In 2010, UFC light heavyweight contender Jon Jones began signing his autographs as “Jon Jones: Champion 2011.” Although many considered him to be the hottest prospect the sport had to offer, for such a seemingly humble guy with so few fights to prematurely sign his name as champion came off a bit on the arrogant side. But it wasn’t arrogance that led the 24-year-old to add that to his signature, Jones knew that becoming the champion was his destiny. On March 19, 2011, the prophecy was fulfilled as Jones became the sport’s youngest champion by handily defeating Mauricio “Shogun” Rua by third round TKO.
“Muhammad Ali said it best: ‘It’s not cocky if you can back it up,” Jones says as he prepares for his UFC 140 showdown with Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida. “And I actually backed it up.” It’s not arrogance and ego that fuels Jon Jones, it’s his belief and faith in God’s plan that has put him in the position that he’s at today. In his eyes, God’s Will has led him to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Promised Land. With victories in 2011 against Rampage Jackson, Ryan Bader and the aforementioned Rua, Jones’ stock his reached an astronomical high in an extraordinarily short amount of time. Arrogance? Jones scoffs at the idea. How can you be arrogant in what is your predetermined destiny? “By me signing my name as ‘Champion 2011’ was me seeing it and making sure that it could happen and believing with all my heart. Me being a champion before I was a champion wasn’t a belief, it was a conviction. I was convinced that I would be champion no matter what anyone had to say,” Jones says definitively. “For the people that find it arrogant, maybe they need to stop judging me and try to learn something.”
It’s hard to not be judged when you are as good as Jones is. After having his first mixed martial arts fight with only a year of training under his belt, Jones has proven in a short amount of time that he’s somewhat of a prodigy in this sport. He made his UFC debut in 2008 at UFC 87 and floored onlookers with his incredible savvy, unorthodox approach and incredible physical gifts (The 6’4” Jones has an 84” reach, the longest in the UFC). To say that he’s burned through the competition with little resistance might be underselling it. In 15 professional fights he’s only tasted defeat once via a disqualification in a fight he was dominating against Matt Hamill. Aside from that blemish, Jones has surgically picked apart his opposition. In a grown man sport where he’s considered just a child, this has been merely child’s play. Heading into his December 10th showdown with Machida, who is a former champion himself, the question is no longer if Jones will win, rather, who in the world can beat Jon Jones? However, as invincible as he appears to be, he won’t allow himself to fall into that trap of thinking that he is unbeatable.
“Everyone can be beaten. Even Anderson Silva – who is one of the greatest in the sport – can be beaten,” Jones says. “We all can be beaten on any given day; especially because we are given these little gloves. I’m very aware that there is no such thing as invincibility in this sport. That’s what keeps me in the gym, I don’t believe in my own hype. I’m constantly focused and my job is to be the best fighter that I can be. I know I can be beaten but my job is to make the chances very small.”
There was a time when his opponent Saturday was considered to be invincible. With his unorthodox karate style, Machida looked like the Rubix cube of MMA. But he’ll be the first one to tell you the veil of invincibility can be lifted on any given night. His shocking knockout to Shogun Rua is proof and he’s ready to do the same the Jones. It will most certainly be Jones’ toughest test to date, but Jones doesn’t worry about what Machida can do in the cage. He says that those roles should be reversed. “Why am I answering questions about what Lyoto can do to me?” he says with a laugh. “He needs to worry about what I’m going to do to him.”
Again, this is not arrogance, this is fact. Jones can hit you with any limb on his body. There are no known chinks in his armor as he’s never been hurt, for that matter barely touched. Every fight he comes with some new move that raises eyebrows and elicits a “Holy shit!” His unparalleled talent as a black man in what is still considered (albeit wrongly) a white man’s sport and universal appeal has drawn new fans to the sport. Because of fighters like Jones, African American males are picking up disciplines like wrestling and jiujitsu in an effort to be the next Jon Jones. Not only is he breaking bones, he’s breaking down barriers.
“I’m excited about bringing in new faces to MMA. One of my big goals is to elevate this sport and everyone that works in it,” he explains. One can’t help but to compare him to people like Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters for their ability to dominate and bring the sport to a new demographic. “(Tiger Woods) came in and brought the sport to another level. That’s what I want to try to do. There were great golfers before Tiger just like there are great fighters before me. But to be able to change things up and have all types of people wanting to watch the sport is special. I just want to be entertaining.”