Since making his UFC debut three years ago, mixed martial artist Jon Jones has kicked ass and taken plenty of names during his meteoric rise to the top of the fighting world. Only 23 years old, Jones has won 12 of the 13 professional fights under his belt (and if it weren’t for a disqualification in a 2009 bout, he might still be undefeated). The flashy young fighter—a former high school national wrestling champion—has impressed UFC bigwigs so much that they asked him to square off against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the Light Heavyweight Championship at UFC 128 on March 19. And did we mention that Jones’s last match was on February 5, leaving him a mere 6 weeks to prepare for the biggest fight of his life?
That sounds like a daunting task for anyone, but if Men’s Health’s interview with Jones is any indication, he’s more than ready for the challenge. Here, Jones gives a complete breakdown of the upcoming fight, shows you the moves that make up his regimen leading up to it, and explains how intense preparation for your opponent can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Men’s Health: A lot of people in the United States still don’t really “understand” mixed martial arts, which is funny, because the sport is more popular now than it’s ever been. What would you say to someone who thinks that MMA is really nothing more than just a bunch of dudes beating the crap out of each other in an octagon?
Jon Jones: Well, you definitely can’t judge it until you look closely at it. Then you’ll realize it’s a sport that demands hard work, discipline, respect, and confidence. You have to be a unique individual to get to a high level in mixed martial arts. The people who look at us as just human cockfighters are ignorant.
MH: Why are you a mixed martial artist and not just a fighter?
JJ: I’m going out and using strategy and creativity, finding new openings, and painting with new colors and strokes on my opponents. So it’s very artistic. Everyone can go to the gym and lift weights and do squats—you know, get physically strong—but what sets aside great champions from ordinary people is their ability to envision things going their way, and envision the tactics working before they actually pull them off.
MH: So can we use mixed martial arts to become more focused?
JJ: Yes. Since I became a fighter, it’s changed my life in so many positive ways. I’m so much more confident in myself, and I’m way more peaceful than I used to be.
MH: We’re just a few days away from UFC 128, where you’re set to take on Shogun Rua for the light heavyweight championship. You didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the fight—only about 6 weeks. Now, Quinton Jackson turned down the chance to face Shogun because he said he would never take a fight with such little time to prepare. Why did you accept it? And how can we find the same drive to prepare for a match, or an important event, on short notice?
JJ: Look, I feel like I’ve really been preparing for this moment my whole life. Spiritually, I’m strong. Physically, I’m strong. I’ve been wrestling since I was 14. Everything I’ve gone through has led me to this moment, and it’s a huge one. Never turn down success. I’ve been listening to a passage a lot that says, “Our biggest fear is not that we’re inadequate, but that we’re powerful beyond measure.” To turn down an opportunity like this because I think I might not be ready would be contradictory to what I’ve always dreamed about.
MH: Can you take me through your training process from the end of UFC 126 until now? Describe a typical week of training, and what the past 6 weeks have been like for you.
JJ: After the last fight, I wholeheartedly jumped right back into the fire, starting with 9 a.m. practices every morning. On Mondays I usually do work that’s based around grappling. Tuesdays I do kickboxing. Wednesdays I do wrestling. Thursdays I do kickboxing again. And on Fridays, I do morning sprints. After that, I come home around noon and have a protein shake and vegetables and fruit. Then I’ll head back to the gym every day at 3:30 p.m. That’s when I lift weights and do cardio. And then every night, I have a private session with my trainer, Greg Jackson. We go over our strategy for the upcoming fight. For dinner I’ll eat a lot of protein, zero carbs, and get a lot of hydration. When I’m not practicing, my closest friends and I will watch a lot of Shogun footage just so I can prepare. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing every day.
MH: How have you had to adjust your training to match what Shogun does? For the uninitiated, what do you bring to the table that he doesn’t? How much should we size up our opponents before facing them, and how important is that?
JJ: I’ve adjusted a lot. I’m focusing a lot more on jiu jitsu, whereas my last fight was based on all around takedown defense and kickboxing. I’m a great striker. I can kickbox very well—I can do spinning kicks, jumping kicks, and I can use both of my legs to do them. I’ve got the ability to switch stances, meaning I can fight with either my right or left foot forward. And I’m pretty accurate with combinations from each stance, which is confusing to a lot of other fighters who can’t do that. In high school, I was a national champion wrestler. I was a Greco-Roman All-American. That’s a style of wrestling where you can’t use your opponent’s legs to throw them to the ground—you have to use all arms and torso. So I’m pretty good at that. Once people clinch me, which is like a hugging type of motion, I’m pretty efficient at throwing them to the floor right away. I can throw them about 30 different ways from the clinch, and that’s what makes me pretty unique from a wrestling aspect. On the ground, I have a strong ground-and-pound system where I use a lot of vicious elbows to negate my opponents’ jiu jitsu. In jiu jitsu, the opponent usually tries to find ways to tap me out by manipulating my fingers, throat, and joints to the point where I want to tap out. But because I’m a wrestler, I have a really good sense of knowing when I’m in danger, so I do a good job negating their jiu jitsu. I just have a really good system in place.
Shogun, on the other hand, doesn’t switch stances. He fights with his right foot forward at all times, which gives me less to worry about because I know I’ll fight just one set of combinations. Shogun’s strength is that he throws very hard and accurate, and he throws in bunches. That means he never throws just one punch at a time—he’ll throw three or four in a row. He throws with his right leg primarily, and he can throw it just as fast when he’s aiming for your head as when he’s aiming for your legs. So gambling on whether he’s going high or low will definitely be a big factor. And he has no wrestling experience, so he gets taken down quite often. So on the ground, he has quite a few sweeps and jiu jitsu moves that he does, but you can negate them pretty easily with extensive practice. We’re excited, and we have a definite plan on how to react to Shogun.
MH: What would winning the light heavyweight title mean to you? And where can we look if we need to find extra motivation?
JJ: Winning the title would just symbolize me making it, you know? It will mean that I was able to do it. Plus, the financial security that will come with it would be life changing. It would be a motivation for people around the world to see that they can do whatever they put their minds to. Motivating the kids from my hometown (Rochester, New York) drives me. I’m a kid who was raised in a really rough area, and the odds were stacked against me growing up. For me to do something great like becoming the champion of the world would be a huge win for the kids growing up in Rochester. I want to be a role model, example, and inspiration to them. You almost want to win it for others more than yourself. As for where I’m heading, my goal will be to hang on to my belt for many years to come, and do everything I can to make the sport more mainstream.
Photograph courtesy of ASM Photo