However in opposition to Santos, he had an opponent in entrance of him who was clearly compromised, combating on one leg, and he did not go for the kill. If something, he took a conservative strategy late in that bout. Jones’ killer intuition has at all times been certainly one of his higher attributes in my view, so I do discover myself questioning if it is as robust as it has been up to now.
Raimondi: He isn’t utterly invincible, which some may need thought after he dominated Alexander Gustafsson after which Anthony Smith coming off a 17-month layoff. Certainly, some folks scored that bout for Santos. I disagree with that — Jones undoubtedly was a deserving winner on the scorecards. However Jones additionally did not execute the perfect sport plan potential, admittedly so. He was content material to struggle Santos standing — the place Santos was most expert and most able to ending him. Jones is constantly on the lookout for challenges, even when it places him in hurt’s approach. If Jones took Santos down — and he certainly might have — it might have been a unique struggle.
Wagenheim: Jon is at his finest when he is the one on assault. He is wonderful at heading off an opponent’s offense, to make certain, and he’s able to a quick-strike counter. However within the Santos struggle he by no means actually received his engine into gear. Earlier than that, in opposition to Anthony Smith, Jones additionally idled for lengthy stretches, revving issues up solely as wanted. In each of those fights, Jon received the job finished however it was no masterwork. Wait, let me twist that round for correct emphasis: It was no masterwork, however Jon received the job finished. Jones has not misplaced his successful edge. He is only a sufferer of his personal inventive muse. His early-career spotlight reel set the bar so excessive that seeing him merely get his hand raised looks like a letdown.
What does Reyes carry to the struggle apart from a giant left hand?
Helwani: His size and athleticism. He’s 2 inches taller than Santos and an inch taller than Anthony Smith. Additionally, he has a 1-inch attain benefit on each guys. However, that stated, he is the identical peak as Jones — 6-4 — and Jones has a 7.5-inch attain benefit. Jones ought to be the favourite on this struggle, little doubt. The truth that Reyes is undefeated makes it compelling.
Okamoto: He demonstrated fairly good takedown protection in opposition to Chris Weidman in his final struggle. Now, there is a distinction between a former middleweight attempting to take you down, and Jon Jones (possible a future heavyweight) attempting to take you down. But when you do not have takedown protection, you haven’t any likelihood in opposition to Jones, so it was good to see Reyes carry out nicely in that space not too long ago. This sounds cliche, however Reyes additionally has the advantage of being undefeated. He would not know what it is prefer to lose. He is used to successful. He expects it, as a result of it is all he is identified on this sport. And in opposition to an opponent as probably intimidating as Jones, I feel that is a plus.
Raimondi: Reyes is a unbelievable athlete, a former Division I soccer all-conference defensive again at Stony Brook College in New York. He’s massive, robust and has regarded fairly technical on the toes. Reyes’ floor sport is essentially unproven, although he has two submission wins in his profession. Whereas Reyes is certainly a menace on the toes, Jones has the benefit on paper just about in every single place.
Wagenheim: Reyes can punch and he can wrestle. He has large self-belief, which is comprehensible contemplating he’s undefeated. And “The Devastator” additionally has that far-reaching previous Gustafsson expertise: He is tall. These are all elements within the secret system for defeating Jon Jones.*
(* — Nobody has defeated Jon Jones.)
How do you see the struggle unfolding?
Helwani: I will not be stunned if we see a Jones who seems to be for a end early. I feel he needs to make an announcement that no different mild heavyweight is on his degree, and I feel he needs to close up all of the doubters who’ve been talking up somewhat extra this 12 months.
Okamoto: How most of Jones’ fights unfold. One factor Jones would not get sufficient credit score for is his struggle IQ. I’ve had quite a few coaches inform me that through the years. He’ll check Reyes within the early goings, really feel him out. To not say it should get off to a sluggish begin essentially, however Jones will likely be conscious of any massive photographs. He’ll discover his vary. And because the struggle unfolds, Jones will begin to run away with it increasingly. Outdoors of an early knockout, I do not assume this matchup favors Reyes. However then, such is the case with all Jon Jones fights.
Raimondi: Until Reyes continues to enhance at a fast charge — which, by the way in which, will not be unattainable — this seems to be like a Jones determination win, not not like his victory at UFC 235 over Anthony Smith on March 2. There’s at all times the chance Jones will get caught and Reyes has massive energy. However Jones has an iron chin and higher protection. For a very long time, folks thought the key to beating Jones was to only catch him on the toes, and that has been approach simpler stated than finished. If Reyes stops takedowns (if Jones really goes for them) and stays out of bother within the clinch, he might make it a aggressive struggle like Santos did. It at all times does really feel just like the struggle is contingent on the place Jones’ head is. “Bones” is the best of all time for a cause.
Wagenheim: Jones has this factor about combating opponents the place they’re at their finest. Perhaps he is measuring the opposite man, on the lookout for a gap to steer the dance his approach. Perhaps he sees this tactic because the quickest route into the opponent’s psyche. Perhaps Jon is simply bored and setting a problem in entrance of himself. No matter it’s, I envision Jones in search of to close down Reyes wherever Dominick takes the struggle. With the challenger searching from the outset for one thing massive in stand-up exchanges, Jones will likely be content material to rely totally on kicks from distance. Quickly sufficient, the champ will problem Reyes’ vaunted wrestling, and that would be the sport. If Jones will get the higher of the mano a mano — which I believe he’ll, as a result of he has in each previous struggle — it will be an unfulfilling night time for “And new …!” followers.