Mixed Martial Arts

Jones admits he's still a work in progress despite win

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The Canadian Press
9/23/2012 12:22:31 PM
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TORONTO -- A smiling Jon (Bones) Jones wore a simple Nike "Bones Knows" T-shirt to his pre-UFC 152 open workout.

The Nike sponsorship is one of the many things that separates the UFC light-heavyweight champion from almost all other MMA fighters. Along with Canadian Georges St-Pierre, Jones has become a legitimate crossover star with heavyweight sponsors.

The T-shirt may reference Bo Jackson's "Bo Knows" back-in-the-day campaign but comes across more unintentionally ironic.

At 25, Jones acknowledges there is so much more to know -- inside and outside the cage.

Jones (17-1) won again Saturday night, surviving an early first-round submission scare to put veteran Vitor (The Phenom) Belfort away by Americana (keylock) 54 seconds into the fourth round.

"I think it was a good performance, but there was definitely a lot of room to improve," Jones said by way of self-analysis, putting jiu-jitsu on the top of his list.

As for outside the cage, Jones admits to making "a lot of dumb decisions" in his life.

A one-of-a-kind MMA fighter, Jones remains a polarizing figure.

The six-foot-four Jones is one of the UFC's top five pay-per-view draws --welterweight champion St-Pierre tops the list followed by middleweight title-holder Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen, Jones and Rashad Evans -- and rules what has historically been the UFC's rock star division.

But he entered the Air Canada Centre to a chorus of boos for his fourth title defence.

"Jon's made some mistakes," said UFC president Dana White. "And now it's time for him to fix them. He's going to be around for a long time, he's not going anywhere unless he does it to himself."

A drunk driving charge after crashing his Bentley -- he pleaded guilty and apologized -- and a very public row with White over who he should fight at UFC 151 after an injured Dan Henderson pulled out top Jones' list of recent stumbles.

UFC 151 was subsequently cancelled, leaving some fans in the lurch.

But the fact Jones rubs some the wrong way runs deeper. Even White isn't sure why the champion has been called "fake or phoney" in some quarters.

Jones upset Evans, a former training partner, when he agreed to step in an injured Evans in a title shot against Mauricio (Shogun) Rua. Jones won the championship, sparking a lengthy war of words with a bitter Evans before beating him in a five-round decision.

To some, Jones' move in taking the title shot was a triumph of opportunism over loyalty.

For others, the UFC's youngest ever champion just seemed too good to be true. A young father, the son of a pastor, Jones used his body as a canvas for Bible verse and Twitter as his pulpit for living a better life.

In some quarters, people were just waiting for a stumble. And there were plenty of potential potholes in his way.

"As Jon continues to win more fights, continues to feel comfortable with the (championship) belt and in his skin now with who he really is, I think he'll get better all around -- publicly, his image, his fighting," said White, who has seen his share of fighters struggle in the spotlight.

"There's times when he just feels like he's not comfortable with who he is. Which is kind of weird. He's a great fighter. He really is a good guy, he's not a bad guy."

White said he and Jones cleared the air Friday when they met in person for the first time since the UFC 151 debacle, "shook hands as men and made a couple of agreements to each other."

As for Jones, he said the DUI charge had proved to be a blessing as he recognized "how everything could have been changed for my life."

"I've just done a lot of stupid things and I was getting away with a lot of stupid things."

He has emerged the other side, looking "to do things better and do things right, grow up," he said.

"I'm just really grateful for being here, being alive and being able to grow and take things a little more serious."

In truth, the champion can come across as a combination of smiling man-child who can't believe his fortune and opportunistic entrepreneur-athlete looking out for No. 1.

Jones has shown different sides as he rose the fighting ladder.

There is the memorable image of one early public workout when a young Jones all but stripped in an effort to find souvenirs to give away to watching fans. Contrast that with a smug Jones stopping a reporter during an pre-Evans fight interview to make sure he used a certain answer because it sounded good.

Like most of us, the true story probably lies in the middle of good and bad. Jones is a work in progress.

The champion is hard to dislike, as shown in his choice of Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved" for his entrance music Saturday night.

"I fight out of love," he explained. "I try to fight for the people who respect me and love me.

And I knew I was going to get booed but I honestly felt as if the crowd turned around. They were clapping. You can't boo when Bob Marley's singing, you just can't do that," he said to laughs. "It worked out for sure."

The 35-year-old Belfort was game and came close with an armbar in the first round. But Jones' reach, varied attack and ground and pound took a toll on the veteran challenger, whose face went from bad to worse each round.

Unable to get his striking game going, Belfort (21-10) tried to take the fight to the ground where he could use his jiu-jitsu. Most times, he paid a price doing it and finally fell victim to an Americana submission 54 seconds into the round.

Jones left with his arm in a sling as a result of Belfort's submission attempt, citing possible nerve damage in the bicep before a trip to hospital.

"Victory is reserved for those willing to pay it's price," Jones tweeted later, quoting Sun Tzu.

The fight statistics tell a one-sided story, as did Belfort's battered face.

Jones landed 65 of 110 significant strikes attempted, compared to just 16 of 36 for the Brazilian. The champion also landed some nasty front kicks, usually aimed at Belfort's knees.

White called it Jones' best performance, especially given the way he overcame injury to win.

"He got hit with some big punches tonight from a real puncher and he took them. He was injured, he had the heart to keep going ... There can be no more naysaying about Jon Jones."

"There's no doubt he's on his way to being one of the greatest maybe of all time ... It's not just about winning fights, it's about managing every aspect of your life which it looks like he's on his way to doing now," White added.

As for what's next for Jones, White said the Henderson matchup remains but acknowledged Jones is close to having cleaned out the 205-pound division.

A fight with middleweight Sonnen -- which Jones turned down on short notice as a UFC 151 replacement main event -- remains on the horizon.

"I just think there's other fights that make more sense," White said before adding: "People do want to see it.

"If enough people wanted to see it, I'd guess I'd have to make it."

Saturday's show drew 16,800 and a gate of $1.921 million.

UFC 140 in December attracted 18,303 to the Air Canada Centre, for a gate of $3.9 million. And UFC 129 drew a UFC-record 55,724 to the Rogers Centre in April 2011 to see St-Pierre defend his title.

At the post-fight news conference Saturday, an unprompted White launched on a remarkable three-minute tirade against a local columnist who had written a piece headlined "UFC looking like a Jugger-Not."

White noted the 10 UFC events in Canada had drawn total attendance of more than 200,000 with gate revenue in excess of $45 million.

"The biggest Achilles heel we have right now is injuries, man," said White. "The fights we're making kill it."

The next card, UFC 153 in Brazil, is another Band-Aid affair.

In the co-main event Saturday, Demetrious (Mighty Mouse) Johnson won a split 48-47, 47-48, 49-46 decision over Joseph Benavidez to become the UFC's first flyweight (125-pound) champion in a battle of cage-fighting Energizer bunnies.

Canadians went 3-1 on the night, with impressive wins by welterweight Sean (The Punisher) Pierson of Pickering, Ont., lightweight T.J. Grant of Cole Harbour, N.S., and bantamweight Mitch Gagnon of Sudbury, Ont.

Halifax light-heavyweight Roger (The Hulk) Hollett lost his UFC debut by dull decision to Matt (The Hammer) Hamill. In his defence, Hollett was on and off the card, only finally getting the green light less than two weeks ago.

Featherweight Cub Swanson recorded one of the night's highlights -- an eye-popping KO over highly touted Charles Oliveira thanks to a clubbing right to the temple of the American-based Brazilian.

Oliveira stood still for several seconds and then toppled. Oliveira left the cage with the support of a cornerman.

English middleweight Michael (The Count) Bisping showed his all-round game in winning a unanimous 29-28 decision over (All American) Brian Stann.

White was so happy with the Toronto card that he brought nine fighters to the podium to show them off.

It was like an emergency waiting room with Benavidez and Stann looking like they had survived car crashes. At one point, Stann was given a napkin because his face had started bleeding again.

Jon Jones (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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