At this point in his career, Jon Jones is quite comfortable with his identity.
As his UFC 159 showdown with Chael Sonnen approaches, Jones knows he can’t please everyone, and the New York native is just fine with that.
“I can’t afford to worry about what people think. I’m doing something pretty extraordinary,” Jones said during a recent conference call. “A lot of people aren’t going to be happy for you. My dad taught me that at a young age. That’s how it works -- I’m comfortable with it.”
Jones attributes some of the negativity to his recognizable list of victims. Dating back to when he defeated Mauricio Rua at UFC 128 to become the youngest champion in promotion history, “Jonny Bones” has made his mark by defeating some of the sport’s most popular stars. Since defeating “Shogun,” Jones has bested Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort during a dominant title reign. Of that list, Rua, Jackson and Belfort are particularly revered by fans.
“Of course people want to see the new guy lose to the guy they’ve been loving for years -- when I beat people’s heroes back-to-back-to-back [it makes them upset]. People love to see a guy get built up to be broken down,” Jones said. “I think that’s why they enjoyed my DWI so much. It happens; I’m comfortable with it. When I come home to a beautiful house, my family being happy, it makes it all worth it. People can hate me as much as he want.”
As impressive as Jones’ light heavyweight resume is already, the Jackson’s MMA product has his sights set on eclipsing Tito Ortiz’s record for title defenses in the division, and he wants to do it before 2013 has concluded. Ortiz defended his 205-pound belt five times; Jones currently has four successful defenses. After that, things could get even more interesting.
“One thing I’ve been contemplating is first tying Tito Ortiz and then establishing that record of most wins in my next fight in November, and then after that fight in November, entertaining superfights and heavyweight fights,” he said.
However, the champion offered no further comment when asked by a reporter if Anderson Silva would be his first targeted superfight.
“I said what I said,” Jones replied.
Before looking too far ahead, Jones must take care of Sonnen at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Saturday night. While his rival coach on “The Ultimate Fighter 17” repeatedly praised Jones’ abilities during the call, it did little to change the champion’s focus.
“I can’t afford to worry or feel any kind of feelings of him being kind or anything,” Jones said. “The thought of someone trying to take my name away from me, I take that very personally. Someone’s trying to take away my dream. The thought of going home without my belt keeps me angry.”
An NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Oregon, Sonnen became a title contender in the middleweight division on the strength of his takedowns and relentless top game, most famously getting the better of Anderson Silva for four and half rounds at UFC 117 before submitting to a triangle armbar in the final stanza. Jones, a junior college national champion at Iowa Central Community College, has made a habit of outwrestling opponents with more celebrated credentials.
Still, the 25 year old has spent some time preparing for the possibility that Sonnen will be able to get him to the canvas.
“I worked on my bottom game a lot more than I have any other camp. When I fought other wrestlers in the past, I was able to mesmerize them and not let them use their wrestling, where Chael is a guy who shoots without putting much thought into it. He almost does it automatically,” Jones said. “I’m comfortable with the idea of fighting off my back and I'm prepared to do so.
“The storyline is always his wrestling, his wrestling, his wrestling,” Jones added. “It was that way with [Vladimir] Matyushenko, Ryan Bader and Rashad Evans. I don’t think anyone respects my wrestling at all. Maybe I'll take him down more than he'll take me down. You never know. I'm excited to go out there and prove my critics wrong again about me being this inferior wrestler.”
Sonnen has done his share of instigating since last year, when Jones refused to fight him on short notice at UFC 151, ultimately leading to the cancellation of the entire event. However, Jones said emotions will not be a factor come fight night.
“When I get in the fight, I never fight over aggressively. I always stay calm and relaxed and composed. And that’s what it will be,” he said. “No matter what I say before a fight, what my opponent says, no matter if I appear to let someone in my head...When it comes to fight night it's relaxation, it's beauty, it's peace. Martial arts is what God put me on this planet to do.”