UFC 123 from Auburn Hills, Michigan this Saturday will be headlined by an epic battle between two former light heavyweight champions: Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. The winner of this battle will move one step closer to contending for the UFC light heavyweight title.

Depending on which pundit you speak with, room at the top of the light heavyweight division across all promotions includes a variety of names including UFC mainstays Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, Lyoto Machida and a few non UFC contenders including current Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Rafael Cavalcante and former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed Lawal.

Waiting patiently for their chance to compete for the title are two rising stars in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, Ryan Bader and Jon Jones.

Bader possesses a 12 – 0 record within the octagon and is currently ranked as Sherdog.com’s #6 light heavyweight.[i] “The Ultimate Fighter” season eight winner has earned victories against MMA veterans Keith Jardine and most recently, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

A three-time PAC 10 Champion and two-time division one All-American wrestler at Arizona State University, Bader’s pedigree is his wrestling. With explosive take downs and lethal ground and pound, Ryan “Darth” Bader has muscled through each opponent he has faced.

Blessed with an explosive right hand, Bader also has knock out power. Illustrating this facet in his KO victory over Keith Jardine, his training with current teammate and UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez will enhance his stand up game attempting to match his tremendous wrestling background.

Ranked seventh by Sherdog.com is Jon “Bones” Jones.[ii] At 23 years old, “Bones” has shown glimmers of brilliance within the octagon supporting the belief that he possesses longevity in the sport. "One more fight, and then I could see him fighting top five,” Dana White proudly stated about this phenomenal talent.[iii]

Tremendously athletic and possessing not only lightening fast, but dynamite punches, elbows and kicks, Jones has demonstrated a lethal fight game.

Balancing his unconventional, yet highly effective stand up striking ability with a solid wrestling foundation, “Bones” has earned TKO victories against Vladimir Matyushenko and Brandon Vera.

UFC 126 on February 5, 2011 is the night in which one of these two light heavyweight prospects takes one step closer to competing for the title. Will the victor be undefeated Ryan Bader or amazingly gifted phenom, Jon Jones?

As a former professional fighter myself whose background is wrestling, I know all to well the challenges that Bader faces in improving his stand up game. Training as a wrestler develops many intangibles that transition well into the octagon including strength, power, conditioning and weight distribution. The one downside is that wrestling develops a linear mindset. Movements traditionally occur north – south.

An effective stand up game requires the usage of angles and the ability to move effectively around an opponent. Georges St. Pierre illustrates this innate talent well during his fights. He rarely comes at his opponent in the same angle. He will always change the direction he is moving to attack.

Matt Hughes, on the other hand, strikes from a wrestling background. His movements towards and away from his opponent are typically in a north – south direction. This linear approach does not create misdirection nor does it allow for increased striking angles to attack your opponent. Therefore, skilled fighters will adapt and make corrections during their fights and be able to counter the minimal usage of movement.

Without an effective stand up game, the ability to take down your opponent is mitigated. Just ask Brock Lesnar who attempted unsuccessfully to take down Cain Velasquez. Cain was able to stuff the take down attempts because Lesnar’s inexperience as a striker did not create any misdirection or keep Velasquez guessing as to what Brock’s next move would be.

Cain knew, and we all knew that without a successful take down, Lesnar’s fate would be sealed on his feet. Shortly after another failed take down attempt, Cain’s onslaught of strikes would seal Brock’s defeat and the world would lay witness to the newest UFC heavyweight champion.

Jon Jones’ ability as a stand up striker will be too much for Ryan Bader’s game. Bader will attempt to stand and trade strikes with Jones with minimal success. Avoiding “Darth’s” lethal right hand, “Bones” will be able to systematically pick apart Ryan on their feet through explosive punches, kicks, elbows and knees from all different angles.

Attempting to take Jones to the mat will prove futile for Bader. The inability to work any stand up angles and deliver effective strikes will hinder Ryan’s game plan on February 5. Becoming a one dimensional fighter, “Darth’s” pedigree as a wrestler will not compensate for his inexperience as a striker.

In the end, Jon Jones’s complete game will earn him a victory against Ryan Bader and will serve as a launching pad for “Bones” next fight against what I suspect will be the winner of Machida – Jackson this weekend at UFC 123.

Todd Seyler

November 19, 2010

[i] http://www.sherdog.com/news/articles...Rankings-28224, November 19, 2010.

[ii] http://www.sherdog.com/news/articles...Rankings-28224, November 19, 2010.

[iii] http://mmajunkie.com/news/20190/jon-...t-division.mma, November 19, 2010.