Jon Jones, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s youngest-ever champion, will defend his light-heavyweight belt for the third time Saturday in Atlanta against his former training partner and ex-UFC champion Rashad Evans.
Evans is playing head games, boasting he learned the secrets to defeat the effectively unbeaten Jones (whose only loss is a disqualification for using excessive elbows on an opponent’s head) while training against Jones, 24, in Albuquerque.
The condescending vibe from Evans could well be a desperate measure by the talented striker given Jones’ gifts as a wrestler and improviser capable of producing the widest array of mixed martial arts moves.
So much that drives the UFC is based on the notion that anything can happen and anyone can lose in the octagon. How have you been able to avoid defeat?
“Hard work, and I have a passion that can’t be matched in my division. I don’t watch my opponents train or watch their personal lives, but I’m totally consumed with martial arts. I just want it more than anyone. It’s all I think about. I don’t look at fights as if ‘I have to stay unbeaten.’ I fight to win.”
Much has been made of your connection to Rashad. When did you guys first meet and how tight did your friendship become?
“We first met in 2009, and I don’t even remember when we started training together. We stopped by the beginning of 2011. I wouldn’t even say we were ever friends. We went to dinner once, and probably trained with each other eight or nine times. It’s really overblown. People are acting like he taught me to fight and that we had friendship bracelets. Some days he would get me. Some days I’d get him. We shared little psychological tips. At the time, he was the No. 2 contender and I wasn’t even a contender.”
Did you guys actually “fight” in training?
“It varied. The one day he dominated me, it wasn’t like I was thinking, ‘This is defining who I am.’ He was on top of me. I never thought it’d come back and be used against me. I’m glad he talks about the time he kept me down, but I’ve totally eliminated through hours and hours of work his ability to ever do that again. I’m not always going to be a practice all-star. My game face is a lot different than my practice face. I’ve never intended to hurt a teammate, and I’ve only knocked out one of them. He held me down. That’s not knocking me out. It’s not a test of my cardio. It just affects the time clock. Yeah, you got me. You won’t do it again April 21.”
While you trained, it had to have crossed your minds that a future fight was possible?
“Yeah, I wouldn’t give him everything, and he wouldn’t give me everything. It’s an unspoken rule: Keep the chip on your shoulder. It was no surprise to me we have to fight, and it was in no way, shape or form an act of betrayal. I pursued being a world champion. I trained hard, I fought the guy who was champion [Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua] and won. If you hate a guy for doing his job, you got it all twisted.”
What do you think of Rashad’s claims that you know he knows how to beat you, that he even helped you dress back in the day?
“Rashad says these things hoping I’ll focus on the pre-fight hype rather than tactics, but my mind, body and spirit are all in the gym. All this other stuff is off point. Yes, he [upset me] one time, but I’ve got all my emotion out of the way. He’s lying about saying he taught me to dress or use my hands. I’m fighting this fight out of purity and love. He’s evil, and he makes me want to destroy him.”
What do you have on him? And are you worried about his ability to take you down?
“I know where he’s hurt. He’s getting older. He has a hurt rib, a hurt left hand and a terrible left knee. It’s not a wrestling match. He takes me down, and there’s still work to do. I’ve wrestled since I was 14 and have a tremendous amount of pride in my wrestling.”
Evans’ striking skills are impressive, but you’ve mostly stayed out of harm’s way standing up. Do you have a better handle on defense than anyone else?
“I’m blessed with good eyes, and I’m not just talking about 20/20 vision, but being able to predict when someone is going to try and hit me. You can train hard, but being blessed with those eyes that are extremely sharp is a great thing.”
You’ve had to deal with far more experienced and skilled martial artists, but it appears this fight is the greatest test yet of an opponent testing you emotionally?
“ ‘Shogun’ was scary, a Brazilian black belt and champion kick boxer. [Quinton] ‘Rampage’ [Jackson] was one of the best punchers in UFC history, and [Lyoto] Machida, being the first southpaw I’d faced, a fifth-degree black belt, was the most scary because he never insulted me once. ‘Rampage’ got me ready for Rashad with his talking. What’s important is tactics and winning, not defending my character.”
Could a fight between you and middleweight champion Anderson Silva happen?
“I don’t want to entertain it. He’s walking greatness. No way. I’m 6-4, going down to middleweight, I’d be terrible. My nickname ‘Bones’ is because I used to be so skinny and awkward. I finally got a little meat and muscle on my bones, and I don’t want to give that up.”