Jon Jones surrounds himself with a team of coaches who not only get him ready for every fight but who are also prepared to give him whatever advice necessary to get the job done on fight night.
This past Saturday night at UFC 239, Jones had his closest call as champion when it came to a challenger nearly taking away his light heavyweight title. His fight against Thiago Santos ended in a split decision, which came as a surprise to UFC president Dana White not to mention Jones and his entire coaching staff.
Brandon Gibson, who has worked with Jones for several years already, admits that part of his job working the corner along with coaches Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn and Izzy Martinez is to get him ready between rounds while also helping him assess what just happened in the previous five minutes.
That’s why Gibson was admittedly taken back when the first judges’ scorecard was read out loud with Santos getting the nod 48-47 over Jones.
“I was surprised,” Gibson told MMA Fighting on Monday. “It is part of our job as coaches and trainers to be aware of how a round could have gone. We knew the first round was ultra-competitive but I thought [rounds] 2 through 5 were clearly Jon and I thought we were up.
“We weren’t asking Jon to coast or fight safe or anything like that or protect the lead. We’re always hunting. I was surprised that one judge saw it that way and I was a little surprised some media members I really respect saw it in Thiago’s favor.”
Gibson couldn’t help but wonder if Santos swinging for the fences with virtually every punch he threw over five rounds may have played a part in swaying the judges in his favor.
Now he makes it clear that’s not meant to take away from Santos’ incredible performance but he just doesn’t believe that much damage was done to Jones over five rounds.
“I just think I have a view as good as any judge during the fight and I thought Jon’s pressure, his feints, his volume, his defense, won us that fight,” Gibson said. “Thiago missed a lot on his counters but maybe the judges thought they were landing.
“They were glancing shots, they were shots that were hitting Jon’s chest or Jon’s shoulders but Thiago came hard to fight for sure.”
There have been questionable decisions in the past where an aggressive fighter throwing a lot of volume has earned a victory over an opponent who was being more tactical with a strong defensive strategy.
Gibson can’t help but wonder if perhaps that played a part in Santos earning at least two rounds on every scorecard when the fight was finished.
“Santos was countering a lot of the fight and had his back against the fence and when he threw, he threw big and with volume combinations and it would make the crowd erupt,” Gibson explained.
“Maybe the judges thought that was the more aggressive action of the fight but I think it’s hard to fight that style with your back against the fence for the majority of the fight and just getting picked apart.”
Gibson says the entire coaching staff knew they had to be wary of Santos’ power, which forced Jones to stick and move a lot throughout the fight. In many ways, the action played out as expected with Jones making adjustments where necessary and still managing to get the better of Santos on the feet over 25 minutes.
“We really concentrated on our defense for this fight and I think that showed in Jon’s performance,” Gibson said. “We were really prepared to take the fight anywhere, whether it stayed a long range kickboxing bout, whether we were in boxing range or the clinch or whether we went to the ground.
“The way those five rounds, it primarily played out as a kickboxing contest. Rarely did those guys clinch. I don’t think there was any takedowns attempted. Jon went in there toe-to-toe with one of the best kickboxers in the light heavyweight division and engaged in a kickboxing match for 25 minutes.”
Afterwards, Jones said he would gladly face Santos again in the future if a rematch was ever warranted, although it’s not likely that would happen any time soon. Santos suffered a badly injured knee during the fight that will likely keep him sidelined for the better part of the next year after recovering from surgery.
Regardless, Gibson knows that Jones has never backed down from a challenge but just as he proved in past rematches with Alexander Gustafsson and Daniel Cormier, he only gets better when given a second chance at an opponent.
“Jon’s ability to take in information is so extraordinary. That’s what he’s proven with his rematches against [Alexander] Gustafsson and [Daniel] Cormier,” Gibson said. “Thiago is still young in this sport. Light heavyweight is a thin division at times and even though there’s a lot of up and comers, I’m sure Thiago can be right back up there in contendership soon.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him again and I’d be really happy to see what we could put together after learning for these five rounds.”