Jon Jones will step back into the cage for the first time this year when he faces Alexander Gustafsson in a rematch on Dec. 29 at UFC 232.
The lack of cage time is no surprise to those who have followed Jones’ career over the last few years. Drug testing suspensions and a hit-and-run accident have kept the 31-year-old limited to just one fight a year since 2014 and also cost him his light heavyweight title.
While many pundits will say this has had a negative impact on his fighting career, Jones’ coach Brandon Gibson sees the positives in the layoff, mainly in the lack of damage he’s taken as he explained on The MMA Hour on Monday.
“He’s not getting his brains battered in [during his time off],” Gibson explained (transcript via MMA Fighting). “He’s not getting concussions. He’s taking care of his body and his mind, and this is such a — at this top one percent, these guys are tough. That’s not an aspect that comes with sparring or anything like that. The time off where we’re not having impact, where his body’s not getting beaten up and broken down, where we’re just continuing to evolve the skill and the technique and the strategy and develop Jon that much more as a martial artist is key. And you said he’s 31, he has a long fight career ahead of him still, and he really feels like this time off has prolonged his career that much more.”
“If he was still fighting three to five times a year like he was when he was younger, I think that will burn guys out early. I think that’s where you start seeing the guys in their mid-thirties that are slow, that are not reacting, that can’t pull the trigger, that just aren’t recognizing things like they used to, and I think a lot of that comes with just the toll of the training camps in addition to the fights. So just having these kind of pre-camps where it’s just all technical-based, I think has been really good for him. I think it’s going to show in the fight. We had a long layoff before Ovince Saint Preux, and we had a long layoff before the second DC fight, and he came out sharp and focused, and new in a lot of ways.”
Jon Jones (22-1) hasn’t competed since he knocked out Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 in July 2017. That result was later changed to a no-contest after Jones failed a pre-fight drug test. Prior to that, the JacksonWink MMA product had gone the distance in his last four bouts, including his win over Gustafsson at UFC 165. While Jones believes he’s improved since their first meeting, Gibson also believes Gustafsson has become a different fighter than the first encounter.
“I think Gustafsson has improved and grown tremendously as a fighter,” he said. “I think he’s become that much more fluid. I think he’s become that much more of a precision striker. I think his wrestling’s gotten better. He’s had these five-round bouts since. I think Gustafsson’s really matured. I think we look at Jon at that [first] fight and think [about] how many more tools we have now, how many more setups, how much more strategy, and how better we are at all the little transitional elements now.
“I think it’s going to be a very different fight,” he added. “We find ourselves always kinda falling into that fight to study as a baseline like we did with the first Cormier fight, but I find myself watching Gus’ fight with DC or [Jan Blachowicz] or Glover (Teixeira) that much more, to try to pick up trends of his newer style as much as we can. So I think Gus is going to be well prepared cardio-wise, I think his boxing technique and his setups have grown, and his wrestling defense continues to be outstanding. In fights like the [Blachowicz] fight, he had brilliant ground-and-pound and brilliant position and timing on his shots, so Gustafsson’s an all-around dangerous guy.”
Alexander Gustafsson (18-4) will also be stepping into the cage for the first time this year and hasn’t competed since a fifth round TKO win over Glover Teixeira at UFC Fight Night 109. The 31-year-old was slated to face Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 227, however injuries pulled both fighters from the card. Since the first encounter with Jon Jones, Gustafsson has gone 3-2 in The Octagon.
Who do you think will win this UFC 229 rematch between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 12/17/2018.