On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, I spoke with UFC light heavyweight champion Jon ‘Bones’ Jones. Jones was making his rounds promoting the new “UFC Undisputed 3” video game, which hit stores in America yesterday.
To wit, I’m not a gamer so I was less concerned about that. I’m a fight fan and I wanted to talk fighting, but not fighting alone. I’ve always been of the belief that you can only expect so much from someone when asking questions about his craft.
Jimi Hendrix was a brilliant guitarist. But asking Hendrix to explain how and why he did things like Electric Ladyland and “Machine Gun” is sometimes expecting too much. He just did them, and to seek an explanation can lessen the magic.
I feel the same way about fighting. In many ways fighting, like music, is poetry in motion. If you’ve seen Jones in action then the comparison rings true. Inside the cage, a lot of things must converge at precise moments for the end result to be harmonious. In Jones’ case, that result has been the dismantling of one of the UFC’s toughest divisions in a very short time span. At 24, the youngest-ever UFC champion seems to be hitting his stride. And that’s scary. He’s a phenom, for sure, but I quickly learned Jones is much more than that.
My goal in interviewing the light heavyweight champ was simple: be real. As silly as it sounds, I wanted to get to know the real Jon Jones, if that was at all possible via telephone in less than 10 minutes. The truth is ‘Bones’ is everything I expected, and then some: a young, honest, hardworking athlete and a budding champion with the world at his fingertips. But I found he’s also a funny kid from a small town in New York, a loving father and as he himself put it, an “artist.”
For kicks, I transcribed the first exchange of our brief interview. Jones actually took it upon himself to initiate the conversation:
Jon Jones: “Chris, I’m not doing good today, bro.”
Chris Young: “You’re not? Why not?”
JJ: “I just got knocked out by Tito Ortiz in the video game. You see, that’s what’s wrong with the game. Unrealistic stuff happens.”
CY: Yeah, that would never happen in real life. I actually have a couple questions about the game. Fan vote placed Anderson Silva on the cover of “UFC Undisputed 3.” Why not Jon ‘Bones’ Jones, man?
JJ: “Oh man, you know what, I think my time will come all in good time. I’m gonna’ be patient and keep winning fights. But Anderson’s tough, man. He’s the most winningest athlete in our sport’s history and I’m honestly a huge fan of him, and I think it’s great. I think it’s great that he’s on the cover.”
CY: You’ve said in the past that the game’s creators slighted you in the defense department, particularly, your takedown defense rating. It’s weird because you’ve never been taken down in the UFC. What makes your wrestling abilities so special?
JJ: “I definitely have a strong takedown defense. I think my long body helps with leverage. You know, one guy grabs my left leg to try and take me down and my right leg is like three miles away and it’s just hard for them to keep my legs together and get me down. A good clinch, you know. Good strength—deceptive strength. I think that all helps.”
CY: Since winning the light heavyweight title in March of last year, you’ve been nothing short of impressive in two lopsided title defenses over ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Lyoto Machida, both former champions. Your rise to the top of the division has been meteoric, not to mention you’re the youngest-ever UFC champion. Has the fame and extra attention been what you hoped it would be?
JJ: “It’s awesome, man. I have a lot of people give me love and respect. Just to see my hard work pay off, you know, to be able to do things for my family. It’s awesome, man. It’s a great feeling. It really makes you feel like a man, you know, and I get to buy my daughters new toys and video games and things I couldn’t get growing up in Endicott [New York]. And the fans treat me well and I just have no complaints with life right now. It just feels good to see your hard work pay off.”
CY: So your title showdown with Rashad Evans is once again in place, set for April 21 in Atlanta. It’s a fight a lot of fans are anxious to see. You’ve called Evans your ‘antagonist,’ the feud is getting crazy hype. This isn’t news to you. But with all due respect to Rashad, how confident are you that you can win this fight?
JJ: “I’m extremely confident, extremely confident. You know, I’ve been winning my fights pretty convincingly and I train really hard. You know, I train to the point where I truly believe that there’s no other fighter in the whole UFC that trains harder than me. I really feel that way. And when you train that hard, man, you have no reason to doubt yourself against anybody. So I’m confident and I think that I’m gonna go out there and do what I do best, and that’s play the martial arts game and defeat A-level fighters.”
CY: Will you be satisfied with anything less than a knockout or stoppage?
JJ: “Oh yeah. I’ll be satisfied just to get the win. But one of my goals for 2012 is to finish every opponent.”
CY: Your coach Greg Jackson was recently asked about who he plans to corner during the Evans fight. He said that, and I’m quoting him here, he was ‘leaning’ toward cornering you. Assuming that’s the case, how important is it that Jackson is in your corner in Atlanta?
JJ: “It’s not that important, really. You know, Greg has taught me that a true artist doesn’t need his master to be there with him at all times. What makes a great artist is to have a great teacher and to have this teacher give you new paint and new paint brushes, new tools. And then you go out there and you get your new canvas and you paint that masterpiece. And so as long as, you know, he’s [Jackson] continuing to give me new tools, educate me on new ways of martial arts… just give me the canvas and let me go out there and do my own thing. That’s what we can do against Rashad and I’m confident that I’ll do a good job of painting a beautiful picture on Rashad’s face.”
CY: If you could use one word to describe yourself what would it be?
JJ: “Sexy. Tall… no, I’m joking. To describe myself in what way? What way?”
CY: You know, the real Jon Jones. Not the fighter, but the guy we don’t see; the guy that your family sees?
JJ: “Probably ‘goofy.’”
CY: If you could use one word to describe Rashad Evans what would it be?
JJ: (Slightly inaudible) “Psycho. Borderline psycho.”
CY: It’s Valentine’s Day. What are some of the best and worst Valentine’s Day gifts you’ve given?
JJ: “Let’s see here. The best Valentine’s Day gift that I’ve ever given may have been… you know, I wrote to my girl a few years ago, like a really nice letter, just telling her how I felt about her and she really appreciated it. She still has it to this day. Then I actually sung to her that same year in front of our whole cafeteria, “I’ve Got Sunshine on a Cloudy Day,” [Ed. note: 'My Girl' by The Temptations] which took a lot of guts for me ‘cause I was like a senior in high school and doing stuff like that can get you made fun of for a long time.”
CY: “That’s a great story.”
JJ: “Yeah, that’s probably the best Valentine’s Day gift I’ve given. The worst is probably… a little rash I gave her (laughs). Nah, I’m joking (laughs). I can’t think of the worst.”
CY: Alright. For kicks, and this is a true story, my younger brother is also named Jon. Ironically, we gave him the nickname ‘Bones’ when he was little, mostly because he was, and still is, so thin. He’s a huge fan, a huge fan, and he wanted me to ask you a question.
JJ: “What’s that?”
CY: Can you beat Chuck Norris?
JJ: “Chuck Norris? Probably not. His striking and his smallness would be the biggest advantage in that fight for him and I’d probably lose. And I mean, actually, his jiu-jitsu and his wrestling would just be too devastating.”
You can follow Jon Jones on Twitter @Jonnybones.
You can follow the author @chrisyoung81.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.