What were your thoughts on Jon Jones’ performance against Ovince Saint Preux at UFC 197? How do you think his rematch with Daniel Cormier will play out?
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
Somewhere between “Meh” and “Called it.” I don’t think anything that we saw out of Jon Jones on Saturday can be considered a surprise. From the crouch crawl to begin the fight to the double middles to Daniel Cormier as he exited the cage, everything Jones did was what one should have expected from Jones after 15 months in the frying pan. When Jones got hit, he displayed that his chin is as tough as ever. Of course, Ovince Saint Preux landed on Jones at a greatly reduced rate when compared to Saint Preux’s normal striking rates.
So Jones’ defense was on point. He got hit infrequently, and he absorbed those strikes as well as ever. As to his offense, it’s easy to say that this was nothing than more than a glorified sparring match for Jones, but I tend to doubt he breaks many arms while sparring. I don’t think he’s landing back elbows, dozens of oblique kicks to the knee, and spinning shit galore when he’s just sparring. Jones was patient and cautious (by his standards), and he never once put himself in jeopardy.
I would argue that there was more pressure on Jones at UFC 197 than there was at any other point in his career (short of the numerous times he’s crashed into trees, people, cars, stray puppies…). I’d even opine that Cormier pulling out put more pressure on Jones than had Cormier fought at 100% health. Jones wants nothing more than to get his title back, and to beat Daniel Cormier in the process. Once Cormier pulled out, neither of those rewards were available to him at UFC 197. Best case scenario, he beats someone he’s supposed to beat in order to get a belt he doesn’t want in order to get the shot at Cormier that he was supposed to have that same night. Worst case, He gets caught and loses, and all of the jackals and vultures that gleefully picked at the carcasses of Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor come out for another meal of MMA roadkill.
The fight on Saturday night was a lot of things, but “spectacular” was not one of them. However, this fight certainly greased the wheels for him to be spectacular his next time out, presumably in the main event of UFC 200. Jones is just one of those charmed people living a charmed life where everything that happens to him turns out perfectly, despite his overwhelmingly strong efforts to sabotage his own success. If Jones was a heavy betting favorite to beat Cormier at UFC 197, he’s going to be a monumental favorite now.
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Jon Jones’ fight against Ovince Saint Preux was indicative of a fighter who had been out of the cage for 15 months and hadn’t had a full camp to prepare for a change in opponent. He was tentative at times, and likely overly cautious to avoid getting caught by something he hadn’t game-planned for. Nothing wrong with that, Jones was clearly the better fighter and scored a clean-sweep decision over a guy who is legitimately a top 10 talent at 205 lbs.
Daniel Cormier surmised that he would beat that version of Jon Jones. I tend to agree with him. I also don’t think that’s the version of Jones we see if Cormier had stepped into the Octagon on Saturday night instead of OSP. One of the most interesting insights I got into Jones fights was actually delivered via combination of the fight itself and Demetrious Johnson’s post-fight interview. When asked if the clinch was one part of his plan in defending Henry Cejudo, Johnson said he doesn’t game plan, he just trains hard and then comes out and fights.
This is a distinctly different way of going about business than what Jones does. Jones is a master tactician, much in the category of Georges St-Pierre. He plans on how to dismantle an opponent, be it fighting to their strengths or their weaknesses, and then executes it almost flawlessly. He’s still talented enough to win without, but he’s proven to be nearly unstoppable when he’s prepared. There’s a difference between training hard and preparing for a fight. While Jones definitely had the former in his bout against OSP, the lack of the former and how important it is to him was evident at UFC 197.
Cormier is hungry, talented, freakishly strong and one of the best in the world. It’s possible he’d be the heavyweight champion at this time if teammate Cain Velasquez didn’t also compete in that division. He will undoubtedly train harder than most of us can comprehend to beat Jones. There is legitimate dislike for each other in this rivalry, and neither is going to underestimate the other or leave anything to chance in their preparation. But if I have to pick, I’m taking the younger, taller, rangier guy who’s already beat the current Light Heavyweight Champ. Perhaps a 28-year old-Cormier, with all the current skills he has, might have been able to overcome Jones. At 36-years-old, against a fully prepared Jones, I just don’t see it.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
It was disappointing. He played it extremely safe. I can’t blame him for that, but I also can’t find it entertaining. Jones didn’t want to come back and lose, so he was very conservative. It was fine for him to be conservative in the first and even the second rounds, but he could have opened it up in the later rounds. OSP is known for gassing, so once Jones got past the initial danger, he could have gone for the finish without too much risk. This was very much a UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson type of performance, where you cruise to a dominating decision over an outmatched opponent. That’s what makes it so ironic that Johnson was on this card and dispatched his outmatched opponent in explosive fashion. The same explosive fashion that marked the early part of the career of Jones.
As for the rematch, I’m going to take Jones at his word and expect him to come back stronger and be his old self again against Cormier. I think the fight goes to decision because Cormier is extremely tough, but I expect Jones to light Cormier up with combos late in the fight and send a message that he’s back.
CASH NORMAN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Jon Jones fought cautiously against Ovince Saint Preux, and still dominated the fight. “Fans” may not be happy or overly impressed with his performance but there isn’t much that MMA fans seem to be happy with nowadays. Anytime a person can put out minimal effort and still have a dominant victory that should tell you something. Jones understood the importance of winning that fight in order to setup a future and immediate matchup with Daniel Cormier. If everyone could take a step back and look at the fight from Jon’s perspective, it doesn’t make sense to take any extraordinary risk and lose. One only needs to look at recent events, with his teammate Holly Holm losing in the closing minutes of a fight she was clearly winning, delaying a possible rematch with Ronda Rousey upon her return. Or the knockout loss of Anderson Silva at the hands of Chris Weidman, which scrapped a possible super fight between Jones and himself. Or the many other fights in which one guy was supposed to win and establish a future fight with an opponent down the line.
What I find to be the most fascinating aspect of that fight was Daniel Cormier and his commentary during it. Several times DC can be overheard actively cheering for OSP to land strikes on Jones. Even though DC was commentating during a match of a competitor he truly dislikes, I thought he should have at least attempted to maintain some modicum of objectivity rather than cheerlead for Jones’ opponent. Often DC seems like he’s desperately searching for any sort of chink in the armor to gain a possible advantage; which in large parts leads me to question his confidence and whether he truly believes he can beat Jon.
The manner in which Jones fought Saint Preux is not reflective of how he would have fought DC. First, OSP is a much bigger man than DC and is solely a striker/counter-striker, and an unorthodox one at that; meanwhile DC is not even close to being six feet tall (I don’t care what the UFC roster lists his height as I’ve stood next to the man and he’s barely taller than me) and is a forward pressing grind you down grappler with good kickboxing. With all things being equal had DC not gotten hurt and he and Jon actually fought at UFC 197, I still believe Jon would have won.
As far as how the rematch between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier will play out, I think this time around, Jones will focus more on not only taking DC down but pinning him there. I believe Jones is either going to attempt to beat DC into oblivion with elbows and vicious ground and pound before submitting him. I think it’s one thing to beat your opponent the referee stops the contest because he’s unable to fight back, I think it’s a totally different thing to force your opponent to tap and cry uncle. In the rematch, Jones may want to break DC’s will and force him to cry uncle.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
It wasn’t the awesome performance I was hoping for out of Jones. I did think he’d start out slow after 15 months away from the UFC, but I anticipated that he’d pick up the pace after a round or two and eventually knock Saint Preux out soon enough. It didn’t happen and I have to admit that cage rust was clearly present, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a horrible performance for Jones. He did score a sweep on the scorecards, after all. Then again, Saint Preux only had three weeks to prepare yet was still able to make it to the final bell.
If Jones comes out looking similar to that against Daniel Cormier, he could very well end up falling short as Dana White had pointed out. There are a couple of factors that I think will ensure that Jones looks much sharper by the time he steps into the cage with Cormier. The ring rust should be officially shaken off when they step into the cage with one another and Jones seems to step up his game when facing an opponent that he has beef with. He was very cordial with Saint Preux whereas he flipped Cormier the bird when Cormier was sitting at the broadcast table. Did I mention that Jones struggles when his opponent has some length to them as well? Saint Pruex is a lanky fighter, Cormier is anything but that. With their long history, I have no doubt Jones will be ready to deal some serious damage to Cormier and regain his title.
[Photo (c) Mark J. Rebilas via USA Today Sports]
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