by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
Jake O’Brien (11-2) is experiencing a bit of déjà vu. It’s his third time serving as a gatekeeper to a division’s upper level.
The 24-year-old freestyle wrestler turned fighter is 1-1 in the spoiler role, having defeated Pride standout Heath Herring in January 2007 and lost to fast rising Cain Velasquez last July.
On July 11, he’s aiming to rain on another prospect’s parade, Jon Jones, this time as a light heavyweight. Jones is a 21-year-old terror that grabbed headlines with an unconventional, go for broke style that dispatched Andre Gusmao and Stephan Bonnar. O’Brien’s is unconvinced that his opponent is the next big thing.
“Everybody thinks he’s so good right now, and style wise, I think I’m the worst fight he could have,” O’Brien recently told MMAWeekly.com. “The way I fight is a tough match-up for him. I think it will give him more trouble than any other style.”
That style, for the most part, is takedown artist. O’Brien works intensely on his boxing, but he anchors his attack with single and double legs. It’s worked in the past; opponents Josh Shockman, Herring, and Kristof Midoux went to the canvas when they sat on their punches.
Jones is a Greco-Roman guy, and emphasizes upper body positioning and throws over straight takedowns. He’s been working with Cornell University wrestlers to stay off his back. The question is whether that’s enough to stop O’Brien, and what will happen if he ends up there.
“I don’t think he’s ever been (on his back) in a fight,” said O’Brien. “I know what it’s like to be on my back. He hasn’t been there. That’s the place to beat him. I think that’s where he’s not ready to be a top-level fighter yet. I’m not going to give him a lot of chances to throw me.”
But that’s not all O’Brien has to worry about. Jones throws anything and everything at his opponent, whether it’s technically sound or not. It’s something he takes pride in; he doesn’t know enough to be held back by things he shouldn’t do.
“He gets wild,” said O’Brien. “The wild things he does, they work. One of these times, it’s going to hurt him, like Urijah Faber; how he got caught the first time he fought Mike Brown. He can’t be like that forever.”
The plan, for now, is to keep his hands up and wait for an opening.
A win over Jones could breathe more life into O’Brien’s re-invention as a light heavyweight. He avoided walking papers with a win over Christian Wellisch; another spoiler could give him a second shot at the upper tier of a division.
“I like the role I’m in now,” he said. “Nobody’s expecting me to win, so it feels better, because there’s no pressure.”