Olive Garden; Lakewood, CO. Not long after the UFC 135 weigh-in in Denver, Jon Jones and his entourage (and assorted media hangers on) repaired to an Olive Garden near the hotel. The champ, newly shorn, was in good spirits but low key. A stranger in the room would have been hard-pressed to identify the guest of honor.
Indeed, there’s been a lot of talk and debate about Jones’ true identity. It says less about him than it does about the potent cocktail of pre-fight hype and sensationalist media that so often hijacks a fight’s narrative.
Jones doesn’t fit into a single soundbite any more than the rest of us do. And the clues he offers about himself often go ignored, such as his often-stated affinity with water, and a desire to emulate its flow. Turns out he’s not just saying this because it sounds cool.
His dad, the Reverend Arthur Jones Jr., told me that Jon swam in the ocean before his fight against Moyses Gabin for the US Battle Cage Extreme light heavyweight title. (From across the table, Jon’s fiancé, Jesse Moses, mentioned their daughter Leah was born the night before.) There was a hint of awe in Arthur’s voice as he recounted Jon’s pre-fight “swim in the Atlantic ocean.” That was Jon’s last fight before he entered the UFC. But his pre-fight swim was not the last time he used water to get into the zone.
On the day Jon won the title against Shogun, few people would know about his trip to meditate by a waterfall in Patterson, New Jersey, had Jon and his coaches not foiled a mugger on the way. It’s safe to say those aren’t the only two water sessions on Jon’s pre-fight resume.
Arthur, a decorated high school and college wrestler and coach, says he taught Jon’s older brother Art the lateral drop takedown that Jon does so beautifully. He explained this after saying “no” when I asked if he taught Jon the lateral drop. “Art taught it to Jon.”
When Arthur speaks of the move, he uses watery imagery. “It has a flow to it, it’s a fluid like motion. You gotta do it with confidence. You gotta feel it and hit it. Like when a fish bites a hook and you set the hook. You got it when it’s there.”
Though he professes intimate knowledge of the lateral drop, the elder Jones claims he wasn’t the move’s greatest practitioner. “I was more of an ankle-pick guy.”
At this we bonded a little. As a tall 98 pound wrestler in high school, I was a bit of an ankle pick guy myself. I asked Arthur why he thought we don’t see more ankle picks in MMA. He thought for a moment before suggesting, “they probably don’t want to get punched in the face.”
The night Jon swam in the ocean was the first time Arthur saw his son fight, which he only did on the urging of a friend. “I tried to discourage [Jon’s MMA ambitions]. I thought it was a rough sport. Jon eventually convinced me that more people get hurt playing football, even all padded up.”
Arthur now supports MMA wholeheartedly, largely because it gives former wrestlers career options beyond coaching.
But watching Jon fight for the first time was “nerve wracking,” Arthur says. And now, as the father of a champion, there are different kinds of nerves to deal with. Like watching his son sit knee to knee with his next opponent on the couches of a litany of talk show hosts. From across the table, Jesse and Jon’s mom, Camille, assure me that they had separate green rooms, and that was a good thing.
“Why?” I asked. “Can’t they control themselves?”
Their responses were along the lines of “why would you want to be around…him?”
Still, Arthur said, the media tour had value: “It’s good because they get familiar with each other. Jon got to feel Rampage's energy. He told me he didn’t feel much.”
As for Rampage’s talking point, borrowed from Rashad Evans, that Jon is “fake,” Camille had choice words for Jon vis a vis the haters. “Your response [in a recent USA Today article] was excellent. You didn’t say ‘You’re a big fat liar.’ You said ‘Yeah, that’s me. I’m young. I’m enjoying life. Yeah, I like to have fun. I’m a wrestler.'”
Of all of his son’s accomplishments, Arthur seems most proud of something both Jon and Art did that their father fell short of.
“They did what I wanted to do. They both became state champs.”
What more could a parent hope for than to have your kids live your dreams? You almost get the feeling that everything since those state titles has been icing on the cake for Arthur Jones Jr.
If so, that’s pretty good icing.