As much credit as he gets for his many athletic gifts, Jon Jones credits his mentality for giving him an edge in fights. It's partly because he doesn't see himself as athletically gifted. He claims he can't catch a football or even dribble a basketball -- an assertion supported by his older brother, Arthur, one of the nation's top defensive linemen at Syracuse University.
But when it comes to fighting, Jones wins because of psychological preparation. So he claims. Before taking on Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94, Jones marked out his opponent's dimensions with pieces of tape on the wall of his home. It helped him get a feel for where Bonnar's head would be, where his legs and torso would stand in comparison to his own. The lopsided decision he won against Bonnar tells you he must be on to something.
In preparing for his next bout, a headlining fight against Matt Hamill on Saturday's Ultimate Fighter 10 finale in Las Vegas, Jones decided to try something different. He wanted to get a sense for how Hamill, who is deaf, might be planning to go at him.
So he sat down to watch some of his own fights on the Internet with the volume turned off. It started as an experiment, born out of curiosity more than anything else, but Jones said it succeeded in teaching him another way of seeing things.
"I'm trying to put myself in his head, see what he sees," said Jones. "It also helps to not be influenced by the commentary. Sometimes you hear [UFC color commentator Joe Rogan] say stuff like, 'What a huge right hand,' and it changes the way you see things. I want to know what he's seeing when he looks at me and figure out what he might try to do. Without the sound, you really see a lot more of the details that you usually miss."
It isn't all sitting around and watching fights on the Internet, though. Jones has also upgraded his training regimen, going from Cortland, New York's BombSquad gym to Greg Jackson's world-renowned fight team in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Instead of being one of the biggest and baddest men in the room, as he almost always is back home, he trains against veteran light heavyweights like KeithJardine and former UFC champ Rashad Evans every day. It's resulted in some painful mornings when just climbing out of bed seemed like a challenge. But it's also forced Jones to push himself harder than before.
"It sucks sometimes," he said. "Doing strength and conditioning in this high altitude, then sparring with guys like Keith and Rashad, it's tough. But I feel like I'm their little brother. They've taught me all kinds of little tricks. Going with Rashad, he's so fast. I'm getting beat up here instead of playing with people, and that's good for me."
As for Hamill, Jones acknowledges that he represents a step up in the competition he's faced thus far in the UFC. Though Hamill is known for his wrestling ability and sheer power on the mat, his stand-up game has grown over the last few years. But Jones, an inventive and unpredictable striker in his own right, isn't intimidated by Hamill's head-kick knockout of Mark Munoz his last time out, nor is he convinced that there will be many surprises when the two step into the Octagon on Saturday.
"He's improved, especially his striking, but some things aren't going to change," Jones said of Hamill. "He's not going to be faster than he's ever been. He's a grown, 33-year-old man. If he was going to be fast, he'd be fast by now. He's going to be the same speed he's always been. All I have to do is believe in myself and try not to think too much."