“I’m hungry to be the best. I know there’s a lot of guys out there saying that, but I truly mean it.” ~ Jon Jones to MMAWeekly Radio in June 2009.
It’s hard to believe that just over three years ago, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was a relative unknown stepping into his first fight in the Octagon.
Jones faced IFL veteran and Renzo Gracie student Andre Guzmao in his first fight, and if you asked anyone prior to that match-up who was the more explosive and exciting fighter, most would have pointed to the Brazilian.
When UFC 87 ended, Jon Jones had his first UFC victory, and now, in 2011, he’ll be going for his second straight defense of the 205-pound title against Lyoto Machida at UFC 140.
It’s been a crazy ride for Jones, who went being from relative unknown fighter from New York to one of the top stars in all of MMA. Jones has appeared on talk shows like the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel.
UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has said in the past that he’s not a huge fan of all the extra work involved with being one of the faces of the promotion, but he does it because that’s what’s expected of him.
For Jones, he embraces his role as champion, ambassador, and face of the UFC.
“I absolutely embrace the role. One of my main goals in the UFC is to try and change the sport for the better. Try to elevate the UFC organization to a different level, reach a different demographic, just to be someone great for our sport, to change things up and elevate us,” Jones said recently.
“I can’t do that refusing to do interviews, refusing to show up here, refusing to show up there. I get out there and get my face out there, I get my personality out there. That’s the only way I can start to make a change is make America aware of who I am.”
With the UFC already debuting on Fox, and the official deal kicking off for seven years beginning in 2012, mixed martial arts and particularly the UFC will obviously be hitting new markets and creating a lot of new fans.
The title belt around Jones’ waist not only signifies that he’s the best fighter in the world at 205 pounds, but he’s a model for the sport. Whether that means kids look up to him or want to be like him, or if he’s just the public face of the UFC, Jones accepts his role in whatever it is, and just wants to be himself in front of the cameras or behind the scenes.
“It’s important to always be yourself and always put your best foot forward. As far as my image, I try not to worry about my image too much. I’m just myself. I’m thinking that’s good enough,” Jones commented.
“It’s just something that I’m aware of, the importance of being myself in the most positive way.”
The other factor that goes into all of the pre-fight work that is piled onto Jones’ plate is how it may serve as a distraction to the real job at hand… beating Lyoto Machida.
UFC welterweight Nick Diaz has famously addressed the subject on numerous occasions, pointing out how press conferences and media calls take away from his training time. Now maybe Diaz is an extreme case, but there’s no doubt that the higher up a fighter is on the card, the more responsibilities they have to help sell the pay-per-view and peak interest in their fight.
Jones takes a different approach, however. He looks at his chance to speak to the fans or media as a chance to put himself out there and let people know exactly who he is. Jones doesn’t see it as a distraction or cutting into his training time.
As former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver famously said once upon a time, “If an interview costs you a fight, then you’ve already lost.”
“I feel like I handle it all well. I’ve been here handling it thus far, and that’s what I’m doing to continue to do,” Jones stated.
“It really doesn’t matter what I do before the fight, as long as my mind is in the right place, I’ll be fine.”
Jones will look to prove that again as he tries to go 4-0 in 2011 and close out the year right with a victory over Lyoto Machida at UFC 140 in Toronto.