Jon Jones is not your average 21-year-old.
In 2008, the former state champion and junior college national champion wrestler signed a four-fight contract with the UFC, making him the youngest UFC fighter on roster at that time. Jones had captured six professional wins against unknown competition between April and July of last year before making his UFC debut in August.
"Bones" actually planned on matriculating to a four year college after graduating with his Associate’s Degree, but his plans quickly changed when the big league came knocking on his door.
Such is the case for athletes ahead of the curve.
His UFC debut came against Andre Gusmao at UFC 87. Jones took the fight on three weeks notice as a late replacement for Tomasz Drwal. He went straight to work on the the former IFL standout, dismantling him with takedowns and unorthodox striking which showcased some flashier moves such as spinning elbows and a spinning back kick.
In his sophomore effort, Jones would go on to dominate the venerable Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94. The former Ultimate Fighter finalist was on the receiving end of a barrage of slick Greco throws, a spinning elbow that dropped him and a suplex for good measure.
Despite an empty gas tank towards the end of the fight, anyone who had dismissed Jones as a one-hit wonder was quickly reconsidering their position.
"As far as the Bonnar fight, a lot of people said I gassed out a lot," said Jones. "Only I know how I really felt. I really started to realize, especially in the third round, that I really had that fight won. Call it my lack of experience, but I was satisfied with winning the fight which caused me to back up more."
"My corner told me to use my push kick more and keep my hands up. All Bonnar could do was swing and hope he could pull something off. I really wasn’t that tired. I was just trying not to get caught. I was satisfied with the win and was playing smart. Next time, it will be different."
"And just for the record, Bonnar was exhausted too. It was just a grueling fight. And I was supposed to get my ass kicked. I pull off a unanimous decision over Stephan Bonnar and people are talking about my cardio. I should be somewhat tired. I am not superman -- yet (laughs)."
Jones now carries an 8-0 record as a professional mixed martial artist, with five wins by knockout. What is most impressive is that instead of smothering opponents with his wrestling ability, he became branded as a dangerous striker almost immediately.
Now the biggest stage in all of MMA awaits Jon Jones as he takes on Jake O’Brien at UFC 100.
For Jones, he feels blessed to be on the historic card and if things go according to plan, his birthday present to himself –- which is one week after UFC 100 -– will be a 9-0 record.
"It’s an absolute blessing to be on this card. There is no other way to explain it when there are so many other big name established fighters. I believe I got on the card because of my style of fighting. I go out there and I like to mix it up and throw strikes that people don’t see coming."
"I realize it’s entertaining for the audience to see strikes that you don’t see in your everyday MMA match. So the UFC wanted to add a little flair and excitement to the undercard. I am honored they chose me."
While his fight with Jake O’Brien is on the undercard, Jones is confident that his performance will have the fight making its way onto the pay-per-view.
"Getting on the main card will help out with sponsors and get me more exposure. I am hoping something magical happens out there and the fight gets shown. I have some new tricks to show the fans. If you watch from the Gusmao fight to the Bonnar fight you will see a huge difference in technique, form and knowledge."
"I am growing every day, like wildfire. I have no clue how much better I’ve gotten until I go out there and pull the trigger again. I am on that exponential learning curve right now so with each fight, I will just get better and better. I am looking forward to going out there and showing it."
Jones realizes that the light heavyweight division is one of most stacked in the organization. When talk turned to what would allow him to stand apart, the young man who learned a great deal of his fight style from watching YouTube videos had a specific answer.
"My ability to rapidly absorb new information and add new tools to my arsenal will effectively set me apart. A lot of guys who have been in the UFC who have been around for years have their set game plan and strategies. I don’t really have a game plan or strategy yet."
"I don’t have a set way of fighting. I am learning how to fight in the UFC which is insane. This is the biggest stage in the world and I am still learning how to fight and practicing on world class athletes in the process."
"That has helped me out so much. I want to be thrown into deep waters every fight. I’m a freak about taking in new techniques, remembering old ones and combining it all together. I am fresh in this sport. I have a fresh head, a fresh chin and a fresh body. I am just ready to go out there and abuse some people."
Jones went on to explain about his personal YouTube phenomenon.
"When I first started out I didn’t have the best coaching staff so I took things into my own hands. I had to find techniques that worked so that is where the YouTube videos came in. I started out by watching K-1 videos to see how they kicked, all the angles, and went from there.
"It is a good idea for young fighters to go beyond the things they can learn in the gym. Do your own research. I was taught by some of the best guys in the world. I really sat up and took notice and it paid off. It’s a new era with the Internet, so why not take advantage?"
Jones' uninhibited confidence recently extended to him making statements about current light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida which left many asking, "Who does Jon Jones think he is?"
For Jones, all the uproar left him slightly confused.
"I was a bit disappointed in how people perceived my comments. I don’t get online much to read negative stuff but one of my buddies called me and said there were a lot of people commenting about the Machida thing."
"The bottom line is I am a fighter. If you ask me a question about another fighter I am going to respect the other guy but I am not going to sit there and stroke anyone’s ego. I am not going to talk about how great Machida is, how he has started his own era, or say he can’t be beat."
"How are you going to ask me about some other fighter and expect me to back down?"
"I am going to tell you that I can beat this guy; that I know I can beat this guy. If you ask me the same question about Fedor, I have to say that I am going to beat the guy. That’s just the way it has to be. It doesn’t mean I think I am the greatest fighter alive."
"A fighter needs ultimate confidence. If you want to win you have to believe at your core that you can win at all times. Even if the fight doesn’t happen for two or three years maintaining complete confidence is the key. You have to know with all your heart. The saying, ‘In order to achieve you must believe’ is something I take seriously. The body achieves what the mind believes."
Jones doesn’t want his confidence to come across as cockiness. What he does want is for fans of MMA to know just how seriously he takes his mixed martial arts.
"I’m trying to be cocky and speak ahead of myself. Obviously I am not saying I can beat Machida right now but when the UFC gives me a fight like that, I am going to be at that level, and I am going to believe 100% that I am going to kick his butt."
"This is just more then just a sport for me. I think of myself as a modern day warrior. When I step in that gym I am extremely serious everyday. I am teaching myself how to think like a martial artist and truly live the life of a martial artist."
"I am so into this and involved in this that I look to be a modern day Samurai warrior. I have left behind the old Jon Jones, the guy that went out and just did whatever. Those that know me now look at me as a martial artist and a fighter. I have learned to embrace it for what it is."
Back to his UFC 100 opponent, Jones is very excited about his fight with Jake O’Brien. Jones wants to give the former heavyweight fighter a proper introduction to the light heavyweight division and he thinks his style is the perfect one to do that.
"The first component of my strategy is to stay on my feet and outstrike him. I have worked on my takedown defense a lot. I think it’s going to be hard for him to take me down. He is used to fighting big, slow heavyweights. I will be a different animal. I will be something he has never seen before with my striking and speed."
"I will also look to mix it up in the wrestling department. Gusmao and Bonnar are both good at jiu-jitsu so my game plan was to take them down, score some points and not be on the ground for an extended period of time."
"It’s different with O’Brien because I can take him down, get into scrambles with him, roll with him, go for submissions and reversals and not worry about some slick Gracie technique that I haven’t seen before."
"I will fight him a lot differently. You will get to see a lot more of my fight style. You will see my ground game. You will get to see my takedowns, my takedown defense. I won’t know how strong he truly is until I grab him but I am very confident in my strength."
The third time could be the charm for Jones at UFC 100. If he can avoid the double leg takedown and punching power of O’Brien he will be 3-0 inside the Octagon and looking toward brawls with fighters in the top 10 of the division. But Jones isn’t too worried about who he fights next.
"I think of it as destiny for the most part. After the O’Brien fight is over it will be the UFC’s decision to either kick it up a notch or baby me and take it slow and let me learn and go that route. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. Let’s say they give me a Forrest Griffin next. That is going to elevate me so much. Now I am forced to train at a whole different level. It will push me to improve my striking, blocking, Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu. Stepping in the cage with the best guys in the world is eventually going to make me the best fighter and athlete I can be."
When asked what Jones saw in his future the picture of success was crystal clear in his mind.
"I visualize myself with a belt around my waist. You have to set your intentions and make it a reality. You have to think positive all the times, not just some of the time. Paint a very specific picture of what success looks like your mind. You create your own success. It is what the most successful people in the world do to achieve unlimited abundance."
In the UFC success comes one fight at a time. For Jones, his future success starts this Saturday night on the biggest stage to date.