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Jon Jones – A Phenom Matures

Perhaps the most-talked about fighter to hit the Octagon in recent years, Jon "Bones" Jones looks to move closer to a title shot Sunday when he battles veteran Vladimir Matyushenko...

Before
he was Bones Jones, NBT (Next Big Thing), Jon Jones was a 21-year old armed
with talent, desire, and the dreams of every young fighter in mixed martial
arts – to be in the UFC.

 

And
despite a spotless 6-0 record, when he set foot inside the Octagon for the
first time to face Andre Gusmao at UFC 87 in August of 2008, it was more than
just another fight.

 

“Being
an MMA fighter, you put the UFC on such a high pedestal and you look at these
guys like they’re super heroes and unbeatable,” said Jones, who since that
night in Minnesota has been either blessed or cursed with the words ‘superhero’
and ‘unbeatable’ in many circles.

 

Jones
scored a unanimous decision win over Gusmao that night, showing glimpses of the
unorthodox and dynamic techniques that have become his trademark, and when his
hand was raised, he knew he had arrived.

 

“Once
I got my very first win and I hear ‘the winner is, Jonny ‘Bones’ Jones,’ a
level of ‘Yes, I can’ came across me and it made me believe from that point
on,” said Jones, and when he recalls that moment, you can almost picture him
re-living it in his mind. “When I beat Andre Gusmao, I said ‘wow, I just won…a
UFC fight.’ This is my home and I’m gonna make some upsets and win a lot more
fights.”

 

Five
months later came the upset when he defeated Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100, and
victories over Jake O’Brien and Brandon Vera (which were sandwiched around a
controversial disqualification defeat to Matt Hamill) came in a fast and
furious fashion after that. Now, at 23, Jones is no longer a prospect with
potential, but a fighter that has arrived as he awaits his Sunday assignment in
San Diego against veteran Vladimir Matyushenko.

 

But
according to the affable Jones, nothing’s changed in the last two years.

 

“Everything
is exactly the same to be honest with you,” he said. “I try to keep myself
grounded and keep myself around the same friends, and life is the same, it
really is. There’s a little bit more publicity, but that’s something I expected
when I got into the sport and my goal is to make it towards the top, so I
realized that being towards the top more of it’s gonna come, so I try to just
appreciate it, realize that it’s God’s blessing, and just keep it moving and
keep things the same.”

 

It’s
exactly what you want to hear from an athletic phenom at this point in his
career, mainly because this is around the time when the talk and expectations
can get overwhelming, and that’s not even mentioning the possibility of
entourages and hanger-ons taking over what was once a promising career. Jones
knows all about the pitfalls of fame though, and with his family and tight-knit
team at Jacksons MMA in Albuquerque closing ranks, it keeps everything in
perspective for him.

 

“It’s
very important,” said Jones of keeping that perspective. “I’ve had a lot of
opportunities now that I’m rising in the sport and I’ve turned a lot of that
stuff down because I think it is important to stay home a lot and stay focused
on your game.”

 

If
it reminds you of the rise of a certain basketball player from Ohio who was
tagged with the ‘can’t miss’ label early on, that’s no coincidence, as Jones
takes some cues from the newest member of the Miami Heat, LeBron James.

 

“When
I think of greatness right now, one of the first names that come to mind is
LeBron James,” said Jones. “He’s absolutely phenomenal. And what makes me a big
fan of his is his character and the way he carries himself. He’s someone I look
up to in a lot of ways and I try to model myself after him as that new guy,
that breath of fresh air, and a class act.”

 

And
Jones is walking it like he talks it, which is not so easy in these days of
media overexposure, but at the same time he doesn’t speak in clichés, but with
a refreshing honesty, which is evident when he talks about the challenge
Matyushenko presents.

 

“I
respect Vladimir a ton and I look at him as a huge step-up in competition and a
huge test for me,” said Jones. “I think he’s a great warrior and he’s
everything when it comes to having a tough fight. He probably has some of the
best wrestling credentials I ever fought against, he definitely has the best
record I’ve ever gone against, and he’s the best fighter I ever fought. I think
he’s better than Stephan Bonnar, better than Hamill, better than Brandon Vera. Technique
wise and skill wise, I’m considering him the hardest fight I’ve had.”

 

It
may end up living up to his expectations. Matyushenko is a brick wall who is a
tough out for anyone in the sport. If Jones passes this test, it may not cause
ripples among casual fans, but to hardcore fight game followers and his peers,
it will signal a jump to the next level. And if he has to dig deep to pull out
the win in a three round war, Jones’ stock may rise even higher, something he
isn’t averse to.

 

“I’m
always looking to finish the fight and looking for devastating techniques at
all times, but if the fight goes three rounds, everything happens for a
reason,” he said. “I’ve had times in wrestling matches where I would outclass
the wrestler and purposely let the match go on longer just for the experience
and the combat part of it. But if my fight with Vladimir goes three rounds, I
think it will be good for me.”

 

And
if it does, it won’t be because Jones was looking for some added time in the
Octagon; in MMA, if you let someone stick around too long, that can cost you.

 

“It’s
way too dangerous to do that in MMA,” he laughs. “That’s when you get knocked
out.”

 

Again,
Jones shows that even before reaching his 25th birthday, he’s got it
all together. That doesn’t mean he isn’t having fun and being your typical
23-year old; it just means that when it’s time to work it’s time to work, and
that while the stakes are getting higher with each win, so is his confidence.

 

“With
every victory I’m becoming more and more confident and believing more and more
that I can be one of the best in the world, and I’m also starting to believe
that maybe I am one of the best in the world and I just don’t know it yet,” he
said. “I have a lot of confidence and a lot of faith, and I’m in it to be the
best and I’m expecting to be the best, and I can’t wait to compete against
better and better opponents.”

 

First
things first though, and that’s a date with Vladimir Matyushenko in San Diego.
Yeah, it’s gonna be tough, but as far as Jones is concerned, it’s nothing he
can’t handle.

 

“Beating
Stephan Bonnar really made me believe that if I can beat a veteran like him, I
can beat a veteran like the champion,” he said. “Now I look at all these
fighters as just men, and every man can be beat. No one’s invincible.”