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UFC 87 Preview: Jon Jones

At 21, Jon Jones has won an Iowa state high school wrestling championship, a National Junior College championship, holds a 5-0 MMA record and as far as I know is still the reigning Battle Cage Xtreme / USKBA 205lb. champion. He's been fighting professionally since April. Of this year.

He just signed a four-fight deal with the UFC, making him the youngest fighter under contract in the organization. And he's facing the also-undefeated Renzo Gracie-trained IFL product Andre Gusmao - on about a week's notice, replacing Tomasz Drwal - this Saturday in Minnesota. Check it:

Jones likens graduation from Battle Cage Xtreme to the UFC to stepping up from modified football to an NFL tryout. [Trainer Ryan] Ciotoli said Jones has signed a four-fight contract with the UFC. Saturday's bout, Jones said, will be worth $5,000, a sum to be doubled if he wins. Additional income comes in the form of an apparel deal he's signed with a leading MMA outfitter.

Jones said he last tasted defeat in an athletic contest during his sophomore year in college, a 4-3 wrestling setback absorbed from a top-ranked Iowa State opponent. Given the step up in class, is he prepared to deal with a loss?

"I don't even like to visualize myself losing. It's not even in my mind," he said.

"But all the best fighters in the world have at least one loss on their record. Some people say you're not tough until you get your butt kicked. If I were to (lose), I'm sure I would grow by it, make me realize even more how hard I have to train and how much I need to learn."

His opponent Saturday will be 31-year-old Brazilian Andre Gusmao, who fights out of, and instructs fighters in, New York City. Jones has studied his foe, respects his abilities, and anticipates stiff competition.

"I think it's good for me. I'm the underdog, the guy from Upstate New York who not a lot of people know about yet," he said.

Ciotoli, for one, has great confidence in his man.

"He's unbelievable. So athletic, great personality, and he's got a great mind for it," he said of Jones. "I've never heard of anybody getting to the UFC at this stage of his career; he's been fighting professionally for just three months. It's like a guy entering boxing and he's fighting in MSG (Madison Square Garden) right off the bat -- it just doesn't happen.

"I doubt I'll ever have a guy do that again."

Video of the aforementioned Massachusetts fight after the cut.

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