If you’re wondering what motivates the man now widely regarded to be the best fighter in Mixed Martial Arts, you don’t have to look far.
Sibling rivalries, apparently.
“I’d have to say my biggest motivation is my brothers. I have a fear of not being a pro-athlete and having two brothers who are still pro athletes,” said the reigning light heavyweight champion and UFC 165 headliner Jon Jones at the event’s media call last week.
“I just want to keep up with my family name and hold my weight.”
Jones’ older brother Arthur is the starting defensive end for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens while his younger brother Chandler is a former first round pick and currently starts on the New England Patriots defensive line.
When you consider Jones’ athletic pedigree and what he has accomplished in his UFC career so far at just 26 years of age, it’s hard not to get the distinct impression that when you are watching Jones, you are watching a very special kind of athlete.
This is the third straight year that Toronto is playing host to the champion, as he looks to defend his title at the Air Canada Centre against Swedish No. 1 contender Alexander Gustafsson.
In this sense, Toronto has had a unique opportunity to witness an athlete who is the process of carving out a legacy that would place him among the all-time combat athletes.
Jones is in practical terms, undefeated (his only “loss “ being a controversial disqualification in a fight he was dominating) and has wins over five former UFC champions on his resume.
He has out-struck elite strikers, out-wrestled champion wrestlers, and has submitted Brazilian Ju-Jitsu black belts throughout his 18-1 professional career.
Also motivating Jones this time around is a chance to break another UFC record. With a win, he will pass Tito Ortiz’s mark of five consecutive light-heavyweight title defenses.
“Becoming the greatest light heavyweight record-wise was always a big goal of mine,” said Jones “This record means everything to me. It kind of feels like my first fight.”
As the spotlight has grown, Jones has gained the reputation as the type of person who treads that fine line between “confident” and “arrogant”, something that has rubbed some his peers and fans the wrong way.
Gustafsson was quoted recently by Swedish MMA site Kimura.se calling Jones “a brat in a grown man’s body” based on his experiences during a media tour with the champion.
Top-five heavyweight contender Daniel Cormier has similar things to say about Jones to FOX Sports in August, comparing his behavior to that of “a 16-year-old girl”.
On the flip side of things, Jones is by all accounts, a very accessible fighter to the fans and uses social media outlets effectively. In particular, his 10-second Instagram videos that he posts regularly are charming, if frivolous.
He also has a knack for sounding wise and genuinely Zen-like when he speaks.
“I absolutely know that I’m not unbeatable … nobody is unbeatable,” Jones said. “But, I’ve been taught that in order to be a special warrior, you have to be able to endure suffering that most people wouldn’t be able to endure.”
Other all-time greats have experienced a similar kind of public backlash. Legendary boxers like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, and of course more recently, Floyd Mayweather Jr. have all been seen as villains just as much as heroes at various times in their respective careers for various reasons.
Certainly, Jones still has a long way to go to achieve an MMA equivalent status of those greats, though it’s hard to deny that he is well on his way.
In the meantime, Jones seems content with simply continuing to improve his skills.
After all, he’s still only five years into his career as a professional fighter, which is probably the most stunning fact of all about the man they call “Bones”.
“I just got a new boxing coach, so don’t be surprised if you see me in the pocket exchanging and weaving punches,” said Jones. “I feel like I’ve got the best coaches in the world and that’s why I’ve made it this far.”
UFC 165 goes down Saturday night, live on Pay Per View at 10 PM ET.