April 22, 2011

"To this day, I've never lost a fight to him."

Considering that the "him" is Jon "Bones" Jones, the magnificent UFC light heavyweight champion, that's a heady statement. Who'd say such a thing?

It's certainly not a claim that could be made by any of the 13-1 dynamo's past opponents, not even the fighter responsible for the "1." True, Matt Hamill's résumé lists a victory over Jones, but only because along the way to being beaten to a pulp, "The Hammer" was nailed by some elbows thrown in a way that got Jones disqualified. Everyone knows who really won that fight.

The one guy who's rolled with Jon Jones and not walked away a discombobulated loser is a 6-foot-3, 300-pound former state high school wrestling champion who now plays in the NFL. His name is Arthur Jones. He's Jon's big brother, a year older than the 23-year-old thrill a minute.

"Ever since we were little kids, we were always wrestling with each other and tearing up the house," said Arthur, a Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle, speaking during a break in a New York City photo shoot featuring him, Jon and their younger brother, Chandler, a defensive tackle at Syracuse University. "We still wrestle for fun whenever we're together. Just last night we were rolling around at our hotel. I think we're going to be 45, 50, 60 years old and still wrestling with each other."

And the UFC champion, one of the most explosive and electrifying fighters in the history of combat sports, never comes out ahead? "Never has," Arthur said. He was laughing as he said this. Laughing like an alpha-male big brother.

But Jon Jones isn't one to laugh off his brother's ability. He has described Arthur -- a two-time New York State wrestling champion at Union-Endicott High School who went on to be twice named first-team All-Big East in football at Syracuse, then became the Ravens' fifth-round choice in last year's NFL draft -- as the best athlete in the family. The best athlete? Has Jon Jones ever watched tape of one of his own fights?

The Jones brothers are close ... and not just when they've got their arms wrapped around each other in a sweaty grappling match on the living room floor. Arthur was a corner man last month in New Jersey when "Bones" became champion with a dominant performance against a stunningly overmatched Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. What was it like to see his little brother's hand raised in victory?

"Oh, man, I saw him getting his hand raised before he ever stepped into the ring," Arthur said. "I told him before the fight, 'Go ahead and take what's yours.' And when it happened, it was a beautiful thing."

Arthur actually played a role in Jon's fight preparation, traveling to Albuquerque, N.M., to work out with Greg Jackson's MMA team in the weeks leading up to the title bout. He was there not just to help his brother with his wrestling but also to ready himself for the upcoming football season, after a rookie year in which he played sparingly.

"With this NFL lockout making everything uncertain," Jones said, "all of us players have to find ways to keep ourselves active. So I'm doing MMA. It's my cross-training."

Might this be more than simply an offseason workout? Might we see another member of the Jones brotherhood step into the Octagon? At least one person is lobbying hard to make that happen.

"I really don't see anyone in the heavyweight division right now being able to clinch with my brother and not get thrown," Jon Jones recently told Sergio Non of USA Today. "His wrestling is way, way, way above my wrestling. I was the second seed my whole career in wrestling because my brother was on my team."

Informed what the champ had said about him, Arthur Jones laughed again and said, "Yeah, my brother is dying for me to take a fight. We'll see. I love this sport, and I'm hungry to learn more. When I retire from football, who knows what'll happen?"

For now, foremost on Arthur Jones' mind -- at least in terms of his own career -- is not the possible future transformation of a pro football player into an MMA fighter but rather the current challenge of transferring skills learned in MMA training to the bag of tricks of an NFL defensive tackle.

"So much of what you do in a MMA gym can be applied to football," he said. "Both sports are about leverage and being fluid in your movements."

Which sport would he say is a better measurement of toughness?

"That's so difficult to say. They're both tough," Arthur said. "In both sports, you have to have heart. If not, you're going to get crushed."

Nice slogan, Arthur, but way to dodge the question. OK, big guy, let's pose it this way: Imagine you're trapped in the proverbial dark alley with the proverbial gang of bad hombres closing in on you. Who'd you rather have as the lone combatant by your side, your UFC champion brother, Jon Jones, or one of your All-Pro teammates with the Ravens, Ray Lewis?

"Oh, man! That's a good question," said Arthur, laughing again. "How about I let the two of them can take on the bad guys and I just run. No? Well, I was in some scuffles alongside my brother on the playground growing up, so I've been there with him. But you know what? I'd probably take Ray Lewis, because he's a guy I have to go to war with."

That's a savvy answer for a young football player hoping to play a bigger role this season on the stout, Lewis-led Baltimore defense.

"With all of this offseason training, I'm excited to get back out there and utilize my talents," Jones said. "I want to show the Ravens that they drafted me for a good reason. I'm ready to do whatever it takes to help my team get to the Super Bowl."

And his choice of fighting partner is by no means out of disrespect for the combatant he's been beating up on for his whole life, the kid with the shiny new UFC belt.

"My brother is just starting the scratch the surface in showing what he's made of," Arthur said. "With all the hard work he puts in, I'll be interested in seeing him two or three years down the road. He's so creative and talented. He achieves whatever he puts his mind to. If Jon decided he wanted to be an opera singer, I'm sure he would find a way to make that dream come true."

And no doubt there would be a long line of yellow taxis -- each one with a different 205-pound MMA title hopeful at the wheel -- lined up to drive Jon Jones to the Metropolitan Opera House so he could pursue that change in careers.

Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.

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