Craig Jones on jiu-jitsu vs. Sambo: Khabib Nurmagomedov started this beef

Just as MMA fights are proxy wars between coaches, Craig Jones is going up against Khabib Nurmagomedov when Alexander Volkanovski rematches Islam Makhachev at UFC 294.

In Jones’ corner is jiu-jitsu, the art that’s helped him win multiple grappling competitions. In Nurmagomedov’s is Sambo, the Soviet martial art that helped “The Eagle” build a stellar UFC career. Volkanovski and Makhachev take their coaches’ reputations into the octagon for the rematch on Saturday.

Jones enjoys trolling his Russian rivals, and there’s no more direct troll than this: “Sambo is 100 percent fake,” he said Wednesday on The MMA Hour.

In the Australian grappler’s telling, Russian martial artists Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov stole moves from judo, jiu-jitsu and wrestling and put a new name on it. Good as it is for MMA, he said, there’s no comparison between the skills of a jiu-jitsu expert and a Sambo practitioner on the mat.

Jones was listening when Nurmagomedov had the nerve to suggest otherwise by once saying “if sambo was easy, it would be called jiu-jitsu.”

“Khabib started this beef, and in terms of pure grappling matches, there’s not a good sambo guy on earth,” Jones said. “Obviously, the skill set they have translates quite well to MMA, but in terms of pure grappling, there are some holes in the game. They banned rotational leg locks, so it is a limited grappling skill set.”

Saturday’s lightweight title rematch is, of course, not a grappling match. But when it comes to how the rematch might play out, Jones is confident Volkanovski separated myth from reality in their first meeting in February.

“I think everyone buys into the mystique of the Dagestani sambo guys,” Jones said. “Very rarely have you seen them cracked, or put in bad positions. So I think, as much as you want to believe they’re humans, you have to feel that and experience that.

“So I think in the first and second round, Volk was yelling stuff out from the wall, like, ‘He’s not that strong,’ or like, ‘His grappling’s not that good.’ So I think as that fight progressed he gained more and more confidence. So I’m really interested to see how those first two rounds play out in this coming rematch, because I believe he’s going to approach Islam with the confidence that he can take him out.”

There is a not-so-small consideration to account for in that Volkanovski has had 12 or less days to prepare for the rematch, a consequence of stepping in for the injured Charles Oliveira. But like the featherweight champ, Jones believes that short notice might help because he hasn’t abused his body with a long training camp.

So on Saturday, Jones and Nurmagomedov will put compete, one degree removed from an actual contest. In the meantime, Jones will continue to poke fun at his Russian adversaries. He managed to bill himself as Volkanovski’s Sambo coach on UFC 294 Embedded, a little dig he pulled off because the video crew wasn’t as familiar with his hijinks.

This will be as close as Jones gets to a fight, because as he puts it, “I like provoking the MMA guys from the sidelines without allowing them to actually hit me.”

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