This Saturday night (Feb. 5, 2011), Jon Jones (11-1) will face yet another tough challenge inside the Octagon when he clashes with undefeated prospect Ryan Bader (12-0) at UFC 126: "Silva vs. Belfort" in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The winner of this highly-anticipated light heavyweight fracas will move one step closer to a title shot, as well as clearly establish himself as the hottest fighter going in the crowded 205-pound division.
Jones tells Pro MMA Radio that at first he wasn't too interested in a scrap with The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 8 winner. That's because Bader comes from a wrestling background ... just like three previous opponents who he beat senseless.
"I wasn't too excited about it initially because the fact that Ryan Bader is a wrestler and I felt as if I had competed against enough wrestlers. Having (Vladimir) Matyushenko, Jake O'Brien and Matt Hamill in my first fights in the UFC, I was kind of ready to take a step in a different direction as far as fighting southpaws, strikers. Once I paid a little closer attention to Ryan Bader, however, I realized he was definitely a worthy opponent despite what his ranking was."
Despite his reputation as a flashy striker, "Bones" -- a New York state wrestling champion in high school and a national Junior College Champion (JUCO) at Iowa Central Community College -- has proven that he's no slouch when it comes to takedowns and takedown defense.
Unsurprisingly, Jones feels his wrestling skills and accomplishments are often overlooked.
"I definitely think that my wrestling is very underrated. I think people consider me as a Greco-Roman wrestler because maybe my frame or maybe it's because I strike a lot and people think that I'll be easy to take down," he said. "I have a lot of pride in my wrestling, it's something that I've been doing since I was a 14 year-old boy and now I consider myself a 23-year-old man. I guess I'll have to just keep working and keep proving people wrong. Eventually I think this whole hype train will go away. I'm not gonna say I'm a better wrestler than him, but when it comes to mixed martial arts, I'm a better mixed martial artist than him."
If Jones proves he is indeed a better mixed martial artist, it could be a long and painful night for "Darth."
Bader was a decorated NCAA Division I wrestler at Arizona State University (ASU), but in his knockout wins over Vinny Magalhaes and Keith Jardine, he displayed his raw punching power and quickly developing stand up skills. Nonetheless, Jones feels he's prepared to avoid Bader's overhand right.
"Every opponent that I've fought had striking power," he said. "The key is to not be hit and the key is to make sure if you do get hit to not get hit too often. I realize that Ryan Bader is very explosive, he has a very explosive right hand that comes very fast. I studied him a lot and I think I figured out a lot of his chemistry, when he throws it, on a countering level, on an offensive level. His right hand is a big weapon I have to look out for. His straight right is a weapon and he has a left hook."
The current number one contender for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight title, Rashad Evans, has trained with Jones at Greg Jackson's camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "Bones" says working with the former UFC champion has helped him immensely prepare for Bader.
"It's been extremely valuable on so many different levels. Not only is my confidence through the roof because I'm training with the second ranked light heavyweight in the world, but the technique of the fighting. Rashad Evans has a very fast double-leg dive. He has a lot more boxing combinations. He has probably the fastest overhand right in the sport, so my confidence is through the roof. My reaction time is at a really high level, so I'm being able to counter Rashad Evans' punches."
"I love hearing opinions. I get a lot of negative criticism on the Internet from fans, I get a lot of positives as well. I realize they're fans and there's really no bad press as long as people are talking about you. I don't mind hearing negativity, but when another fighter mentions me, that bothers me at times. I don't have Rashad Evans tweeting about how ‘Bader's gonna get his butt kicked.' I don't have any of my teammates tweeting whether Bader should be ready or not. I take it to a different level when fighters mention me."
Most fighters would brush off the incident and say those comments will have no impact on them. Jones, however, is using the comments as motivation.
"The day after that whole situation, I went to bed and woke up the next day and I worked myself so hard that I had to take off the next day because of the extra motivation that I got from that small situation. I think I compete better when I have people give me a reason to have a chip on my shoulder. It doesn't take much to get me going when it comes fight time."
And fight time is just a few days away. Tick-tock, Tick-tock.