Wednesday, 18 September 2013 13:23
By Steve BorchardtIf you've watched any of the commercials hyping up this Saturday's UFC 165 main event between light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and challenger Alexander Gustafsson you've probably learned at least two things.
First, and evidently foremost in the UFC's mind, Gustafsson is an inch taller than the champ. Second, there's a distinct possibility Bruce Buffer will be left with nothing but a bloody stump atop his neck after he does his introduction for the main event. Presumably the excitement engendered by watching a man who is 6'4" tall facing another who is 6'5" will be too much for poor Buffer to take, thus causing his cranium to do its best impression of a tomato in a microwave oven.
Not one of the company's more effective ad campaigns, but to be fair the UFC don't have a lot to work with here.
Fans weren't exactly clamoring for a Gustafsson title shot, but here we are anyway. Given his six fight win streak and impressive victory over former champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, the self proclaimed "Mauler" was the best available candidate to challenge for Jones' title.
This despite the fact that in Gustafsson's UFC career he's only beaten one top ten opponent and has only gotten two W's on the big stage -- against Shogun last December on FOX and against Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC 141. Other than that the Sweede has largely flown under the radar while amassing a quiet win streak on PPV prelims and in the main event of a FUEL TV show nobody watched.
It's not an easy sell when you've got a relatively smaller name, who has so far proven himself to be solidly above average in the cage but not a killer, going up against arguably the greatest living fighter on the face of the planet. Not only do the majority of fans not know a lot about Gustafsson, there's simply nothing they've seen from him so far that leads to the conclusion he has what it takes to upset Jones. Which is why we're stuck with commercials running down both men's measurements and depicting the spontaneous combustion of well-coiffed ring announcer's heads.
For his part Jones hasn't done much to help sell the fight. In interviews he appears decidedly unconcerned about any potential challenges his 15-1 opponent might bring to the table.
"People are saying...Gustafsson has the best footwork and he has the best boxing," Jones said of the challenger on the UFC 165 conference call. "And then you really look at it and you're just like, ‘What are you talking about?' Like, look closely. Look really closely."
Those weren't the only disparaging remarks Jones had for his opponent's skillset though.
"If you watch my fights and you watch Alexander's fights, he gets hit a lot with a lot of different punches," Jones told reporters. "With me, I've gone through some fights where fighters don't touch me once."
These may be very valid points for Jones to discuss with his coaches, but bringing them up in public doesn't do anyone any good. If Jones is so far above Gustafsson the outcome of the fight is virtually a foregone conclusion, where is the suspense heading into UFC 165? It would be one thing if Jones made comments like this and they didn't smack so much of truth -- after all, from time immemorial fighters have always put down their opponents -- but in this case it comes across less like good old fashioned braggadocio and more like Jones pointing out what we already know: he's light years better than everyone else in his division.
Which may be undeniable at this point, but erasing all room for doubt may make it tempting for some fans to skip shows Jones headlines since they feel like they already know how the story ends. That would mean smaller profits for the UFC and a more diet-friendly slice of the PPV pie for Jones.
Gustafsson isn't the only fighter Jones has buried in recent days though. This past Monday, when asked by reporters about two men who have been mentioned as the potential next number one contender, Jones was decidedly not following the edict of mothers across the globe regarding what their children should do when they don't have anything nice to say about someone.
Glover Teixeira? Forget about it. He's not in the champ's league.
"I thought he showed signs of being a high-level fighter," Jones said of Teixeira. "I don't think he's ready to beat me. I thought he showed signs, being punched that hard by Bader shows me where he's at. No matter what your excuse is, it still happened. If you're a seasoned vet and you said you allowed overconfidence to be your weakness, it's still a weakness you allowed to happen in the first place."
Daniel Cormier? Please. The undefeated Strikeforce Grand Prix champion has yet to prove himself in the sport.
"To be honest with you, I don't think Daniel Cormier really deserves a big fight," Jones revealed. "I don't think I have much to gain from beating Daniel Cormier because no one knows who he is, and he hasn't really proved much."
On the one hand it's sort of refreshing to hear Jones give his unfiltered opinion on potential opponents when asked by reporters. After all, don't we want candor from our fighters?
The problem is though, the fight game is all about building anticipation. The UFC does it's best to sell Jones' potential opponents as legit challengers, but it's hard to take any of them as a serious threat given the talent and performance differentials between Jones and everyone else who fights at 205 pounds. Jones pointing this out only further cements the arrogant image many fans have of him and erodes the marketability of his future opponents.
Which begs the question, just who does Jones feel is worthy of stepping in the Octagon with him? It can't be anyone at light heavyweight, since the only names in the top ten the champ hasn't defeated so far are Teixeira, Phil Davis, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and Gegard Mousasi. Of those four Teixeira is the closest to a title shot, but if he's not ready in the champ's eyes it's hard to see Jones being exited about any of those other names.
Maybe this is why Jones has been talking about facing heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez or going into boxing and challenging one of the Klitschko brothers. When you've been living on top of the mountain long enough, it's only natural to look for new, even higher peaks to climb.
For now though Jones is still the light heavyweight champ, and he's going to need a new challenger assuming he lives up to expectations and beats Gustafsson.
Jones greatness is such that each time he steps in the cage we really are witnessing a piece of history. That may be reason enough for some fans to pay for his fights, but he might be able to convince even more of them to open up their wallets for the privilege of witnessing history if he stops publicly pointing out the flaws in his opponents.
After all, the more a fighter builds up his opponent's strengths, the more impressive he appears when he beats him.