Guess who’s back (back again)? The UFC’s prodigal son, Jon Jones, will return to action against Sweden’s Alexander Gustafsson at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Dec. 29. The fight marks the first appearance for Jones following his positive test for the steroid turinabol in the aftermath of his UFC 214 victory – later ruled a No Contest –  over Daniel Cormier in July 2017.

While the media continues to build up the return of the Rochester, New York-native, many have chosen to focus on a potential trilogy bout with long-time rival, Cormier. There is little doubt that any fight between the two men would draw sizeable attention but if a third fight between the two greatest light heavyweights in MMA history is to happen, Jones must first overcome the challenge of Gustafsson.

“The Mauler” is one of the standout talents at 205 pounds and famously pushed Jones closer than he had ever been before at their “Fight of the Year” bout at UFC 165 in September 2013. More than five years later, one of the most attractive bouts in the division will go down for the light heavyweight title vacated by the two-weight world champion, Cormier.

The rematch between the American and the Swede was initially scheduled to go down in 2014, only for Gustafsson to pull out with a torn meniscus. The man who replaced Jones was Cormier, although that fight was also scrapped due to an injury to Jones. Regardless, the division has seen all three fighters enjoy varying levels of success and controversy, with Cormier enjoying the lion’s share of the former.

All that will be forgotten for now, as Jones prepares to make his return to the promotion, albeit under a dark cloud. Having made a series of unfortunate decisions that has affected his career, many believe that this is the final of the final chances he has been given to prove himself. What better way to do it than to take a trip back to 2014 and to the matchup that most UFC fans wanted more than any other.

Jones vs. Gustafsson I

For some observers of their first encounter in Toronto on Sep. 21, 2013, Jon Jones could count himself lucky to have emerged as the winner of the pulsating bout against Alexander Gustafsson. The fight was declared a unanimous decision, with judges’ scores of 48-47, 48-47, and 49-46 flattering “Bones.” Gustafsson fought his heart out in the bout and justified why some believed his similar physique and skillset would have troubled the (then) light heavyweight champion.

Gustafsson landed 110 significant strikes from 114 thrown, with 66 to the head, 33 to the body and 15 to the legs. Jones landed 134 significant strikes from 137, with 55 to the head, 29 to the body, and 53 to the legs. Both men landed one takedown each and Jones was the more effective grappler throughout the five rounds, meaning that – at least on paper – he deserved the victory.

Given that Jones was considered as close to unbeatable as most fighters in the promotion were at that time, Gustafsson certainly did well. Ask Jones, however, and he would claim that it was not his opponent’s excellent performance that had him struggling in their encounter, but his poor training regime and proclivity to have a little too much fun in the lead up to the bout.

“I didn’t train as hard as I should have,” Jones recently told reporters at a press conference for the upcoming rematch. “I was winning so many fights. I was being a wild dude, and I was still winning, and it caught up to me. It definitely caught up to me.”

Gustafsson, on the other hand, claimed that Jones was simply making excuses:

“Excuses, only excuses,” Gustafsson retorted. “That’s the only thing I hear. That’s all I hear. I beat you once, I can beat you again.”

Jones quickly moved to set his opponent straight:

“If my excuse is that I didn’t train hard enough, what’s your excuse for losing?” Jones said. “We had a close fight, but did you get ripped off in the (Daniel Cormier) fight as well? What about Anthony Johnson – did you beat him? What about Phil Davis – did you beat him, as well?”

Gustafsson certainly believes that he deserved more:

“That’s where you’re wrong – I didn’t lose, Jon,” Gustafsson said. “We all know I didn’t lose.

“I’m very fortunate to have a third time to fight for the belt. I’m fighting Jon, it’s the biggest fight of my life. I respected him too much the first time we fought. I’m not going to give him the respect I gave him the first time. I will show the world you can beat the man that’s never been beaten.”

Jones, however, predicted that he will ‘finish’ the fight:

“The goal is to finish this fight, and that’s what I will do,” Jones said. “I will finish this fight.”

Jones’ Chances of Finishing Gustafsson

If Jones believes he can finish “The Mauler” on the feet, then he will have to do what only one other fighter has done in his career. The only man to ever finish Gustafsson by strikes is Anthony Johnson, who stopped the Swede in one round in Stockholm back in 2015. Phil Davis subbed him in 2010, however, and there is a chance that Jones could do the same.

According to the good folks over at, Jones is a -270 favorite to beat Gustafsson. The fight to go over 4.5 rounds is -125, with a stoppage at under 4.5 rounds a decent -105. Gustafsson is priced very nicely at +230 for the win, which is a lot more impressive when you consider the fact that Jones has only fought once in the past 18 months.

While Jones finished Cormier at UFC 213 (a decision that was later overturned to a No Contest), you have to go back to September 2012 for his last finish, when he submitted Vitor Belfort at UFC 152. While both fighters’ records suggest that this one is likely to go to the judges’ scorecards, wherever Jones is involved, anything can happen. The former UFC light heavyweight champion has the ability to pull the extraordinary out of the bag and thrives on the big occasions.

Will We See the Same Jon Jones?

Jones has served a 15-month suspension for the turinabol incident and is set to make yet another comeback in the light heavyweight division. Given his lack of competitive action, betting fans, in particular, should factor cage rust into the equation if they are looking at backing him in the bout. Fighters who have not seen action for quite some time cannot expect to be as sharp as they would be if they had fought at least two times in a given year.

Former UFC lightweight and featherweight champion, Conor McGregor, certainly didn’t look his usual self when he lost against Khabib Nurmagomedov this year. There is no doubt that even the most active and fight-fit McGregor would have struggled against Khabib, but he certainly looked a shadow of his former self. You have to think if Jones will suffer from his lack of competitive action, too.

In his last fight, Jones knocked out Cormier and looked very good for someone that had not fought in 14 months. This suggests that Jones has the discipline and team behind him to ensure he is looking good when he makes his walk to the Octagon. Jackson Wink MMA, Jones’ camp, is among the best gyms on the planet so there is plenty of reason to believe that he is in very, very good hands.

On the flip side, Jones’ toughest fight in the UFC was Gustafsson, and this was at a time when “Bones” was in his prime. MMA math does not always work out, but the logic here is that Gustafsson could perform just about well enough to take the win. If he did as well against a strong and active Jones, then he could really upset the applecart against a version of the former champ that has been out of action for a while.

Can Gustafsson Beat Jones?

While Jones has done pretty much everything he could possibly do to destroy his career since their last bout, Gustafsson hasn’t had the easiest ride. He has suffered from injuries and setbacks that have, like Jones, prevented him from following a linear pathway in his career. While this will be the third shot at the light heavyweight title, he will be hoping that it is truly a case of third time lucky on Dec. 29.

It is over five years since he first challenged Jones and has only fought five times since then, which is the equivalent of one fight per year, give or take. Three of those bouts ended in victory for Sweden’s greatest MMA fighter, but two losses – one to Johnson and one to Cormier – pushed him down the 205-pound pecking order. With Johnson retired and Cormier now plying his trade at heavyweight, Gustafsson finds himself, with Jones, at the summit of the division.

Following two losses in a row, Gustafsson has beaten both Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira. His performance against Teixeira – a fight that ended in a stunning KO – was particularly impressive. With such momentum behind him – and the chance that this could be his final shot at the title – Gustafsson will certainly be aiming to impress. I expect the best version of the Swede to be in that Octagon on Dec. 30.

However, I cannot stress enough that his opponent is no ordinary human being. This is Jon Jones, arguably the greatest fighter in the history of MMA. Jones will also be up for this, given that he has a point to prove to those who argue that his legacy should be brought into question due the controversies that have plagued him over the past few years.

This will be more than just a fight: it is a title fight. It is more than just a battle, it is a war. There is so much riding on this bout that the smallest margin could separate both men, by the end of the fight.

So, Jones or Gustafsson?

For as long as I have known of Jones, I have been a fan of the fighter. Although he has put his entire fanbase through the wringer over the years with his actions outside of the cage, there is simply no one better than him on his day. He has an abundance of genetic gifts, such as incredibly long reach, a ridiculous fight IQ, excellent striking, a proficient ground game, awesome takedown defense, and is as well-rounded a fighter as they come.

Jones is the youngest champion in UFC history and has never lost a fight. Daniel Cormier, a candidate for one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport, was convincingly beaten twice by Jones. Yes, his record will always have that second win as a No Contest, but how much of his performance was down to banned substances? That is a debate for another time, but for now, you have to appreciate what Jones has done and the skills he carries.

Gustafsson could prove to be the first man to ever beat Jones. He has the skills, strengths, and attributes capable of shaking up the world and resigning Jones to his first ever defeat as a professional athlete. The Swede has similar physical traits to Jones and this could prove crucial come Dec. 30. We know what he is capable of, that’s for sure, and so will Jones.

This is a rematch for the ages and could go down as the UFC “Fight of the Year,” just as the same matchup did in 2014. I am expecting the bout to go the distance but have a feeling that Gustafsson might be looking to push Jones as early as possible. If he senses that there is anything to be exploited in Jones’ game, he will undoubtedly make it work to his advantage. However, he will not fall into any traps that “Bones” places and will simply look to win the early rounds efficiently.

The Verdict

I am looking forward to the return of Jon Jones with the same anticipation that most kids around the world are anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus. His return marks a positive time for the UFC, considering that the promotion is keen to stack as many superstars onto the roster as possible.

With Conor McGregor looking no match for Khabib in their bout this year, Ronda Rousey long gone, and with the hype trains of Francis Ngannou, Darren Till, and Brian Ortega well and truly derailed, Jones is their golden ticket. There is so much on this fight for the company, not just Jones, that 2019 will be one of the best years in the promotion’s history if he can win (and test clean after the bout).

It seems odds on that Jones will land a third fight against Cormier at heavyweight should he pass the Gustafsson test. This will undoubtedly be the biggest fight there is to make in the promotion. All eyes will certainly be on the Rochester, New York-native and he will be keen to show younger fans what all the hype is about on the UFC’s end of year spectacular.

As much as I am a great admirer of Jones’ skills, I am inclined to believe that this could be the toughest fight of his career. In combat sports, even the greats will invariably face a fighter that seems to have the answers to their questions. I believe that Alexander Gustafsson is that fighter for Jon Jones. As such, I would not be surprised to see the Swede shock everyone and win the first title of his career. However, as previously mentioned, this is Jon Jones we are talking about. You never back against Jones…

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