The UFC finally announced Wednesday the return of Jon Jones, and it’s a doozy: Jones will facing Alexander Gustafsson for the light heavyweight title at UFC 232 in a rematch of 2013’s Fight of the Year.
Aside from the Nurmagomedov-McGregor fight that just took place, Jones-Gustafsson II will be the biggest fight of 2018, so let’s take an early look at the matchup.
There’s not much to say about Jon Jones that hasn’t already been said. He is very likely the best fighter in the history of the sport.
Jones combines otherworldly physical tools with world-class decision making (in-cage, obviously his outside the cage decisions leave much to be desired) and elite skills honed under the tutelage of one of the best camps in the sport.
Aside from a bogus DQ loss, the only person that has been able to beat Jones is himself. But while Daniel Cormier will always be Jones’ biggest rival, Gustafsson, is the man who has come closest out to besting Jones.
In 2013, Gustafsson was given little chance to upset the dominant champion. In fact, so low were the expectations that the prefight promotion centered around the fact that Gustafsson is tall, a point that was mocked endlessly by the internet fanboys.
That mockery proved foolish though as Jones struggled mightily with Gustafsson’s length and boxing skills and was on his way to losing the fight but for a Hail Mary spinning-back elbow that landed clean and nearly KOed Gustafsson.
Gustafsson still possess the physical attributes that can trouble Jones and has only improved technically since that first fight.
Per 888Sport, Jones has opened up as a -305 favorite with the comeback on Gustafsson at +215. For the laymen out there, that means Jones is a 3-1 favorite or, to put it another way, should win this fight 75% of the time.
For reference, the last time these two fought, Jones opened as a -800 favorite and closed at nearly -1000. Expect a similar line movement here, though on a smaller scale. Jones will almost surely be bet up over the next few months by both MMA betting fans and the sharps, so if you’re a Jones believer, getting in at the ground floor price is not a bad idea.
And you should be a Jones believer. Though over the past few years Jones has shown a remarkable propensity for self-sabotage, that only applies to his outside the cage antics.
Whenever Jones is allowed to step into the cage, he still looks like the dominant champion that rose through the ranks and put together arguably the greatest run in MMA history.
The main point of concern here for Jones backers is how “Bones” will look coming in off of an 18-month layoff, but that is needless hand-wringing.
Jones’ last two fights were both following extended layoffs and the former champion turned in dominant victories in each (though his fight against Cormier was overturned to a No Contest after Jones failed an in-competition drug test).
Wary bettors may point to Jones’ flat performance in each fight but those assessments are overblown. The reality is, Jones won both fights with relative ease, and this one should be the same. For all the improvement Gustafsson has made since 2013, Jones has improved as much if not more.
It should also be noted that the first fight between Jones and Gustafsson comes with somewhat of a caveat. It was widely reported that Jones did not take Gustafsson seriously and barely trained for the title defense against him.
Of course, that is no excuse should Jones have lost, but the reality is, Jones took Gustafsson’s best shot while barely preparing and he still got his hand raised.
Now, having seen that Gustafsson is a legitimate threat if he doesn’t take this seriously, and in his comeback fight with the chance to reclaim his 205 belt, Jones is going to come into this bout laser-focused and that spells ill-tidings for Gustafsson.
Jump on Jones at -305 with 888Sport now while you have the chance. Even considering Gustafsson’s success in their first bout, Jones’ extended layoff, and Gustafsson’s recent light heavyweight run, Jones is going to close at -500 or greater.
Gustafsson is a worthy challenger and arguably should have held UFC gold at some point, but Jones is another beast entirely.
In fact, given that Jones’ striking has gotten more dangerous and Gustafsson’s chin is possibly fading, I expect he will even get the finish this time. so keep an eye out for KO/TKO props when those drop close to fight week.
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