Pedro Marinho and Craig Jones will square off for the Who’s Number One light heavyweight title. Can Marinho spring the upset?
On Friday, January 21, fan-favorite Craig Jones will face IBJJF no-gi world champion Pedro Marinho for the vacant Who’s Number One (WNO) light heavyweight title. Jones is undefeated in WNO competition, while Marinho will be making his promotional debut, making Jones a prohibitive favorite. What does Marinho bring to the table, and how could he spring the upset against Jones?
In the lead-up to this match, Jones has openly promised to never pull guard again. Assuming he sticks to that promise, he’ll have an opponent that is willing to test that wrestling in Marinho.
With the majority of his accomplishments under points-based competition, Marinho has developed an excellent wrestling and takedown game. Marinho is an explosive athlete and he uses that athleticism well on the feet, employing foot sweeps to off-balance his opponents and well-timed blast double legs to secure takedowns.
Although Jones has been almost exclusively a guard puller in competition, he has shown some quality wrestling throughout his career. Unlike Marinho and his blast double leg, Jones prefers to wrestle with upper-body attacks, most notably his uchi-mata which he will use to secure either the takedown or body lock.
Marinho’s wrestling is supported by his best submission — the guillotine. The constant threat of this submission forces Marinho’s opponents to think twice about shooting for the legs, which in turn allows Marinho to be more open on the feet, less concerned about his opponent’s takedown attempts.
Marinho has used the guillotine to finish a number of world-class competitors, including ADCC Trials winner Giancarlo Bodoni (below), American Nationals champion Jaime Canuto, and veteran Submission Underground competitor Andy Varela.
Although Jones is unlikely to attack Marinho’s legs from standing, he should be cautious and careful whenever he leans forward, as Marinho has shown time and time again an ability to snatch up a guillotine in the blink of an eye.
Guard passing and back-takes
Marinho’s best overall weapon is likely his opportunistic guard passing and back-takes. Generally preferring to pass from the headquarters position, Marinho will explode into knee-cut passes and leg drags, often relying on his speed and tenacity to secure the guard pass.
If he is able to, Marinho will also look to control his opponent’s upper body in order to establish a pass. This approach may be risky against a guard player of Jones’ caliber because it brings him directly into Jones’ best position, but it may also be an effective way of killing Jones’ trademark leg entanglements.
Leg lock defense
As much as Jones may be committed to wrestling and the top game (an approach he used successfully against Tye Ruotolo), he remains arguably the best leg locker in the world. How might Marinho go about defending Jones’ leg attacks?
Jones and Marinho have met once before in competition, at Kasai Pro 5, and that match may be telling. In a six-minute points match, Marinho continually avoided engaging in Jones’ guard, ripping his leg out and entirely disengaging every time Jones was able to secure any sort of connection. Marinho used an all-in or all-out approach, passing only in bursts but otherwise staying at distance. That match ended in a draw.
In their upcoming WNO title match, Jones will have much more time to work, and Marinho has no-doubt improved his leg lock defense, so don’t expect for Marinho to entirely disengage from any leg lock threats. With that said, Marinho is still likely to use the same type of high-stepping, disengaging defense to avoid leg entanglements.
That defense has thus-far served Marinho well; only Gordon Ryan has been able to submit him with a leg lock. However, we have seen previous opponents, such as Luiz Panza, attempt to pull out of leg entanglements against Jones and fail. No matter his approach to leg lock defense, Marinho must tread carefully.
Marinho is the younger, more explosive athlete, and that may play an important role against Jones. When Jones faced Ruotolo, he implemented a pressure-based, guard-passing strategy to wear down and fatigue his younger opponent. Jones may look to do the same against Marinho.
While Marinho appears to be in great shape and has certainly prepared well, this is nonetheless his first WNO match. His explosive movements may hurt him in the long run, causing him to slow down and fatigue over the course of the 15-minute match.
Additionally, if Jones is able to secure top position on Marinho, how will Marinho’s guard hold up? Marinho’s strategy may be to work back to his feet from bottom position, but Jones’ body lock passing — on full display against Ruotolo — works well to stifle the scramble to the feet.
How to watch: WNO: Craig Jones vs. Pedro Marinho takes place on Friday, January 21 and will air live on FloGrappling (subscription required).