Can Hammers break Bones?: Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos

At UFC 239, Jon “Bones” Jones looks to take on another middleweight escapee, this time Thiago “Marreta” Santos. For Jones, this is another title defense against a slightly undeserving challenger, and for Santos, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. 

I will argue in this article that Santos is one of the few fighters that can actually trouble Jones, and possibly win the fight. While Jones is the absolute favorite of this fight, he will need to give Santos his respect in order to dismantle the sledgehammer.

Without a doubt, this fight is dangerous for Jones, but if Jones has made improvements to his boxing, he will be able to pull out an easy victory.

The Pendulum Hammer

The formula for Thiago Santos has been relatively the same thing. Kicking and footwork, followed by occasional punching. Santos is a fighter of absolutes, either he is looking for devastating kicks from the outside, or rushing hard at his opponent quickly closing the gap.

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Given his size and weight, Santos is a surprisingly quick and powerful kicker.
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One of Santos’ many crazy rushes.

Santos understands that by varying his kicks, he can often just stop his opponents right there. Furthermore, by constantly staying at the balls of his feet, he can burst forwards or backward.

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By varying his kicks, Santos was able to drop Smith with a body kick.
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Santos can also punch off of his kicks. However, it comes off of his hoppy footwork.

However, a problem that Santos has is that he can become incredibly discouraged when his opponents either do no respect his kicking game or give him too much to think about. Against Jan Blachowicz, Santos needed the first round to gauge Blachowicz’s striking, which reduced his output. Against David Branch, he simply broke down and was backed into the fence and knocked out.

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Santos sticking his chin up high when he throws his hooks can be a huge error against Jones
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Notice how terrible Santos looks going backward. His chin up, hands down style works best when he’s in control of the distance and pace.

Santos also routinely fails to keep his chin down when he punches, this is especially dangerous as he likes to throw winging hooks while rushing forwards. It can be incredibly easy to chin him on his rushes if Jones were confident enough.

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If Manuwa wasn’t as hurt as he was, Santos’ mad swinging could have gotten him chinned.
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While Santos does the right thing by pivoting out and throwing his hook, his head is dangerously unprotected.

While Santos can take his man down, against Jones, I find this highly unlikely. Therefore, expect Santos to maintain kicking range, but if he were to find himself inside the clinch with Jones. It would be Santos’ best interest to explode and deny Jones the wrist ties he loves so much. Santos has been held against the fence by strong opponents, and he will likely eat plenty of knees and elbows to the face as a result.

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By tying up Smith’s hand, Jones is free to throw knees and shoulder bumps to bother his opponent.
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Jones grabs Glover’s wrist, allowing him to throw knees. When he feels Glover loosen up, he backs out and throws hands.

It’s Hammer Time

However, the one equalizer that everyone seems to understand about heavy hitters, is that “one punch can end it all”. Santos, for all his flaws, is considerably taller than a lot of Jones’ opponents. He possesses incredible speed and surprisingly decent cardio, therefore he can likely press into Jones and land combinations.

Against Ovince Saint Preux, Jones was hit by his punches after he threw them in combination. Single shot punches will not hit Jones, as his upper body movement allows him to slip away. However, adding two or three punches after the first will most likely connect on Jones.

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On the rare occasion OSP threw more than one punch at Jones, he was able to land flush.
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Notice how easy it was for OSP to land on Jones, even with his poor set up and hands down.

By conservatively rushing into Jones and leaving after his combinations, Santos can likely blitz the champion and hurt him. While Santos has shown some better temperament improvements against Blachowicz, it is still a mystery if he can do this against Jones.

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Machida showing here that, by lulling Jones into a calm tempo, he can be rushed and flustered.

The final option that Santos has, is to wait on Jones to strike and to follow him after he retracts his kicks. Jones loves to throw light stinging kicks, often to numb his opponents’ senses, so chasing after him when he throws might give Santos the chance hit him clean.

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Machida was able to tag Jones off balance when he threw his kick, giving him the time to rush forwards in a blitz.

The Light-Heavyweight Kingpin

Jon Jones has stood at the top for a very long time. The first time he held the title was in 2011, and due to various infractions, he has lost and regained the title. However, he has always shown that he is a terrifyingly good fighter when he gets his way.

Jones is the tallest and longest fighter in the light-heavyweight division, and he makes absolute use of every inch of it. Against, Santos, expect his usual dose of oblique kicks, body kicks, and sidekicks. All of these strikes serve to measure his distance, timing, and reactions of his opponents.

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The body kick.
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The low line side kick.
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The side kick.

Jones will likely aim to reduce Santos’ constant circular movement by using low kicks and body kicks. This is because by forcing Santos to stand in place or moving back and forth linearly, it allows his linear straight kicks (oblique and sidekicks) to land with ease.

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Notice how Smith cannot move in a circular pattern away from his strike, rather Smith has to immediately back out of the space.

After feeling comfortable, Jones will start landing straight body punches, jabs, and overhand rights. These are used to keep his opponent thinking, and so when he starts kicking again, the variations can land cleanly.

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Jones uses the jab to block Smith’s vision, allowing him the time to go to the body and to throw the low kick with Smith thinking about the head shots.
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Jones forces Smith back by throwing his left hand, but feints and throws a kick to the body that winds Smith.

A problem that Jones has, however, is that he rarely throws his punches with bad intentions. This isn’t to say that Jones lacks power, however, he rarely sits down on his punches, thus his power strikes often come from range.

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Jones has Smith on one-leg and covered up, but doesn’t throw anything? Strange.

Against, DC he threw some power. However, it seems that Jones is cognizant of his opponents’ height and knows that DC is unlikely to swing back a counter that can reach Jones fast enough.

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Against the shorter DC, Jones knows that if he threw first, DC would fall back. Since DC is already far shorter, Jones knows that he has enough distance to be safe.

Crack in the Bone

The biggest issue I find with Jones’ style is his defensive head movement. Jones is mostly defensively sound, in fact, I find his offense is so defensively focused that he misses out on openings.

Still, when pressed Jones will often swing his head away and stick out his lead hand as a barrier to reduce straight punches. The issue is that it is purely a one strike defensive guard. Fighters like Smith proved that he could land if he had put in more combinations after his first punch.

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When Smith threw one punch, he failed. When he threw two, he lands. Coincidence?

I believe that if Santos can continue to throw after his first or second strike, he is likely to land.

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Gustafsson showing that coming in on Jones’ kicks can often allow him to land well
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Gustafsson proving the same hypothesis I posed earlier. If you throw more than one punch, you will indeed land on Jones.

However, Jones can make improvements to his boxing and in his fight against DC, he was able to show flashes of these adjustments.

By flashing body hooks, or even hooks over the top. It forces DC’s guard to go around his head, giving way for the body kick and the low kick. This is different from his straight punches to the body, as it gives real consequence to his opponent if they do not guard it, rather than an annoyance.

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Jones showing that by sitting down on his punches to the body, he can seriously hurt his opponents. Also, it differs entirely from his usual arsenal.

Conclusion

The consensus opinion of this fight is that Jones is getting an easy win over a middling middleweight. However, I believe that this fight is a legitimate defense of his title because Santos shows flashes of weapons that Jones has yet to fight.

This fight is an opportunity for Jones to show that he can continue to make improvements and that taller fighters can no longer give him pause in his offense. But for Santos, this fight will test him in all areas of his game. If Santos can maintain his cool and be comfortable with the annoying shots of Jones, he can possibly pull out a knockout.

Regardless, this fight is intriguing and asks lots of questions. Be sure to tune in and ask yourself, can the hammer break Bones?

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