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Bad to the Bones

April 23, 2012
April 23, 2012

Table of Contents
April 23, 2012

LEADING OFF
GOLF PLUS
Sports Illustrated DIGITAL
THE MAIL
EDITOR'S LETTER
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
NFL DRAFT PREVIEW
  • ECHOES OF '98 ABOUND AS THE FOOTBALL WORLD WEIGHS THE MERITS OF THE QUARTERBACK PAIR CERTAIN TO BE TAKEN AT THE TOP ON APRIL 26. Like PEYTON MANNING AND RYAN LEAF 14 YEARS AGO, ANDREW LUCK AND ROBERT GRIFFIN III WILL BE FOREVER LINKED AS COSTARS IN A DRAFT THAT WILL SHAPE THE FATES OF TWO FRANCHISES

  • In drafting wide receivers, Calvin Johnson—towering, muscular and superbly athletic—is the new model. But where are the corners who can neutralize such a weapon?

BASEBALL
SPRING FOOTBALL
SOCCER
  • He's spent 15 years at the top of the game and is set to play in his record 300th straight Premier League match. Yes, Brad Friedel is the Cal Ripken of English football, and he's 100% American—except for that accent

Departments

Bad to the Bones

Jon (Bones) Jones, the UFC light heavyweight champ, isn't a football star like his brothers; he's something even bigger

Arthur Jones plays defensive tackle for the Ravens. His younger brother Chandler was a senior defensive end at Syracuse last season and is a projected mid-round pick in next week's NFL draft. But their middle brother, Jon, can barely catch a football. He can't dunk a basketball, either, even though he's 6'4". Give him 100 50-mph pitches at the batting cage, and he'd hit 20. "Oh," he explains, "I'm scared of the baseball."

This is an article from the April 23, 2012 issue

But Jon is the most decorated jock in the Jones family. "[It's] not even close," concedes Arthur. Making a mockery of Malcolm Gladwell's dictum that elite performers require 10,000 hours of practice, Jon, a former college wrestler, won his first professional mixed martial arts fight after just a few months of training. Within three years he was the UFC light heavyweight champion. "Bones" Jones, a lean 205 pounds, blazed through the division, leveling one opponent with a dazzling spinning elbow, another with a guillotine choke, another with ruthless striking.

In 16 pro bouts Jones, 24, has scarcely been touched; his lone defeat came on a disqualification for illegal downward elbow strikes. He may not be able to pitch, hit or catch balls, but he has almost freakish flexibility, a wingspan akin to a 7-footer's, an intuitive sense of the geometry and physics of his sport, and an ability to anticipate his opponents' moves. "I'm a different kind of athlete," he says.

Maybe most important, Jones is blessed with what he calls "the combat spirit," an ability to remain calm in battle. His demeanor in the Octagon is not discernibly different from his demeanor sharing Thai food with a guest near his Albuquerque training base. "I want to fight without fighting," he says. "Other fighters say, 'I want a war.' No, I train not to do that."

His latest test will be on Saturday night in Atlanta, on the UFC 145 card. In the most anticipated fight so far this year Jones will put his belt on the line against veteran Rashad Evans, 32, a past UFC champion and former stablemate of Jones's. The two worked together with the estimable MMA trainer-cum-mystic Greg Jackson. When it was clear that Jones and Evans were destined to fight for a title, Evans either left the gym or was booted, depending on whom you believe. Now based in Florida, Evans, who has likened the situation to an ugly divorce, has spent much of the last year questioning Jones's authenticity. "At one point," Evans says, "I liked him as a person, but I know how fake he is."

There is a genuine antipathy between the two fighters, a hostility Jones says he hasn't felt for any previous opponent. As recently as last week, though, he resisted slinging trash, figuring he'd express himself when the Octagon door clanged shut. The guess here: As long as no one tosses the belt to Jones in the manner of a football, he will hold on to it just fine.

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HEAVYWEIGHTS DIVISION BLUES

UFC 146, the next scheduled pay-per-view event after Saturday's, is stocked with heavy hitters. Literally. All five main-event fights on the May 26 card in Las Vegas feature heavyweights. But at least one of the bouts, the division title fight, is in jeopardy: Alistair Overeem, the scheduled opponent of current champion Junior dos Santos, failed a prefight drug test with a high testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio. The Nevada commission will rule on Overeem's eligibility next week, and if he has to be replaced, it could affect the composition of the other heavyweight fights on the card. Meanwhile, with Overeem's status in doubt, with previous champ Cain Velasquez still shaken by his brutal loss to Dos Santos in November and with another former champ, Brock Lesnar, headed back to the WWE, the entire heavyweight division is in flux.

PHOTOCARLOS M. SAAVEDRA (JONES)STRONG-ARM TACTIC Jones, driving back Ryan Bader with an elbow strike last year, has dominated foes with quickness and a 7-foot wingspan.PHOTOJIM KEMPER/ZUFFA LLC/GETTY IMAGES (OVEREEM)