COMMENTARY | UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones knows he has his hands full with Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 on Sept. 21 in Toronto.
However, it's not Gustafsson's size, his style or his experience that has Jones' attention.
It's his hunger.
"The thing that excites me the most about Alexander is that he's young, and I'm sure he has an ambition to win this fight that I maybe haven't seen in a few opponents," Jones said during the Los Angeles leg of the UFC's 2013 World Tour. "All the guys I have fought are a lot older. A lot of the guys I've fought have had the life, have been there, done that already. Alexander doesn't have that, and he wants that. Me knowing that, I've got to train my butt off to destroy any thoughts he has of destroying my life."
Jones (18-1-0, nine KO/TKOs), the UFC's current pound-for-pound top-ranked fighter, has been unstoppable in his mixed martial arts career. His lone loss was a disqualification in a fight he was clearly dominating. Jones' five title defenses are tied with UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz for the most in UFC history at light heavyweight, and his resume reads like a who's who of MMA greats -- five of his last six victories have come against former champions. The accomplishments are staggering for anyone, let alone a 26-year-old.
That's where Gustafsson (15-1-0, nine KO/TKOs) enters the picture. At 6 feet 4 inches, the 26-year-old Swede is able to match Jones' height as few others can. He's won six straight and is coming off a unanimous-decision victory over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in December.
"It's all about working hard every day," Gustafsson said. "It's going to come down to who's working the hardest."
Jones, however, downplayed Gustafsson's size during the press conference, choosing instead to focus on what he needs to do to retain the belt.
"I don't try to bring in anybody to fight like Alexander Gustafsson," he said. "He has a very unique style between his standup and the way he holds his hands, throws his punches and his kicks and things. My biggest thing is to just become the strongest and most fit I can become and make sure that I'm aware of his tactics, aware of his defenses, aware of where he's obviously spent more time and where he hasn't, and just put it all in a very honest perspective and come up with a formula."
Coming up with a winning formula is part of what's made Jones so dominant. His game planning and mental strength, combined with his skill and physical gifts ( 6-4 with a UFC-best 84.5-inch reach ), have helped him plow through the 205-pound division like few have in the promotion's history.
Will Gustafsson be next, or will the challenger put an end to Jones' nine-fight win streak and reign as champ?
Only time will tell.
Either way, UFC 165 will pit two young, passionate fighters against each other, and the result could be thrilling.
"Will he be a tough challenge?" Jones said. "Who knows? Maybe he will or maybe he won't. I'm going to train hard, though. … I'm excited for the fight. It's going to be a good one. I've got a young lion on my hands."
Paul Putignano lives in Southern California, where he has covered mixed martial arts and a wide array of sports across the Greater Los Angeles area. His work has been published in a variety of newspapers and online publications.
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