After a busy day that was slowed by an ice storm and a downed tree, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones' final stop on his whirlwind media tour of Baltimore was a stones throw away from the arena where he will fight Glover Teixeira on April 26.
The road to the April 26 fight date for Jones and Teixeira was anything but smooth. Reports had the fight between the champion and the No. 2 ranked contender set for UFC 169, UFC 170 and UFC 171 before it was finally locked in as the headliner for UFC 172. Jones addressed why the fight was repeatedly moved, "It's been well documented that we postponed a lot of different events that I was supposed to be in. The reason being I really just wanted to be home for the holidays. I felt like after that (Alexander) Gustafsson fight it was important for me to be happy and be centered and I feel like I am there now."
UFC 172 will mark the promotion's first foray into Maryland, and when UFC president Dana White offered the headlining spot to Jones in the new market, he jumped at the chance, "The date just made a lot of sense," Jones said. "Being the first event in Baltimore meant a lot. Right now I'm the first to do a lot of things in the sport, and being first really means a lot to me."
Being the first fighter to headline a Baltimore, Maryland UFC fight card had some other benefits for Jones as well, "When I found out that it had never been done before, I was like, that's kind of cool," said Jones. " Then it's like, your brother's (Arthur) a Baltimore Raven, so that's kind of cool. Then it's close to New York state too so people can drive and support you, that's kind of cool. It just seemed like a no brainer."
Jones has spent a fair amount of time in Baltimore and has attended a few Ravens games at M&T Bank Stadium, not far from the Baltimore Arena, where he will face Teixeira in April. Jones, who was born in Rochester (NY), went so far as to group Baltimore in with his adopted hometowns. In addition to Baltimore, that list includes the town he grew up in, Endicott (NY), the town he trains in, Albuquerque (NM), and the town he went to college in, Fort Dodge (IA).
With that in mind, Jones feels that the crowd that will come out to see him fight Teixeira in his most recently adopted hometown will give him a home-field advantage over the Brazilian born Teixeira, "I feel a lot of support here. Whenever I go to football games, I feel like I'm amongst my support base. I know I have a lot of support from the Baltimore Ravens' fans and the people of Baltimore right now."
Most people would probably feel some pressure heading into the situation Jones will find himself in when he steps into the Octagon at UFC 172, but the 26-year-old UFC champion isn't most people. He revealed that he will feel no extra pressure in being the headliner in a new market, "I need to continue just being who I am," Jones said. "I think that I carry the brand well, so I'm not going to pressure myself."
Along with UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, Jones is one of the more marketable stars currently active on the promotion's roster. Former welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre is in a state of semi-retirement. Former middleweight champion Anderson Silva is recovering from a broken leg, and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez in on the mend from shoulder surgery.
The expectation would be that the UFC would want to capitalize on Jones' marketability and push his upcoming seventh title defense with gusto. If that doesn't happen, Jones doesn't seem as if he will be all that surprised. When asked where he thought he stood in the current landscape of UFC marketing Jones was unsure and unworried, "We don't always see
eye to eye with the UFC, so I don't know if they are always necessarily pushing me and whether that's a smart idea on their end or not, who knows? I do know that they are pushing Ronda Rousey really hard, and she's gotten a lot of great opportunities. I don't know what they're going to do, but I'm pushing myself all the time so, I'm not really worried."
(Kevin C. Cox)
When asked why he thought that was, why a fighter that has broken multiple records in his division, and is currently sitting at No. 1 in the UFC's pound-for-pound rankings wouldn't be the UFC's most heavily promoted fighter, Jones responded, "I know that I'm a lot different from some of the guys from the past. Guys like Chuck Liddell, and guys like Matt Hughes that would just get up and do anything, anytime, and never voice their opinion. I'm trying to change a lot of things in the game. Making sure the fighters are being respected, making sure our own brands are being respected, things like that. We just don't always see eye to eye on everything, either way it works out."
That pound-for-pound ranking is something that Jones is proud of, "It is very rewarding, it makes me feel like I earned something, being number one in the world is a rare thing, I'm aware of that, and it's something that I cherish a lot."
As much as he cherishes and is proud of that ranking, Jones knows that the ranking can be a fleeting thing and that he will ultimately be judged by what he does inside the Octagon, "I know that it's just words. Just like the belt is just a material thing. At the end of the day, I need to go out there and win fights. I need to go out there and train hard. I need to remain this ambitious fighter that I always have been because titles mean nothing when it comes to the event."
For those that scoff at the idea of the UFC belt just being a material thing, Jones made it clear that the title of champion that goes along with that belt is what is really important to him. That title also forced him to change in some ways, "I look at the belt as a material thing, but being the champion means so much more. Being the champion did change my psychology. I had to start working harder; I had to start training like a champion. I had to make a conscious decision to out train everyone in my gym every day."
Jones also had to change some other things in his life when he captured the title in March 2011 by laying a beating on Mauricio Rua at UFC 128. "I can't tweet what everyone else tweets. I can't post pictures I want to post. I can't talk about some of the topics that I would like to talk about. I have to kind of put parts of myself on the back shelf in order to represent the word champion. It means a lot to me to be a champion both inside the Octagon and outside the Octagon. It's like a lifestyle to me."
Let's not forget that Jones made those changes in his life before the age of 24.
Now 26, Jones will face the 34-year-old Teixeira, a man who is riding a 20-fight winning streak. Jones admitted that he's very confident going into the fight, and one of the reasons for that confidence is where he is in his career compared to Teixeira, "There's nothing that Glover can do in his training that's going to completely morph who he is," Jones said. "He can always learn a new move, but at his age, at this point in his career, mind you I'm just starting, I'm just five years into the game. I just started learning how to fight five years ago; Glover's been doing this since I was in high school. So, if he was meant to be amazing and great at this, he would have already been there, and I believe in this."
Jones made it clear that he isn't disrespecting Teixeira or dismissing him as a dangerous opponent, "I still have to respect him, and I have to remember that he can learn some new techniques for this fight, but he's still the same guy. His speed won't get that much faster, his strength, everything who he is is still going to be who he is."
After stating his opinion on Teixeira, Jones offered his take on where he stands in his development as a fighter, "With me I do feel that I'm a new fighter with a new attitude, different outlook on the sport, different outlook on myself, and I'm still like a baby, I feel like I'm a toddler in this sport, fighting a guy that's very set in his own ways."
The champion knows that the belt he possesses is something that Teixeira is going to be focused on, and that focus will have him training harder than he has ever trained, and looking for any competitive advantage he can find before April 26, "As a champion I know what I have to do," Jones said when addressing the mindset of a fighter challenging for his title. "I'm an extremely dangerous, motivated person. Every time someone fights the champ they have the best training camp of their life. The hire all these new trainers and a nutritionist, and they do all the things they weren't doing before to have the opportunity of a lifetime, and I'm aware of that. So, what I do is that I top them with my coaches, with my training, with my ambition, with my enthusiasm for the sport. I had a lot of guys try, and a lot of guys come up short. I'm just really, really starting to believe in my coaching staff, and the program we have."
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That program is a lot more structured than you would believe if you have seen the free-flowing Jones in action inside the Octagon. Maneuvers that look as if they are performed off the cuff are really the result of a detailed game plan.
Jones broke down how he prepares for a fight, and suffice it to say he's not just doing drills, cardio and strength and conditioning, "I game plan and strategize huge," Jones said. "First I come up with a fight doctrine, which is a list of how the fight should go. What makes me a guy that should beat him, what makes him a guy that could possibly beat me. After I have the fight doctrine together, I come up with strategy, then I come up with tactics to carry out the strategy, and I just study, study, study. I study more than, I think, anybody else in the sport does. I really, really feel as if, by the time the fight comes, I know the athlete I'm going up against as well as his coaches."
As for training camp, Jones will begin prepping for the Teixeira fight on February 10, heading to Albuquerque to work with the team at Jackson's MMA.
That training is a bit different than some of his cohorts in the world of mixed martial arts. Where some fighters take a more is always better approach to training, Jones disagrees with that thinking, "I'm more like a sprint kind of guy. I like to live life more normally, very happily, and then when it's time to get down to business, I just need to get my body in shape for the task, because my mind is always set on being a martial artist."
When discussing those fighters that are always in the gym, Jones said, "Training every day is not what makes you better, it's having quality training sessions, training to get better at something, training for a goal. Training specifically for Glover Teixeira, I'm not training just to be in the gym thinking I'm outworking other people. When you do that, you're actually just dragging yourself into the mud."
Jones doesn't just look to avoid dragging himself through the mud in his physical training; he looks to avoid that when he mentally prepares for a fight as well. One of the things that Jones always has in his head is a simple phrase that his high school wrestling coach would use. That phrase, according to Jones was, "You're all right."
Those simple words may not seem like much, but according to Jones, they have helped him through some rough times, "That has gotten me through life. I've been through a lot of stuff growing up that I've never shared publically, but my life hasn't always been sunshine and rainbows, but I've always told myself that I'm all right and that I can do it."
The light heavyweight champion offered some examples where that phrase from his days at Union-Endicott High School, "Being a college dropout, I'm all right, I can do it. Having a kid at age 19, I'm all right, I can do it. Everyone telling me that I'll never be UFC champion, I'm all right, I can do it. Everyone telling me that I'm getting knocked out by this guy, knocked out by that guy, I'm all right, I can do it. What that means to me is that you should never slow down. Go out and get whatever you want and don't feel sorry for yourself, and just strive, and just keep pushing forward. It's simple, but it's what I live with. I even preach it to my daughters."
Another part of Jones' camp is the study of film. While Jones said he rarely watches film of his own fights, saving that for when he is feeling like he is in a slump or in need of a jolt of inspiration, he does watch copious amounts of film on his opponents, "We sit there and we watch a fight over and over again," Jones said.
Along with one of his coaches at Jackson's, Jones said that the approach is to really break down every move his upcoming opponent makes. According to Jones, the conversation is something along the lines of, "Look at the way he did this, look at the way he lunges, look at the way he steps, look what he does first, what's his first attack, does he lunge, does he step in gently, when he hugs you is his head going to be on the right or on the left."
Following the video breakdown it's time to drill what was discovered on the video. The end result, according to Jones, "I say all the time, I'm not the strongest fighter, but the way I come mentally prepared for what I'm going to getting myself into has helped me get through all these amazing guys who've been doing this a long time."
As UFC 172 approaches it will be interesting to see how the UFC markets this fight. Jones is a known quantity both inside and outside the world of mixed martial arts. The same cannot be said of Teixeira. When asked how he would sell this fight to the fans, Jones pointed to something that fans of any sport can understand, unbeaten streaks, "The first thing I think about is that neither one of us has lost - I really consider myself undefeated - and he hasn't lost in a long time, in a very long time," Jones said, "So, you have two guys in their stride that are getting ready to go at it. He hasn't lost in a very long time, and maybe people are thinking that he isn't meant to lose, and I'm sure a lot of people out there are thinking that Jon Jones isn't meant to lose either. One of us is going to lose, and that's the interesting part of it. Two guys that don't lose, one of us is going to lose."
While Jones does believe that he will be the rooting favorite in Baltimore, we have seen him booed on more than one occasion when he stepped into the Octagon on fight night. Jones clearly has his fair share of detractors, but whether they dislike Jon Jones the man or what Jones represents as a wildly successful champion, that's up for conjecture. Jones was asked his opinion on that, and he responded, "I think that's a part of it, but I can't control that. I try and be a solid guy, I try and be an honest guy, and I try and be myself, and I have a strong fan base, but I also have a lot of haters. It comes with the job. My job is to continue to entertain them, and to try not to take the things they say against me personally and to realize that they never really meant me in person, and if they did they probably wouldn't hate me any more. I'm very approachable. I just think that sometimes people just don't like to see people win or hold onto that position. It's the same reason that some people hate the Yankees, or hate any other winning program. People say everybody loves a winner, that's not true."