Issue 076

June 2011

Jon Jones versus Brock Lesnar… don’t harrumph at me like that, it might easily happen. And soon. Anderson Silva is being touted as the super-fight waiting to happen for Jones, yet the record-breaking UFC middleweight champion is fast approaching 37 years old. There needs to be no delay. And you can forget GSP vs Silva, the Canadian is simply not big enough and would be slung on a hook by the Brazilian. Jones is also a serious payday for Anderson.

But get this. The most marketable fight in the UFC, period, is Jones vs Lesnar. They are the sport’s two biggest crossover stars. For ‘Bones’ Jones, the sky really is the limit. Boxing had Muhammad Ali; MMA may have found its new messiah.

There is not yet much meat on the ‘Bones’ of Jones, either. He’s 23, the youngest light heavyweight champion in UFC history, and within two to three years he’ll add another 20lb, maybe even 30lb. His body may even tell him he has to go up to the blue riband division. The thickening is still to come, alongside the quickening in the legend of the kid from Rochester.

Jones won me over in London last October. I interviewed him in a fans’ Q&A live on stage for the UFC at the Expo, and he was impressive then, but even more impressive in the time before and after that interview. We were late, and I ended up driving Jones, his agent Malki Kawa and welterweight Thiago Alves from the Expo in West London to UFC 120 at the O2 Arena in Greenwich, East London. We talked at length about his life and, as I parked at Canary Wharf, Jones was chomping on a cereal bar. As we got out, he dropped the wrapper on the floor in front of the passenger seat. I admonished him – as father-to-son would – for dropping his litter in my car. “Sorry, sir,” he said, picking it up and putting it in his pocket. I must confess I chuckled inwardly. Respect. And for good reason.

In the minutes following his brutal dismantling of Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, among those singled out for Jones’ gratitude was Jack Stanbro, the man who not only taught him wrestling at high school, but who also drilled him like a sergeant-major, hammering home the rights and wrongs of competition sportsmanship and had a profound and lasting influence on Bones. In fact, Jones’ fighting life has been founded on three pillars of male mentoring: his father, Arthur, a minister, who has conveyed the life values which are so impressive about Jones when you are up close and personal with him; Greg Jackson, the master trainer, the man who studies, day to day, the Art of War. Fears that Jackson’s methodical gameplan would stymie the fighter’s exquisite physical erudition for combat were unfounded. Quite the contrary, in fact, Jackson’s strength of analysis, and creation of mental teak have merely enhanced his young genius.

That triumvirate have created an MMA monster. The father (and priest), the teacher, the master. It is perhaps why Jones displays almost mystical skills as a martial artist. The base is right. Yes, he is young. Yes, he will make mistakes in the Octagon and beyond. But MMA has a new totemic figure who will appeal to a new generation around the world.

In being the first mixed martial artist ever invited onto the Jay Leno Show in the week after the Rua victory, Jones began a journey which will make him a bigger crossover star than Chuck Liddell. His communication skills, the fact he is a young father, allow him to reach out easily. He represents the third coming in MMA, a carrier of the new wave. We’ve had the one-dimensional fighter supreme in Liddell, the sprawl-and-brawler who gambled all on an iron clad chin, total commitment and fighting calm within the storm; then Georges St-Pierre, an athlete-mixed martial artist; and Anderson Silva, striker extraordinaire, the current champions supreme. Yet now we have a mixed martial artist with height, reach, a hybrid nature in his fighting style, capable of inflicting vicious, creative assaults from peculiar angles.

There are different types of genius. Like Wolfgang Mozart, who could play around with music, Jones is a virtuoso, a fighter who sees openings and plays with them. That was self-evident against Shogun. His creativity is enhanced on the big occasion. There is not a scintilla of self-doubt there, because Jones has not yet been punished in the Octagon. There were one or two opportunities for armbars and leg locks, but with those long limbs Jones has so much leverage, he will remain hard to pin. No one has cracked him yet, and defensively, no one can deal with him.

Rashad Evans is up next. This is interesting, psychologically, because we don’t know what has happened in training between the two. Rashad certainly has the fastest hands in the division. Has ‘big brother’ been handing it out in camp? If Jones deals with Rashad with ease, should he move up to heavyweight? If Randy Couture beats Lyoto Machida should the UFC make an Old School vs New School, Couture vs Jones, fight? That would be like Larry Holmes versus Mike Tyson… As I see it, if Jones wipes through the light heavies, there will be a widespread call for him to move up… like there was for BJ Penn at lightweight, like there is for GSP at welterweight. I’m calling it now… Jones will fight Lesnar; he will also go on to be UFC heavyweight champion. 

By Gareth A Davies, MMA and Boxing Correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, London