by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
The highlight will follow two men around for a long time – a spinning elbow off a caught kick, and the “Home Alone” moment of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva as he watched a 21-year-old newcomer named Jon Jones do something extraordinary.
The key, Jones says, is applying leverage – in fighting and life.
“I was always a loser at wrestling,” Jones told MMAWeekly Radio about his first year of wrestling in seventh grade. “But once I started wrestling, I became obsessed.”
Jones went on to excel in Greco Roman, becoming an All American in his senior year of college and winning several state and national titles.
MMA grabbed him the same way Greco had, but there were tough choices at the end of his time at Iowa Central Community College. His fiancé was pregnant, and the dream of fighting didn’t sync with being a stable provider. A talk with his manager wasn’t all that encouraging.
“He was like, ‘John, I think you have potential, but to be honest, the first year as a fighter, that’s the worst year,'” Jones said. “You really don’t make any money. You’re going to make $300 here, $300 there.”
But as Jones showed in his fight with Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94, a little shift in balance can change everything.
Putting his rational side on the backburner, Jones went to work on an MMA career. In less than a year, he racked up five victories in small MMA shows, attracting the attention of Silva. At UFC 87, he handed tough newcomer Andre Gusmao his first defeat, tossing the Jiu-Jitsu expert around the cage. He was unpredictable – that spinning elbow was there, along with the Greco takedowns. Jones surprised Gusmao and the Minnesota crowd.
“Who is this kid?” they thought.
When word came down that he would face the runner-up of the first “Ultimate Fighter,” Jones questioned the promotion’s motives, but took the fight anyway. There couldn’t be a bigger opportunity to make his name.
“‘You’re fighting Bonnar?'” Jones said of friend’s reactions to the news. “They made him sound like he was frigging made of steel – the Terminator or something.”
“I realized from watching him – some of the fights he’s lost – he loses when guys take it to him. He doesn’t do good when he’s behind. He starts to lose all the technique he has.”
It took one round – complete with the spinning elbow and an air-express takedown of Bonnar – for Jones to realize his confidence was justified.
“People think it takes a lot of power and strength and explosiveness to do these moves, but really it’s just timing and having good technique,” said Jones. “When you do the move just right, the guy feels like a feather. It’s just a matter of catching him at the right time.”
During the fight, Bonnar kept pushing into him – a no-no in Jones’ world of Greco Roman.
“It was almost like he was asking for it every time,” he said. “I had no clue it was going to go that well. After the first round, I was like, holy (expletive), I’m beating Stephan Bonnar right now.”
After “80,000” viewings of the fight, Jones sees a lot of room for improvement as he moves on to his next challenge. He says names like Lyoto Machida, Rampage Jackson, and Brandon Vera have been tossed in his direction, but of those three, Vera seems the only plausible candidate.
It’s been nothing less than a meteoric rise for the New York resident. He’s glad he didn’t answer to practicality – timing was on his side.
“It’s just so unexpected,” he said. “I don’t take it for granted.”