New York -- It doesn't seem like Jon Jones ever gets tired of talking about what it's like to be at the top of his division in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Then again, why would he be? The UFC light heavyweight champion has defeated everyone he's faced, defended his belt a record six straight times and his title reign has just extended past three years.
Just this week alone -- in the pre-fight lead up to UFC 172 where he will face Glover Teixeira at Baltimore Arena -- Jones will make the rounds at ESPN, FOX Sports 1, and the hit ABC morning TV show Kelly and Michael. Sprinkle in the phone interviews for various websites, newspapers and radio stations, and the total number of appearances will be somewhere between 50-60.
One of those stops included a UFC media luncheon at Rosa Mexicano in lower Manhattan on Monday afternoon. While seated among reporters, his manager Malki Kawa, striking coach Brandon Gibson and a few others, including William C. Rhoden of The New York Times, "Bones" was soaking in all the attention, while talking for about an hour about "greatness," his legacy and striving to inspire others. The winner of 10 straight fights even admitted to his own arrogance.
Looking back at where his reign began, the 26-year-old fighter recalled the moment he locked it into his head that he would become champ. It was back at UFC 128 in Newark, NJ. The night he defeated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua for the UFC light heavyweight title.
"It was Ninja Rua standing behind Shogun as Shogun was walking to the cage," Jones said, describing the memory to reporters. "I had gotten to the Octagon first because I was the contender and Shogun and Ninja were walking to the cage. I looked at the big monitor of Shogun coming out of the tunnel and I'll never forget Ninja having the belt in his hands and he had this big smile on his face and he was waving the belt."
"Shogun was doing this (Jones shadowboxes) and rolling his wrists and stuff. When I saw that belt over Shogun's head as I was standing in the Octagon I made up my mind that no matter what happened, no matter how he hit me, or what he broke, I was not leaving without that belt. Ninja reminded me at that very moment: why I trained so hard, why I was there. He reminded me that the experience was real and that this was for the opportunity to be number one in the world at something."
Since that night on March 19, 2011, Jones has not looked back. He has become arguably, the greatest mixed marital artist in the sport and has finished four out of his six title-fight opponents while seeking to transcend the sport of MMA by obtaining big sponsorship deals from Gatorade and Nike. Knowing that other fighters are gunning for his spot, and because of his experience at UFC 128, Jones said he "never forgets that moment" and is always mindful that other fighters can be motivated as much as he was that night.
"I never bring the belt to the Octagon with me because of that," said the 19-1 fighter about his superstitious pre-fight ritual. "I don't want to inspire somebody last minute." Many fighters might overlook a detail like that. Not Jones. Even though he is widely considered the best in his sport, has the confidence that he can defeat whoever he faces and prepares as such, he will still make sure none of his opponents get a glimpse of his belt to become extra motivated on fight night. Unique would be an understatement in describing his pattern of thinking. You would probably never see the man pick up any pennies that are face down on fight night either, for fear of bad luck.
Jones appeared very comfortable in the sit-down, intimate setting and was laughing and smiling and told everyone attending how much he appreciated their attendance. The No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound UFC fighter opened up to MMAmania.com about hitting the three-year mark as champion.
"Just past the three-year mark and I feel great," Jones said. "I still feel like a rookie. Fighting at the highest level of the UFC is an honor and it's something that I want to keep forever. I feel as if as long as I stay passionate and innovative and I'm always looking for ways to grow, that I should stay at this level no problem."
At only 26 years of age, the champion is still looking to embark on a path that sets him apart from all others. He said he "definitely" eyes the title streaks of former champions George St-Pierre and Anderson Silva. In order to eclipse both fighter's streaks Jones would have to defend his belt another five times.
The interesting thing about how the New York native heads into his fights now, as opposed to before he was champion, is that he doesn't "channel that hunger" he mentioned he possessed heading into the title fight with Shogun. Jones mentioned "maturity" and likened each of his fights to the equivalent of playing "in the Pro Bowl with only the top dogs." Now that he is always facing a top contender, for him, it's about putting it into perspective where he is at both mentally, and physically, and already knowing what he has to do to continue to maintain the level he has achieved in the sport.
"What I do, is I just realize I'm fighting the best guys," Jones explained to MMAmania.com. "I'm fighting the number one contender. It's just the level I'm competing at now that I'm comfortable with. I don't feel like I have to get all crazy with it. It's just the level I've been fighting at now. For three years now. So, it's like the fast lane is my comfort zone now. I want to keep it there. I don't want to be in the UFC fighting as a gatekeeper or anything like that. The No. 1 guy is what I'm used to. I've obviously been able to keep up at that pace and I'm grateful I'm at that pace. It's the only pace I want to fight at. I definitely don't have the excitement I had before I had it (the title) but now I just have the comfort of being in this fast lane. Looking at it as my lane."
None have been successful in knocking Jones from his "lane." His only blemish on his record is the result of a disqualification in a fight with Matt Hamill that he was dominating, so naturally he "considers himself undefeated." The only man to come close to ending Jones run as the 205-pound king was Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 last September. It was by far the toughest test of his career, and many experts thought the Swede had won, but Jones received the judges unanimous decision.
"I've dominated every opponent pretty much my whole career and having the fight with Gustafsson, I got a taste of what it would be like if I had actually lost," he said, which is not something you hear very often from a mixed martial artist.
Jones said the fight was "big for the legacy," but that was about as close as he came to giving Gustafsson a compliment. The talk of Gustafsson coming close to defeating him is bothersome to Jones, and he was visibly irritated talking about "The Mauler."
"Gustafsson had every chance to be the champion," Jones stated. "He allowed me to be the champion. Well, I decided that I would be the champion, I took over. That's the thing that bothers me about the Gustafsson fight so much, it's almost like people want an excuse for why Gustafsson lost but no one really has an excuse, other than: I wanted it more. I took over. You look at a football game where the kicker made a 50 yard field goal and won the game that way, or a buzzer shot in a basketball game. To me, it doesn't matter how close the fight was. I won. I took over when it mattered in the championship rounds."
"This guy gets so much praise," said the annoyed champion. "Having a close fight with me is the best thing he has ever done. I think he is living off of it and feeding off of it and loving it. It's still a defeat. The guy is driving around on a new motorcycle with a new Rolex like he's the champ. Dude you lost. You still lost. You have so much pride from coming close to me. I would be pissed if I were him."
The people that Jones were alluding too would be the detractors, those who thought Gustafsson won, or those who simply can't stand the champion; Within this three-year reign as champ he has accrued a hefty amount of the latter. He used to care a great deal about the opinion of others, but now the six-year veteran said he has gotten to a point where he has "just stopped caring" about what others may or may not say.
"I think a lot of people like to see greatness fall or people who are doing great things fall," Jones suggested. "That's just the way it is. It's the reason a lot of people don't like Lebron. It's the reason a lot of people don't like the Yankees and it's the reason a lot of people started to hate GSP towards the end. It's the reason people started hating Anderson Silva. It's natural for people to root for the underdog. Me knowing this, I stay positive and I use this desire that people have to see me lose as my fire."
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance in all of sports. We certainly know that Jones has plenty of the former and has often been accused of having the latter. Taking a new and refreshing stance on the subject, the champion did not sugarcoat the topic and fully admitted to his cockiness and how he views himself above other competitors.
"I notice that I'm full of myself and I'm arrogant to some degree, but it's honestly only when it comes to talking about MMA," Jones revealed. "I mean literally I do the wildest stuff and I don't think I live like a celebrity at all. My friends are normal people, normal dudes that do the most normal stuff all the time. When it comes to MMA there is a big chip on my shoulder. There is a way that I look at myself and I think that is really, really important and it's something I'm not really apologetic for. And as I get older, and I win more, I start to embrace it more. The biggest thing is to not be apologetic for it and realize that it is a big part of the reason I'm able to perform out there. The moment I let fear seep in is the moment that the fights will start to get closer and closer. I think it's important to be an absolute believer and to have that confidence."
Next in line to get a crack at Jones is the 21-2 Brazilian, Texeira. Jones was nothing but respectful of his next opponent, who has won 19 straight fights, calling him a " true total package" and said he is "the reason" he didn't give Gustafsson the rematch, because Texeira is "a whole different problem."
What if this fight goes the distance like the last one? Is the youngest fighter to win a UFC championship, the driver in his own "lane" putting extra pressure on himself to get the finish in Baltimore?
"I think what I've been able to do is extraordinary," Jones said. "Finishing opponents... It almost seems so surreal, but at the same time you have to look at finishing fights as a bonus. I know how hard my job is. I know how hard my opponents are training and that's why when you stop one of them it's almost extra. That's the standard that I've set is doing the extra and things like that. So giving the fans extra I think I almost spoil the fans by finishing all these fighters. To sum it all up: Glover being such a winner and having such a great record, any victory would be gratifying. As long as I'm healthy."
Texeira hasn't said much about Jones in the lead up to UFC 172, which may be why Jones has been so complimentary toward him. As for the chatty Phil Davis and Daniel Cormier, who have had plenty to say about the champion, especially Davis, who has said more about Jones than his actual opponent, Anthony Johnson, the champion gave his thoughts on the matter.
"When you fight me you are really at your judgement day," Jones proclaimed. "You are really at that moment in your career where you are going to go big or go home. I think peoples' emotions getting involved is just inevitable."
With a victory over Texeira, Jones will extend his record to seven-straight title defenses. Nowadays, records seem to be boring for the fighter, who once was so excited he ran into his striking coach, Brandon Gibson's room naked in the middle of the night to shout at combinations prior to the Lyoto Machida fight at UFC 140. He's out for more than just fighting, he "wants to inspire as many people as possible," the way he has been inspired by others. "That's what it's really all about," he said.
Always a positive thinker and visualizer, Jones said his fiance's mom gave him the initial push, before becoming "obsessed" with Tony Robbins and others who "thought big and saw big things for themselves." He has met Lebron James, and spent time with boxing legend Bernard Hopkins, who he said hammered home the point that "greatness doesn't have to fall." He truly believes he can retire without ever being defeated "if he really wants it."
It's obvious when you hear him talk that Jones feels he is truly meant for greater things than being the best fighter on the planet.
"I've already broken records and it doesn't do that much for me," Jones deadpanned. "It doesn't make me feel cool. It's great to set my mind to something and accomplish it, but at this point I know what it's like to be on top, be the pound-for-pound number one and all this stuff. I've experienced it all now."
The last time he walked out to the Octagon his NIKE shirt was emblazoned with "Not quite human," what will it say this time around?
"We got some stuff," Jones teased with a smile. "I think the winner's tee is going to be really cool for this fight. I'm excited to put it on after the fight and let that go out."
If you didn't catch it, the self-admitted arrogant fighter said "winner's tee." In his head the fight is over and he has already won. A perfect example of what life is like in the Jones "lane."