Jon Jones is scary.
That’s the case not just when he’s in a cage, where he’s shown himself to be plenty terrifying, most recently on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 182 in Las Vegas. But even an hour after he had finished a frightfully virtuosic performance in the biggest fight of his life and had walked out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena with the light heavyweight belt still around his waist, Jones put a scare into the mixed martial arts world merely by speaking into a microphone at the post-fight press conference.
The champ was talking about his recent move to Albuquerque, where he’s gone to train for the last several years, working with guru Greg Jackson and the other coaches at one of the elite camps in his sport. But Jones has always traveled to New Mexico only for the weeks leading up to a fight. After his work was done -- another opponent dominated and vanquished, another notch on the championship belt -- he’d go back home to Ithaca, N.Y. and hang out with his family and friends. He’d take it easy, pass his days playing video games, waiting for the UFC to propose another fight. He would not train at all until that call came.
“I’m sure lots of people have seen pictures of me with this big gut,” the champ said with some amusement.
That was then. This is now. Having uprooted his family -- fiancée, children and exotic African cats -- and moved to the desert, Jones intends to get right to work upon returning to his new home base. He’ll be a regular in the gym, focusing on strength and conditioning. He’ll start working toward a black belt in jiu-jitsu. He’ll convene with his coaches to develop new combat techniques.
“I’m so excited for this development, for this maturity, that I’m getting ready to start going through training in the offseason,” said Jones. “Expect whoever I fight next to have their hands full.”
So, let’s get this straight: The best fighter in the world today, probably the greatest ever, has decided he’s no longer going to be a slacker. He’s finally ready to dedicate himself to his craft. He intends to get better.
Just ask Daniel Cormier, who walked into the octagon on Saturday night fully confident that he was going to take the belt away from Jones. There had been much acrimony in the lead-up, including an infamous brawl during a faceoff at a press conference back in the summer. Verbal jabs continued to be traded right up to fight week. But it wasn’t just loathing that fueled Cormier. He believed in his skill set, and he was not alone in that.
Having seen the two-time Olympic wrestler manhandle heavyweights while compiling a 15-0 MMA record, many fans and pundits thought the unthinkable: that “DC” was the one who would give “Bones” all he could handle. And Cormier did for the better part of three close rounds. But in the fourth and fifth -- called “the championship rounds” for a reason -- it was Jones (21-1) who had that little extra that separates the greatest from the rest.
Cormier acknowledged as much. As disheartening as it was to lose for the first time, to a man he truly doesn’t like, he recognized what he’d been up against.
“I’ve shared the cage with some very, very strong men, very big men,” Cormier said. “Heroes. Superheroes. And I can’t say enough about [Jones'] grit and determination because I pushed him and went after him. I fought him, and he did a great job.”
What was most impressive was that Jones beat Cormier at his own game. That approach is nothing new for the champ. Even though his 6-foot-4 stature, 747-esque wingspan and arsenal of kicks allow him to fight from outside the danger zone, he’s always been not just willing but eager to attack opponents at their strengths.
“I watch my opponents so much that I subconsciously inherit their talent and their gifts,” Jones explained, giving a glimpse inside his genius. “A lot of times, you see me do to them exactly what they wanted to do to me.”
The thinking going into this fight, however, was that with Cormier having competed at the Olympic level in wrestling, Jones might be wise to steer clear of that discipline, despite having won a junior college national championship himself. If Jones' ego got the better of him and he entered Cormier’s world, it could be his undoing.
Well, Jones didn’t just enter Cormier’s world, he broke down the door. Cormier had never been taken to the canvas in his 15 previous fights, and it was a source of pride. He had laughed at Jones’ claim that he would get a takedown. But in the very first round, the champ caught a kick, swept Cormier’s other leg off the mat and voila! Takedown. Then, in the fourth round, Jones trapped Cormier against the cage and twice got double-leg takedowns. There was some strategic advantage to these takedowns, to be sure, but as much as anything, it appeared that Jones went for them just to show he could do it. And to take the fight out of Cormier, which he did.
The challenger did next to nothing in the final two rounds, other than survive. He did finally get a takedown of his own in the fifth, but Jones popped right back up. And as the final precious seconds ticked off the clock, and Cormier would have been wise to pull out of a clinch and try to land a game-changing punch, he instead held on to a leg, trying to score another takedown, maybe just as a salve for the ego. Jones defended for a bit, then slowly raised his arms triumphantly. Cormier let go and just stood there. Jones fired a punch just before the horn, and Cormier returned fire after the horn, nearly nailing referee Herb Dean. The fight ended with the disharmony with which it had begun.
“Hey, for everybody who bought a ‘Break Bones’ shirt, take it back now. You wasted your money,” Jones said in a feisty interview in the cage afterward, alluding to the T-shirts that Cormier and his team had produced to reflect their belief that Cormier's grinding style would break the champion’s will. Then he pointed to his own apparel. “See what this shirt says? By Reebok, it says ‘Unbroken,’ baby. This team is unbroken.”
Unbroken and headed back to Albuquerque.
“Working in the desert, man,” said Jones at the press conference. “In order to hang out in the desert, you got to be tough. The animals that live in the desert are tough. The plants that survive in the desert are tough.”
The mixed martial artists there are tough, too, with nothing but wasteland standing between them and their goals. Jones’ goal for the year -- this year -- is “to become the greatest fighter of all time,” he said. “And it’s so feasible, its so attainable. All I’ve got to do is stay focused and keep believing, the way I believe, and then keep working. I do believe 2015 will be the year I solidify it.”