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If you were to ask either athlete what his base discipline is in MMA, both would undoubtedly say wrestling. So who's the better wrestler? Wrestling does not have a rank or belt system, but let's take the Brazilian jiu jitsu's belt system and use it as a measuring stick to apply to wrestling. The BJJ belts are as follows: white (beginner), blue, purple, brown, and black (expert). There are some other variations, but that's the gist. Jones would probably be somewhere around a purple belt. Henderson would be a black belt.
Jones was a junior college national champion for Iowa Central Community College before earning a scholarship to Iowa State University. Jones never got to compete at the NCAA level, because he chose to go straight into MMA. The rest, as they say, is history.
Henderson did not take the traditional NCAA route either. After high school, Hendo attended both Cal State Fullerton and also Arizona State University. He went on to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the Sun Devils in 1993, but Greco Roman wrestling is where Henderson excelled. He won two junior national titles and a University title before turning his attention to senior-level competition. When Henderson did start wrestling at the senior level, he set the United State Greco circuit on fire. Greco guru Matthew Ciampa recalls, "I remember him just murdering everyone at the Olympic festival in '91. Then he went on and made the (Olympic) team a year later." That would be Henderson's first of two Olympic teams (1992 and 1996). Henderson controlled the weight class in the U.S. for the better part of a decade, finally relinquishing the spot to Matt Lindland in 2000.
Wrestling is only one part of this upcoming contest -- the other is submissions. So who has the edge there? Hendo again.
Jones has a wingspan that gives him a clear and distinct striking advantage in MMA, but the same wingspan in a grappling event can simply give Henderson a bigger target. Jones' legs are vulnerable in a grappling setting, too. Last week on the Adam Corrolla podcast, Henderson said that he was "planning on ripping [Jones'] leg off" (at 56-minute mark).
The rules at this event also favor Henderson, setting up in a way that don't take points into account. Submission is the only way that either Henderson or Jones can win in regulation. The overtime rules put each competitor in a series of near-submission situations with a coin flip determining who gets the dominant position first. If the bout is still tied, the person who escaped the dominant position in less time would be considered the victor. This type of rule set favors the better overall grappler. SEE OVERTIME RULES HERE
In the early 2000s when Dan Henderson was at Team Quest, those guys would spend countless hours trying to perfect submission technique. It was an atmosphere of learning that was very different than the environment that fostered Jones into MMA. At the time, MMA was a fledgling sport, and there wasn't as much knowledge out there about what worked in that type of setting and, more importantly, how to defend it. Quest athletes in that era were forced to be more prolific and creative with their grappling techniques. USAW Greco head coach Matt Lindland was in that room and recalls the situation as "an atmosphere of experimentation. Everyone was forced to come up with a physical theory and then test it." By the time Jones was practicing BJJ full time, MMA was a much more mature sport. Everyone had a pretty clear idea of what BJJ moves worked in the Octagon and what didn't, so that's what was taught. With striking out of the issue, an extensive grappling arsenal is a serious advantage.
Jones does have the physical advantage, no one can deny that. He's younger, stronger, faster, and generally more athletic. The thing that makes it so interesting is that all competitors are the same speed and pretty much the same strength when they're on their back.
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