Succinctly stated, Brandon Vera versus Jon Jones is going to be one heck of a scrap.
Vera is a guy who likes to fight on the feet with calculated pressure, picking his spots from the outside as he breaks down an opponent with long-range punches and some of the best leg kicks in the business. He is also excellent in the clinch with both knees and elbows, though he prefers to stay out of that position when fighting anyone with strong wrestling skills in order to avoid suffering a takedown.
Of course, Vera is no neophyte on the ground, despite his preference to avoid fighting there. He is a very skilled brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Lloyd Irvin and a former collegiate wrestler at Old Dominion University. He uses those skills more to keep himself out of submissions and to keep the fight on the feet than to take down opponents and search for submissions or ground-and-pound victories.
The biggest weakness in Vera’s game is the fact that he fights with a bit too much caution at times, particularly when he is being pressured. That was readily apparent in his last bout—a unanimous decision loss to iconic former champion Randy Couture at UFC 105.
In the third round, with the fight hanging in the balance, Couture decided to press the action on the feet and let his hands go with regularity. The aggressive standup attack should have played right into Vera’s hands, since he is a far better striker than Couture. It did not. Vera responded to the aggressive attack by focusing on avoiding catching a shot on his chin, rather than trusting his Thai technique, planting his feet and going to war. As a result, Couture was able to steal the final round on the judges’ cards due to his greater work rate and win the fight.
Vera now knows that he must fight back aggressively in the face of pressure, rather than continuing to rely on his recent defense-first mentality, otherwise he risks losing rounds to more active opponents. Whether he will embrace that knowledge in his training and put it to good use during future fights remains to be seen, though we won’t have to wait long to find out because Jones is going to bring plenty of pressure on Sunday night. That much is for sure.
Like his foe, Jones is an amateur wrestler turned mixed martial artist. The New York native won a national junior college wrestling championship while competing at Iowa Community College before beginning to ply his trade in the UFC. He also loves to stand and strike, relying on his insane 84-inch reach to pepper opponents on the outside with explosive punches and kicks.
His standup technique is neither as crisp nor as deadly in terms of one-strike power as compared to Vera. Yet, it is actually more unpredictable and far, far more aggressive, which is his first big differentiator from Vera. Jones loves to throw punches from crazy angles, fire away with spinning backfists, drop axe kicks and all sorts of other strikes that lesser athletes would never dare attempt in competition. And he loves to throw them in bunches. Sometimes I think Jones even surprises himself with the stuff that he tries during fights. That gives him a distinct advantage in most matchups because his unorthodox standup style is exceedingly difficult to simulate in sparring.
The second big differentiator between Vera and Jones is the latter’s willingness to mix wrestling with his striking. Jones makes no bones (pardon the pun) about taking down opponents. In fact, he loves to execute big Greco Roman slams or judo throws before following up those transitions with vicious ground and pound.
But for the illegal 12-to-6 elbows that he landed on Matt Hamill in his last fight, Jones would be undefeated. And there is no doubt in my mind, none whatsoever, that those elbows did not alter the outcome of the fight. Hamill was already done long before Jones transitioned into the mount. Hamill even admitted afterward that his shoulder was injured beyond the ability to continue before the elbows. Yet, rules are rules and the outcome was justified.
So, what is going to happen when these two thoroughbreds compete on Sunday night? Honestly, I don’t know. This is another in a long line of pick’em fights that the UFC has given fans over the last year. If they fight five times, I can certainly see either man winning by stoppage due to strikes, unanimous decision or disputed decision. And I can also see Vera winning by submission. There is little chance, in my opinion, that Jones will score a submission victory, unless it is a tap out due to strikes.
If Vera wants to be the man with his hand raised, he needs to find a way to neutralize Jones’ aggressiveness. The New Yorker is not going to allow Vera to sit on the outside and pepper him with leg kicks, jabs and the occasional right hand. His instinct in those situations is to close the distance with furious attacks. Vera needs to stand his ground when that happens and use his tremendous standup technique to punish his foe with devastating counter punches.
If Jones works his way past those salvos, then Vera knows he can control the action from the Thai clinch. But he must be careful not to become complacent in the clinch, like he did against Couture. He instead needs to remain active with elbows, knees and dirty boxing. Jones won’t have many answers for Vera in those situations, other than pressing for a takedown or retreating.
All that is fairly obvious. I’m sure Jones expects Vera to come out with that game plan. That is why if I cornered “The Truth,” I’d advise him to shoot in for a takedown off the opening exchange.
Jones doesn’t expect an early takedown. I guarantee it. Vera will have the element of surprise on his side, which will make the takedown attempt that much more difficult to stop.
Once on the ground, Jones will be a polar bear trying to survive in the Mojave Desert. No chance. Vera’s submission game and position control is so far superior that it almost isn’t worth discussing. We’ll do it anyway.
Talk with anyone who has grappled with Vera—not sparred, grappled. To a person, they comment on how underrated his BJJ is compared to other brown belts. Jones is about as naturally talented as they come, but he doesn’t have the experience on the ground (in terms of submission defense) to deal with the likes of Vera.
Trust me on that one. If Vera scores more than one takedown and is able to keep the fight on the ground for any length of time, he will win by submission. If the action stays on the feet for three rounds, it is anyone’s ballgame.
Jones can tip the “anyone’s ballgame” scale in his favor by pressing Vera on the feet early and often. He should throw the kitchen sink at his foe. Flying knees. Crazy homemade kicks. Punches from Idaho. Whatever it takes. He should do what he does best—free flow.
Bones doesn’t need a complex game plan to win. He just needs to be himself and let his athleticism and ever-improving technique to do its thing.
I would be a bit careful, if I were Jones, about carelessly rushing in because Vera can turn out the lights in an instant. He also wants to protect against the takedown. Of course, if the opportunity presents itself, he should not hesitate to try and take down Vera. But I honestly don’t see that as a viable game plan. Couture, who is one of the, if not THE, greatest takedown artists in the history of the sport struggled to get Vera to the ground. Jones won’t have much more success.
It probably seems like a bit of a cop out that I don’t have more detailed advice for the youngster. Take that as a sign of my tremendous confidence in his natural fighting ability because I’m picking Jones to win.
I’m sure I’m in the minority with that pick. I admittedly have gone back and forth in my own mind on this one, but at this very minute, my mind rests in favor of Jones. Vera has been hot and cold as of late. If the Vera who slaughtered Frank Mir shows up on Sunday, Jones doesn’t have a chance. If not, Jones could further catapult himself into the rarified air of 205-lb contenders.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jones has future champion written all over him. It may not happen this year. It may not happen in the next five years. The 22-year-old has plenty of time. It seems likely to me that it will happen eventually, and Sunday will be his first major step in that direction.
• 32 years old
• 6’3, 205 lbs
• 11-4 overall (7-4 UFC)
• 3-2 at 205 lbs
• 5 of 11 UFC bouts have gone the distance, including 4 of 5 fights at 205 lbs
• Current layoff is 127 days (UD loss to Randy Couture on November 14, 2009)
• Longest UFC layoff is 336 days (TKO1 over Frank Mir on November 18, 2006, to UD loss to Tim Sylvia on October 20, 2007)
• 22 years old
• 6’4, 205 lbs
• 9-1 overall (3-1 UFC)
• All UFC bouts have been at 205 lbs
• 2 out of 4 UFC bouts have gone the distance
• Current layoff is 106 days (DQ loss to Matt Hamill on December 5, 2009)
• Longest UFC layoff is 175 days (UD over Andre Gusmao on August 9, 2008, to UD over Stephan Bonnar on January 31, 2009)