The champ is currently a -900 favorite over Gustafsson at +600. That’s a big spread, even for a title fight where the lines have a tendency to run away when there’s a popular favorite. Let’s see if the numbers justify the 9-to-1 odds that Jones keeps his belt.
Tale of tape:
Gustafsson recently divulged his real reach is actually 81 inches, contrary to what the UFC has been reporting for years. Even if we take his word for that, despite being slightly taller, Gustafsson will still be at a reach disadvantage.
The more interesting twist for both fighters is that they are finally facing a high-caliber opponent who is the same age. Both fighters have enjoyed running through some older opponents, but there will be no youth advantage for either.
The last variable of note is speculative, and that’s Jones’ stance. He has shown an ability to switch his stance frequently during fights. So while they are both listed as Orthodox, Jones could mix in some southpaw work depending on his fight strategy.
Overall, there’s still a slight edge to the champion, supported by his shorter layoff and far greater big-fight experience.
It will definitely be an interesting start to the fight when these two try to establish range. Gustafsson is accustomed to controlling the standup with a high pace and dominant cage control. However, there’s a hole in his game that is worth noting. For a long fighter, his jab accuracy is actually below average and his head striking defense is downright bad.
He may have a better reach than we thought, but that just makes me interpret his historical stats with even more skepticism. A rangy fighter should normally show good jab accuracy and striking defense, but Gustafsson doesn’t.
Jones, on the other hand, has been very accurate with his jab and his defense is excellent. If these two get into a strike-and-fade battle for points, Jones should land more often. The counter point here is Gustafsson’s big power, which comes out to a knockdown rate that is twice as high as Jones’.
Jones will have more versatile attacks while Gustafsson will be head hunting per usual. These are light heavyweights, so if either lands something clean it could be over. If that happens though, it would be a first as both fighters have shown stout chins and have yet to be knocked down.
In the clinch is where things get interesting. Both fighters have used this position to attempt takedowns, and Jones should have the advantage here. So if either fighter closes the distance, it probably won’t be a striking matchup for long.
The ground game more heavily leans towards Jones. Both fighters attempt takedowns at an average pace, but Jones has more success at landing them. On defense, Gustafsson has been good at defending takedowns, but Jones has been perfect. Once on the ground, Jones has never been put on his back, while Gustafsson has spent approximately a third of his time there.
Despite the submission attempt rate favoring the challenger, there’s no doubt that Jones is the greater submission threat. He has secured a variety of submission finishes, including impressive taps and naps from high level BJJ black belts. Gustafsson, on the other hand, has secured two rear naked chokes against opponents with questionable grappling skills.
Jones is more likely to get top control on the ground and once there, he’s shown the ability to work very effectively from guard using strikes. The versatile attack he can mount on the ground all points to a big advantage for Jones, where he can end the fight with submissions or strikes.
I think Jones will win here, but the straight victory line of -900 is too ridiculous to touch. Jones “inside the distance” is a far more reasonable play at -205, especially considering he has five full rounds to get a stoppage.
Also consider that the Over play of 2.5 rounds is a nearly even return at -120. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two take some time to feel each other out on the feet.
While I think Jones has all the finishing instinct necessary to submit or finish Gustafsson on the ground, the fight may take some time to develop. Two of his title fight submissions have come in the fourth round, bucking the usual trend of late-round submissions getting more difficult to secure.
So even if the fight gets to the third round, Jones is still a big finishing threat. An Over bet could hedge the inside the distance play and if Jones gets a late finish they’ll both hit.
Check out MMAOddsbreaker.com for more betting news on UFC 165 and find the latest MMA odds here.
Reed Kuhn writes for MMAOddsbreaker.com and runs Fightnomics.com. Follow him on Twitter @Fightnomics.