Mythbusting: Length and reach

Saying Jon Jones' physique is the prototype for MMA champions is a stretch

Updated: December 5, 2012, 2:53 PM ET
By TR Foley | ESPN Insider
Alexander Gustafsson Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesDoes Alexander Gustafsson have the best chance of dethroning Jones because of his physique?

Champions come in all shapes and sizes, but recently the focus has been on the reach and height of fighters. With the dominating success of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, it has become routine to hear experts and fans alike decree Jones' long and lanky 6-foot-4 physique and 84.5-inch reach as the new prototype for the modern UFC fighter.

Top light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson stands 6-foot-5 with a 76.5 reach and faces former UFC champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in what many analysts think will be an elimination bout for the No. 1 contender's spot in the 205-pound weight class on Saturday. Just don't be surprised to hear the same tired trope: "This is the type of body it's going to take to beat Jon Jones."

Does a fighter's body type really correlate with success in the Octagon? The longest reach in UFC history was Dan "The Sandman" Christison whose reach tallied 85 inches. But in his last fight at UFC 61, Christison lost a three-round decision to a much stubbier and malleable Frank Mir (6-foot-3, 80-inch reach).

The instinct to move the fight into an advantageous position far outstrips the measurements handed a fighter by virtue of genetics.

Should Gustafsson defeat Rua, the myth of length and reach will gain further strength. However, the MMA landscape is littered with prime examples that gross generalizations like this merely perpetuate an incorrect hypothesis. No matter what the body type or fighting style, weaknesses exist.

Against Rua, Gustafsson will have a four-inch height advantage but just a .5-inch reach advantage. Gustafsson, the 25-year-old Swede, is the favorite, and much of his hype is built around the height and reach advantage -- something that might mean more in a static fighting style like boxing but means much less in the dynamic multi-disciplinarian world of MMA.

Fighters do indeed come in all shapes and sizes as well as technique and styles. So it is very difficult to distill a fighter's success down to their body type. Rather, champions are defined by strategy and gumption more than the tale of the tape. Here are five fighters who prove that length and reach isn't the impenetrable armor that Jones makes it seem to be.


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