The battle is upon us: UFC 159 takes place this Saturday in Newark, New Jersey. The main event will finally see the hottest fighter in recent MMA history, Jon “Bones” Jones, facing off against the best fight promoter not named Dana White, “The American Gangster” Chael Sonnen.
What brought us to this point is almost as interesting as the fight itself. Jones, who has been all but unstoppable since he came onto the UFC scene in 2008, has successfully defended his light heavyweight title four consecutive times, second only to Tito Ortiz. In doing so, he has clearly become the new “face” of the promotion, even as champions Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre still reign atop their respective divisions.
To the point, no fighter has been as dominant in his ventures in the Octagon as Jones. In the last four years, the only fight that Jones has failed to stop was the battle against former teammate Rashad Evans. That match was nearly as hyped as this one, yet couldn’t live up to expectations. Still, Jones took a unanimous decision in what was not a particularly close fight.
For Sonnen, this fight represents a return to his UFC roots. A 16-year veteran of mixed martial arts, Sonnen made his debut in UFC all the way back in 2005 at UFC 55. Since then, he’s gone on to make a name for himself in the middleweight division, both in the cage and on the press tour. It’s no secret that Chael Sonnen never met a microphone he didn’t like. While the former All-American wrestler’s record (27-12-1) isn’t quite as impressive as the champion’s, Sonnen can still back up his talk when it comes time to fight.
Since his return to UFC in 2009, Sonnen has only lost three times, including two to middleweight champion Silva. Sherdog’s top pound-for-pound fighter, Silva was nearly dethroned by Sonnen in a legendary battle at UFC 117 in 2010. Had Sonnen not gotten caught in a triangle choke with less than two minutes left in that fight, he likely would have taken a unanimous decision, having controlled the jiu-jitsu expert’s ground game with his superior wrestling and ground striking.
So where does that bring us today? Much has been made of the “personal” rivalry between Jones and Sonnen, specifically Sonnen’s claims to the light heavyweight title after Jones refused to take their previously-scheduled match at UFC 151. Due to that decision, the entire 151 card was cancelled. While Sonnen has taken to Twitter to belittle the champion, Jones, for his part has almost pretended that Sonnen doesn’t exist in his world.
Saturday night, none of that matters anymore. When the door to the Octagon closes and the two face off, which one of them has the advantage?
Many minimize Sonnen’s chances against Jones, but the challenger’s game is based largely on his ability to withstand flurries of strikes and get to the ground. In his middleweight eliminator victory against Michael Bisping in 2012, Sonnen was able to control Bisping’s body for much of the fight, scoring several takedowns and landing blows in the ground and pound. The former Olympic Greco-Roman alternate is one of, if not the top, wrestlers in UFC today.
Jones has the obvious physical advantages, not the least of which are a three-inch height advantage and an incredible 10-inch reach difference. “Bones” also has the advantage of being a natural light heavyweight competitor, with the cardio to go with it. His unconventional striking comes with knees, elbows and kicks from several angles, and his length will make it difficult for anybody to get in close. On the ground, Jones can hold his own, as a former standout wrestler in his own right, if not quite to Sonnen’s level.
I’d like to say that Sonnen has a chance and in MMA, of course, anybody does. While his detractors would have you believe he simply talked his way to the top, Chael Sonnen is a legitimate fighter, with a tough chin and incredible willpower in the Octagon. If the fight goes to the ground and Sonnen keeps it there, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if he pulled off the upset. However, that’s just what it would be, an upset of incredible proportions. Simply put, Jones’ combination of youth, length and speed will likely be too much for Sonnen to overcome. Jones defends his championship, but it’ll be more of a fight than he thinks.