When a fighter starts making big waves in the sport of mixed martial arts there is a common result that almost becomes inevitable. Fans and writers alike load up the furnace and stoke the fires, and that hype train starts chugging away.
Not every strong performance is an indication of future greatness though. Often flashes of superiority are seen, but rarely in the long term do those flashes result in an Ice Man, Natural, Rush or a Spider.
As rare as the greatest MMA careers have been, sometimes with that hyped up-and-coming fighter we get a glimpse into future greatness. A foundation is displayed that reaches beyond individual examples of dominance.
Fight fans get that feeling when they watch the performances of a guy like Jon Jones. When they hear him speak they believe he can become an ambassador for this sport as well as top competitor.
His performances have showcased a young lion ready to take control of the pride as he has steamrolled every man to ever square off with him. He has done so with an ease that baffles both his opponents and his fans.
He has been so impressive over his young MMA career that he now stands at 12-1 and finds himself standing face to face with one of the sport's most dangerous fighters, UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
Like Jones' ascent in MMA in his early 20s, Rua also began his career on a meteoric rise at a young age. Now the two will touch gloves and go to war for Rua's UFC strap at UFC 128.
This fight represents a clash of absolutely elite LHW competitors. It is a fight that truly has no expected outcome, not by an stretch of the imagination. Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t been paying attention to the subject matter. Both of these guys are ruthless and lethal.
Hurtsbad MMA sat in on the UFC 128 conference call to hear a calm and collected Jon Jones talk about his first title fight against one of MMA's most celebrated veterans. As the young warrior spoke, two things became extremely clear.
This young fighter is as composed and mentally strong as any seasoned veteran has ever been. And he is fiercely focused and dedicated not only this fight, but his career and potential. Jon Jones walks another path, a higher path, and it is clear when he speaks about his career and this match up.
When Jones was asked about being so cool and collected, especially when faced with a title shot, he had this to say:
“That is the person that I am, even outside of MMA. When I go out there I try to remain cool and collected. I think fighting is a thinking man's sport. Anger and aggression can only cloud your mind and I keep that in mind. Fighting is really not about anger with me, it's about thinking, that's just the way I look at things.”
This title shot was dealt with a hint of fate involved. Jon's training partner Rashad was set to fight Rua, but had to bow out due to injury. Jones was unexpectedly offered this title fight after beating Ryan Bader little more than a month and a half before UFC 128 takes place.
For Jones to accept such a dangerous opponent with so much on the line on such short notice turns some heads. He was asked if he felt this was the right timing for him and he offered this response:
“I think everything happens for a reason. I have a really solid staff around me and they are making sure that I peak out perfectly. I started this camp in phenomenal shape, already having pretty close to phenomenal timing. Now it's just altering my mind and preparing for a different beast tactic-wise. I feel like we have done a great job doing that.”
It is important to keep in mind that Jones was assisting Rashad to prepare for Rua so he is coming into this with an educated approach. He feels his time spent with “Suga” prepping him for “Shogun” will play to his advantage.
“I think that helped me out a lot. I have been watching a lot of Shogun's fights and I see a lot of tendencies and a lot of things that he has been doing since his Pride days.”
He also added: “I have been watching the guy too, since I was a young guy and I think I'm really trying to understand him, what he throws, and why he throws it. Just like I had in camps for other people and I think we will see that when I come out. I'm calm and have a sense of really knowing what I'm into and what I'm doing.”
This is the opportunity of a life time and Jones recognizes the significance of the position he has put himself in.
“It's a dream come true. My goal, my dream, when I got to the UFC was to become the champion and now I'm one fight away from my whole life changing. That motivation is so much, to wake up early, eat healthy, to study Shogun like my life depends on it.”
“It just means the world to me. It's not a job to me, it's not a trophy to me, it's not a paycheck to me, it's really everything. It's my being right now and I really can't explain how much winning this fight means to me. I think that's why I'm going to win this fight, I know that's why I'm going to win this fight. Because of how badly I want it.”
“I have a lot of heart, a lot of cardio, and a lot of will. I don't care what happens in this fight, I'm going to keep coming, keep going, and this fight will be mine. I'm excited to be pushed for the first time, if I'm pushed.”
The man said “IF I'm pushed.” You read it right.
That confidence is not a fluke or a front. When he speaks you can sense his belief in what he is saying. Especially when he was asked if he feels pressure leading into the first title fight of his career.
“I feel pressure but at the same time I don't feel any pressure. I feel as if I was just here two days ago. I just got out of the Octagon, I just fought Ryan Bader a few weeks ago.”
“All the press, the media, the cameras following me around, the Octagon jitters, I don't think any of that is going to play a factor with me. I'm going to go out there and fight as if someone pressed pause and I'm pressing play again.”
“I was just here so I don't feel any stress. I just feel as if God has given me all of this, and I have worked for all of this, and now it's just my time to go out there and literally take what belongs to me. I feel that it's my belt, and I want it, and I'm going to hang on to it, and I'm going to start with Shogun.”
The betting lines are trending to favor Jones which catches some people off guard but Jones has his own theories about being the favorite. He certainly isn't worrying about the odds.
“I realize that I'm fighting Shogun, and the fact that I'm the favorite I think that is bologna. I think the reason the they are saying I'm the favorite is because the odds makers are very smart. They probably think I'm going to lose. That's a smart strategy on the odds maker's part by making me the favorite.”
He went on to explain, “I know Shogun is a beast. I think with a lot of UFC fighters either you’re a wolf or you’re a sheep. There are a lot of UFC fighters that are sheep. But I know that Shogun is a wolf, and I feel that I am a wolf as well. And that is what you guys are going to see.”
Don't bring up Rashad Evans, don't even think about it.
“I absolutely hate when people mention Rashad Evans. Especially throughout this training camp. He's a friend of mine, but I'm fighting Shogun one of the best fighters that has been around for a long time.”
“For people to even be mentioning Rashad Evans right now I think is ludicrous. Rashad is not in my mind, he is not in my being, he has absolutely zero to do with my heart and who I am right now.”
“Right now it's me vs. Jon Jones. Right now I'm beating all the weakness out of myself, I'm beating all the give up out of myself, the lack of cardio, I'm beating the lack of confidence. Any sign of weakness right now that is in my heart, I'm getting rid of it. The fact that people keep bringing up Rashad Evans, it almost angers me.”
You wouldn't like him when he's angry.
At the end of the conversation, those listening in had a lot more insight into the man and the fighter known simply as Bones. He left the impression of a champion. Even if he doesn’t find his crown at UFC 128 he walks it and he talks it.
He also left the impression that seeing him with UFC gold draped around his waist shouldn't surprise anyone what so ever. He sounds more prepared to compete for a title with under one month notice, than some challengers sounded after three months of preparation.
The bottom line is Jon Jones is primed and capable of launching a historic run in this game. This title shot represents his first true step towards the greatness he believes he can achieve and that fans are desperately waiting to see take shape.
If his perceptions leading into UFC 128 are any indication of where he is headed, every last one of us is in for quite a treat while he imposes his expectations on himself and this sport.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA.