“It doesn’t add incentive to knock him out. I’m looking to go out there and have fun and work on the stuff I train. I’m getting really close to my dreams coming true."
Go to Youtube and search “Andrei Arlovski Sparta” and you’ll find yourself rolling on the floor laughing, or ROFL to put it in Internet shorthand. What’s so significant about this video is not how much the Belarusian heavyweight and former UFC fighter looks like the Leonidas character in the movie “300,” but who the host of this video is.
It’s Jon “Bones” Jones.
Uploaded just two weeks before perhaps the biggest test in the 23 year old light heavyweight phenom’s career in UFC 126 opponent Ryan Bader, a sweaty Jones looks like he’s having a lot of fun in that video.
And it’s all by design.
“I try to keep it really light,” Jones tells UFC.com. “I learned that against Brandon Vera two fights ago. I threw the first pitch for the Padres the day before that fight. I need to do things like that. I put a lot of pressure on myself, so to have fun is really important for me. I expect a lot out of myself and I’m afraid I’ll have gray hair before the time I’m 26, so I need to remind myself that I’m only a 23 year old who is playing a game.”
The game he is talking about is mixed martial arts, and Jones is 11-1 on the scoreboard. The fact that the one loss was the result of a disqualification for an illegal elbow strike against an opponent he was about to finish (Matt Hamill) makes him still undefeated in the eyes of UFC fans and observers, which puts him on an equal playing field with the 13-0 Bader.
For both guys, the stakes are high going into this match, but hearing Jones tell it, that’s exactly what he’s in this game for.
“I’m not preparing anything differently for this fight but I am training and I am way better today than I was in my last fight,” says Jones. “I think the Jon Jones who fought against Matyushenko would get knocked out by this Jon Jones. I know it sounds funny to say that but I believe it in my heart. I look at Ryan not as someone I need to vanquish, but as a challenge I need to rise above. I want the best Ryan Bader, so I’m excited to hear that he’s been working on new things and that he’s had a great training camp. My goal is to be the best and I have a long way to go.”
UFC ring announcer Bruce Buffer recently stated that Jones is the Muhammad Ali of MMA, and journalists and fans often call him the future of the sport. All of the hype that surrounds the Greg Jackson protégé can easily become detrimental. Many fighters who are crowned “the next big thing” so early in their careers can crash and burn just as quickly as they arrived on the scene, and Jones is trying to keep a healthy perspective on the buzz.
“I can’t control what the media or the fans say,” says Jones. “The only thing I can control is how I train. I just focus on my efforts and let people paint whatever picture they want about my image. I’m flattered but at the same time I’ve learned not to run from it. I just say ‘Whatever.’ It’s my image right now, but I know how fast people will jump off someone’s bandwagon in this sport, so I can’t let it get to my head, because then I’ll get people calling me cocky and arrogant.”
In TUF season 8 winner Bader, Jones faces a great wrestler with knockout power, a deadly combination in any mixed martial artist, but Jones possesses both as well, and with an 84 inch reach advantage and devastating ground and pound, he says he is prepared for whatever Bader has in mind.
“I had a great training camp, great training partners and I have a lot of faith in the people who train me,” he said. “So I would say yes I’m very prepared. Ryan has a nice double leg takedown. He times it well. He also has punching power. I’ll sum it up right there.”
Adding to Jones’ physical preparation, his psyche may have gotten a little help from Bader teammate Aaron Simpson, who went on Twitter to express just how prepared Bader is, stating: “I don’t think Jones knows what he is getting into with Bader. I hope he is up for it.”
Jones quickly retaliated on his Twitter timeline: “Didn’t you lose your last 2 fights? Please don’t piss me off. I actually have respect for Ryan.”
Did Simpson wake a sleeping giant?
“I try not to fight out of anger,” says Jones. “I’m trying to keep this fight with Ryan Bader as business, and absolutely nothing personal. When I told Aaron not to piss me off it meant just that, ‘Don’t piss me off. Don’t give me a reason to make this fight anything other than business.”
But perhaps that’s exactly what Simpson was trying to do.
We all know what Jones is like when he’s relaxed and having fun. He separated Matt Hamill’s shoulder by throwing the decorated wrestler around the Octagon like a rag doll. He broke three bones in Brandon Vera’s face with a vicious elbow strike, and the long term effects of that fight were on display when Vera met Thiago Silva at UFC 125. “The Truth” was a shadow of his former self, covering up in a fetal position and trying desperately to protect the side of his face that Jones smashed, that it got to the point where Silva literally slapped him upside the head.
Vera would be cut from the UFC following that embarrassing defeat.
“I think the best thing for Brandon Vera is a sports psychologist because physically he possesses all the tools he needs to win,” says Jones when asked if he thinks he sent Vera back several years in his career after their fight. “His kicks are second to maybe Shogun (Rua). I think he needs confidence training and a little sports psychology to help him find the old Brandon Vera who is still in there somewhere. Even though Vera and I had our differences, I’m pulling for him.”
By all accounts Jones is a good guy. He was raised to be humble despite his athletic prowess, particularly in wrestling where he was a two time NY state champion and national junior college champion on his way to a full scholarship to the University of Iowa before turning to professional MMA. One of his brothers plays for the Baltimore Ravens, while another plays football at Syracuse University.
His older sister Carmen died of cancer before her 18th birthday. It’s this fact that could sum up Jones’ maturity. Jon was just 12 years old when Carmen passed, and the kid took it hard. He grew up fast.
At just 23 he is a father of two with a fiancée. He is quickly rising to the top of the fastest growing sport in the world, yet he resembles nothing of your 23 year old brother or friend who is just graduating college or is currently engrossed in a Black Ops network game with teenagers in Russia.
Jon Jones is poised and ready to become the reality of the perception that envelops him.
“My dream is to better this sport and do it better than St-Pierre and Anderson Silva and really show mainstream America who and what MMA is,” he says without a hint of irony.
And while it may seem presumptuous for such a young fighter to name two of the world’s best pound-for-pound players in the same sentence as himself, Jones feels at home around elite athletes.
That’s why it was a strange feeling for him the first time he sparred with “Leonidas” –
Andrei Arlovski -- at Greg Jackson’s gym.
“When Arlovski came in for this training camp I was a little nervous to fight him,” he said. “He’s a dangerous fighter. So I just started to have fun, like that video, and I ended up doing extremely well out there and I just proved to myself the lighter I keep it, the better I do out there. We’re keeping it fun, remembering it’s just a game,” he said.
Which brings us back to Simpson’s tweet.
A big part of any competition is the mind game. At face value, angering a fighter with skills like Jones’ is a terrible idea. But when you seen how great he is relaxed, maybe Team Bader is on to something?
“It doesn’t add incentive to knock him out,” says Jones. “I’m looking to go out there and have fun and work on the stuff I train. I’m getting really close to my dreams coming true. My dream is to be remembered after I’m done fighting. I want to inspire people to better themselves. One of my dreams is to secure a future for my family financially. One of my dreams is to become a coach on The Ultimate Fighter. One of my dreams is to be the UFC champion. I dream to fight in Madison Square Garden.”
With such a long list to focus on, perhaps nothing can distract Jones at this point in his career. February 5, 2011 may just be another day in the life of Jon Jones.