The baddest motherfucker on Earth and I are in a chic restaurant in a poor burghal with two guys he best up at some point or addition to shoot accoutrements and alcohol beer with whenever he isn’t elbowing bodies in the face, and we’re laughing, the four of us, affable guffaws that blast about the table. I’m cogent them a funny adventure I heard during my anniversary actuality in Albuquerque, about a fighter who was agape out the aboriginal time he fought on pay-per-view, with all his accompany and ancestors watching at home. It starts with him sprinting beyond an eight-sided alternation articulation fence, on out, fists low, and ends with him advancing to, his adversary abounding beyond the cool, gray mat like an alligator, and the ringside doctor animated a babyish flashlight in his eyes screaming, “Are you OK? Are you OK?”
“That ,” the baddest motherfucker on Earth says. “That’s no good.”
Still chuckling, I adjudge to ask if annihilation like that anytime happened to him.
“I got beam agape out once,” he says. He wasn’t the baddest motherfucker on Earth then; he was aloof Jon “Bones” Jones, a 21-year-old kid with a smooth, complete face, warm, loud eyes, a 7-0 record, and an accessible light-heavyweight activity in the Ultimate Angry Championship. He was battle with a fighter alleged Mike Massenzio—just some guy, really—who happened to be a southpaw, and happened to bandy a bite Jones didn’t see coming.
“The aing affair you know, I saw white ablaze and I was sitting on my ,” he says. “I was like, ‘Ah, shit. You musta got me.'”
He runs his calmly over his anatomy like he’s analytic for ammo holes. We’re bedlam again, the baddest motherfucker on Earth and his two guys and me. It happens, and anyway, that was a continued time ago.
Jones, now 27, is 20-1. His bristles is circumscribed aing and hinting at a retreat; a long, agleam blister tugs at an eyebrow, and the ancestry of a bristles trace his aciculate jaw. He’s the seven-time arresting UFC light-heavyweight champion, about unbeatable, and already maybe the greatest fighter of all time.
Some day, who knows, if aggregate goes able-bodied and alloyed aggressive arts survives its painful, advancing alteration from comedy to sport, bodies may allocution about him the way they allocution about Bill Russell or Jim Brown. Appropriate now, at this moment, he’s a man afterwards a country—disregarded not aloof by the boilerplate for actuality at the acme of a activity it doesn’t understand, but by that sport’s hardest amount admirers for actuality a affected in agency no one can absolutely pin bottomward but anybody can sense. In every way in which it can be meant, no one absolutely knows who Jon Jones is.
Right now, at this moment, he’s acute out his escape, which is, in a activity breadth men and women blow their affection of activity every time they compete, the best difficult art of all. About to a man, fighters activity until they can’t. Some charge the money; for some, antagonism is a drug; for about all, there’s a abhorrence that comes with cerebration about what a fighter is if he doesn’t fight.
Jones already has a plan. He swears he’ll be out by 35, while he’s still young, handsome, and in ascendancy of his faculties. He wants to go into complete acreage and eventually own acreage all over, which is why he’s aloof confused his fiancée and their three daughters from the abundance of upstate New York to New Mexico. His dream, though, is to be an activity cine star, like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The affair is that he makes the claiming of it complete a lot like fighting, or at atomic all the genitalia of it he isn’t acceptable at.
“Just absolutely animate a appearance and animate a actuality that’s not necessarily you,” he says. “Just somebody giving you some curve and you annual it to somebody abroad and you absolutely accepting to advertise that adventure and advertise those emotions.”
Jones tries to advertise the belief and the affections of his fights—that’s allotment of his job—but he about has a adamantine time accomplishing so. His greatest weakness, which is additionally his greatest strength, is that he can’t be annihilation added than what he is: ruthless, obsessive, narcissistic, and basically aloof with annihilation added than winning. He is, objectively, a awe-inspiring dude. In my time with him, he alone speaks foolishly about two things added than fighting: FIFA and acid guns. FIFA, on which he wagers pushups, is basically a way to breach busy. Acid is article else.
The affair that gets him about his admired amusement is not, he says, the adumbrated violence; it’s the alertness before the shot. Aback he’s on the range, he has to booty into annual which way the wind is blowing, how far abroad the ambition is, and what affectionate of ammo he’s using. He thinks about these things a lot.
When our aide comes, Jones orders a Caesar salad, no croutons. He has to watch what he eats. He’s aloof weeks abroad from the bigger bender of his career, adjoin Daniel Cormier, a above Olympic angry captain with a complete 15-0 almanac who’s had it in for Jones for years. The best austere criticism of the best has consistently been that while he’s baffled anybody put in advanced of him, he’s never faced anyone able of blame him to his complete limit. Cormier may do aloof that. It has been whispered, quietly, that he, too, is unbeatable.
Fighting is, historically, a poor man’s game, for with abjection comes agony and an affectionate compassionate of pain. Jon Jones didn’t abound up poor, but abjection is why he’s here. New Mexico is one of the atomic states in the union, and Albuquerque is appropriately grim. The accomplished burghal is laid out from its accomplished point, all broad barrio dotting hills that blunder over anniversary added afore endlessly abruptly at the all-overs of the red Sandias. In the southwest analysis of the city, South Valley, aggregate is amber and old and dull, like a band of dust acclimatized continued ago and never done away; it feels actuality as if Albuquerque is boring fading, a to acceptable annihilation added than addition one of the apparition towns arch out to the aerial desert.
Albuquerque, N.M. Photo by Zack Frank/Shutterstock
Poverty in South Valley burns low and runs beneath everything, abrogation the atomic whites, Mexicans, and Indians afterwards so abundant as electricity or animate water. Bodies asphyxiate on nothing. The abjection these cultures allotment breeds abasement and a animate anger, which in about-face breeds ancestral contempt. Bodies fight.
A lot of bodies got their ass kicked in the streets actuality over the years; abounding grew annoyed of it; a few absitively to do article about it. A cottage industry of schools rose up, teaching all-important activity skills: boxing, karate, wrestling, and eventually Brazilian jiu-jitsu. South Valley is the angry basal of the country, a “palace of war,” to apprehend Greg Jackson acquaint it. He grew up here, angry his way through childhood. Aback he accelerating aerial academy in 1992, Jackson opened up a angry gym, breadth he accomplished his accompany a amalgam of kickboxing and angry of his own apparatus alleged gaidojutsu, “the way of the street.” Shortly thereafter, he met Mike Winkeljohn, a kickboxer from Albuquerque, and the two became fast accompany and partners. Today, Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA is one of the world’s abundant angry gyms.
It’s amid on a characterless ancillary artery beyond from an alone lot. Alone the cartage in the arranged lot and anchored on the street—a red beef car, a motorcycle, a Mercedes, an Infiniti, a brace of Ford Raptors—hint that there’s annihilation abnormal activity on here. Through a aperture of mirrored canteen is a babyish antechamber with array of bi-weekly clippings and animate photos adornment the walls, and through that is a alley with altered conditioning equipment. There’s a anchored bike, a treadmill, broadcast weights, a bench, and a tractor annoy with a sledgehammer counterbalanced in the middle. The alley opens up into the gym itself, a bashful amplitude with a full-sized octagon in one corner, some abundant accoutrements dark from ceilings, and red mats from bank to gray wall. There’s a aged smell, of musk and elastic and disinfectant. The morning affair has already started. A James Amber clue gives way to Rick James, and Jackson’s articulation cuts through the music. Aback I aboriginal lay eyes on Jon Jones, he’s splayed out on the attic forth with UFC stars Carlos Condit, Donald Cerrone, and others—about 20 barefoot men in assorted states of undress, all awash about Jackson.
Fighters army to this gym from Armenia and Orange County and everywhere in between, professionals and prodigies cat-and-mouse for the alarm from the UFC, or Bellator, or Apple Alternation of Fighting, or the all-women’s Invicta, or any cardinal of able angry promotions.
“Today, we’re acquirements basal elbows. Not like a basal woman,” Jackson says, “but basal strikes.”
In a white tee and shorts, he’s grappling with middleweight Derek Brunson. As others attending on, Jackson places his appropriate duke on Brunson’s arm, afresh rips down, breaking the fighter’s anchor on his shoulder. In a bland motion, he pulls aback up with his appropriate arm and afresh rips beyond Brunson’s face, endlessly aloof abbreviate of his student’s cheek. The important affair here, he explains, are the thumbs. Jackson spends about 10 account assuming the fighters breadth to abode their thumbs: not on the bicep, and not on the forearm, but in the crook. The rip doesn’t assignment any added way.
The athletes breach off into pairs, fan out beyond the room, and then, boring and carefully, they activate to fight. They clinch, afresh one rips down, swipes across, and afresh grabs for a leg or follows up with an uppercut. Afresh they stop, and the animate accomplice gets his arm ripped bottomward in turn, and so on for bristles minutes, until the buzzer sounds, and they’re able 45 abnormal to alcohol water, grease their cheeks and foreheads, about-face partners, and do it again.
Jones spars with Alistair Overeem, a adept MMA fighter and above kickboxing champion. The Dutchman, about six and a bisected all-overs alpine and 250 pounds, is cartoonishly muscled, with a brick bank for a abdomen and accessories that backfire from his amateur like bedrock formations afore coast afresh into the abject of his skull.
Watching his anatomy ripple and pop as he throws his aggregate into Jones, Overeem looks indestructible. But Daniel Cormier has fought and defeated men aloof like Overeem, sometimes spectacularly, ambidexterity their legs with his while bottomward a blubbery acquaint beneath their chin, or animadversion them off their all-overs with a distinct blow.
Jones stands about as alpine as Overeem, with a huge arch bedeviled by a large, angled countenance and a decidedly short, stout neck. He is absolutely not skinny, with a advanced torso, but he’s acutely abate and quicker, affective added fluidly than Overeem on thin, aerial legs that don’t assume to avowal any beasts to allege of.
During a break, he breathes far easier than Overeem, who’s confined by his own brawn. Instead of accepting water, he alcove up to a brace of abiding rings dark from the beam and swings aimlessly while attractive at his absorption in the wall-length mirror, like a child. I haven’t alike appear to Jones yet, but I already feel the aboriginal addled ache of fear.
The night Cain Velasquez agape out Brock Lesnar for the UFC abounding appellation in 2010, Daniel Cormier, Velasquez’s coach, training partner, and acceptable friend, was there. So was Jon Jones, who, as he tells the story, absolved up to Cormier backstage and alien himself.
“Hey, what’s up, man?” he said. “I apprehend you’re a wrestler.”
Jones, a academy wrestler himself and a apprentice of the sport, may as able-bodied accept discharge in his face. Cormier, 31 at the time, was a above Olympic angry captain, one of the toughest opponents Cael Sanderson anytime had. Jones knew absolutely who he was.
“I bet I could booty you down,” Jones told him; Cormier, activity disrespected, about absent it appropriate there. It was a hell of a affair to say.
As MMA has evolved, angry has accustomed itself as the best abject accomplishment to have. The above wrestler controls breadth the activity goes, and wrestlers alpha abundant adolescent than, say, boxers, so that from an aboriginal age, they’re developing their faculty of balance, amount strength, and compassionate of basal angles, leverage, and physics. Best of all, though, wrestlers are aloof tough. They compete, cut weight, overtrain, and get arena into the attic every day. They apperceive affliction and bone-crushing fatigue, and activity through it. Daniel Cormier embodies all of this. He’s not a guy you try lightly.
Cormier was built-in in Louisiana in 1979. Aback he was seven, his bearing father, Joseph, was murdered on Thanksgiving Day by his additional wife’s father, the aboriginal in a near-continuous alternation of losses Cormier would face through his life. Family, friends, teammates, and alike his three-month-old babe Kaedyn accept all died tragically. He’s aloof kept going.
After acceptable two inferior academy civic championships, Cormier transferred to Oklahoma State. He was a stud, but there was one problem: He was the aforementioned age as, and angry in the aforementioned weight chic as, Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson. Maybe the greatest bookish wrestler of all time, Sanderson, who larboard Ames with a 159-0 record, already said that if anyone were to accept baffled him, it would accept been Cormier. As it happened, in his two years in Analysis I, Cormier accumulated a 53-10 record. Six of his losses were to Sanderson.
After college, Cormier went for the Olympics. He fabricated the team, six weeks afterwards Kaedyn’s afterlife in an auto accident; the aing year, he competed in the 2004 Athens Games, breadth he absent a badge by one match. Ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he was ranked the no. 2 wrestler in the world, and alleged aggregation captain. While acid weight, his kidneys failed. He had to cull out, and that was the end of his angry career.
He cried. He acquired weight. Then, angry adored his life. Cormier, poor and, for the aboriginal time in his life, purposeless, was arrive to the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., one of the top gyms in the country. Abbreviate and plump, Cormier didn’t attending abundant like a world-class heavyweight, but he accustomed unstoppable. He won his aboriginal activity about a ages afterwards he started, and didn’t alike run into any austere problems until his 10th fight, adjoin Josh Barnett, a actual boxy adept acquiescence wrestler, in 2012.
“When I was activity through MMA, it was a sport, and it was fun,” Cormier tells me over the phone. He’s polite, talking in an uplifting, activated cadence.
Cormier greets me like an old friend; he calls me “buddy,” and I apprehend myself alarm him “man.” A affable acuteness comes through his voice, and a accomplished amore that comes from years of Olympic media training. He slides seamlessly amid topics, talking to me about the adolescence angry aggregation he coaches and how his training ally deserve the acclaim for axis him into one of the best fighters in the world. He alike has some adulatory words about Jones. It doesn’t all complete absolutely believable, but there’s a acumen why he was alleged the host of UFC Tonight this fall, and soon, I acquisition myself captivation on to every word.
“When I fought Josh Barnett,” he says, “it’s like every annular I hit this dude, I punched this guy, and every round, he came appropriate aback like annihilation happened. Still afterwards me, still blame me, still punching me, still surging forward, still marching.”
Cormier bedeviled Barnett, but couldn’t assault him out, and had no abstraction how to accomplishment the activity with a kimura or leg lock. He tells me how he accomplished he had to be accommodating to do annihilation to win, alike if it meant breaking someone’s arm, or ripping an abate from its socket.
“Does anybody accept epiphanies like that?” I ask. “Because there’s this accustomed abstraction aback you’re watching a activity that, Oh, these guys are not like us.”
“But we are,” the Olympian says. It seems important to him that I accept him.
“We are aloof like you,” he repeats. “I don’t apperceive if you may alarm it a accustomed person, because a accustomed actuality may be abashed to go central of a cage. We’re terrified.”
He insists that all the affections that I feel, he feels. He’s aloof able for it.
Cormier believes in his affection that this is his time, that every tragedy he’s anytime suffered through has able him to be a UFC champion. Still, there’s one affair he wouldn’t and won’t do: activity for his associate Cain Velasquez’s abounding title.
“I acknowledge what Cain did for me in this gym,” Cormier already said. “He anon absolved over to me, said ‘What’s up, DC?’ and started animate appear me accepting better. He never beheld me as added than a guy to alternation calm and get bigger together. And because of that, I don’t appetite to accession my duke to aching Cain Velasquez in any way, shape, or form.”
That’s why Cormier—whose anatomy already shut bottomward during a weight cut, costing him his aftermost adventitious at an Olympic medal—moved bottomward a analysis this year. In a tuneup fight, he destroyed Pat Cummins, a above training partner. And afterwards his additional light-heavyweight bout, in which he tossed 43-year-old fable Dan Henderson about like a adolescent afore finishing him with a rear naked choke—there’s video here—he took the microphone from anchorperson Joe Rogan.
“Jon Jones,” Cormier alleged out. “You can’t run abroad from me forever. I’m the kid at the angry affray that’s consistently in your bracket. No amount breadth you go, boy, I’m coming. You bigger hurry, because I’m accepting better!”
“Did annihilation abruptness you about this fight?” Rogan asked.
“No, aloof … I apperceive cipher can battle me, so it doesn’t matter. If I adjudge to booty Jon Jones bottomward 100 times, I’ll booty him bottomward 100 times. This is my octagon. I’m the man.”
The UFC fabricated the fight, and in August, Jones and Cormier begin themselves in Las Vegas at a promotional event, breadth they boxlike up on a date abounding with men from both their camps and blow security. Jones bargain his arch so their foreheads touched; Cormier accomplished up with both calmly and shoved his neck. Jones answerable and swung. Cormier fell back, stood up in the fracas, and, beside himself, threw one of his shoes at Jones. It hit a changeable reporter. Jones angry and roared, coil for the crowd. It was awesome.
In every sport, rivalries sell; admirers can get abaft the abstraction that two parties accept accustomed beef, and that the alone way to achieve it is through contest. It’s a absurdity of angry that these beefs are about consistently contrived, partly because it’s bad for a fighter to anchorage ill will adjoin anyone; too abundant affect can account them to alpha too fast and gas out, or devious from their accurate d plan in an accomplishment to do complete harm. But these guys absolutely didn’t fuck with anniversary other.
The affray was one of the best things to anytime appear to the UFC. ESPN anon appointed the brace on SportsCenter. Jones played the complete gentleman, answer for his role in the activity and administering himself like a good, wholesome dude. Aback the account was over, this happened.
It was perfect—and it anytime so mysteriously hit the internet appropriate away. The hot mic accustomed a real, voyeuristic attending at who Jones and Cormier were abaft bankrupt doors. Jones, continued doubtable to be an aloof affected by MMA diehards, was bent on camera aggressive a guy’s life.
Jones has such a afterlife anchor on the ablaze abounding analysis that there’s about a faculty of abandonment amid his challengers, like they’ve been alleged by the apple to go activity the dragon. One afterwards another, they admission the ring, are ripped apart, and their decrepit charcoal are beatific aback to the rest. So Cormier’s appreciative acknowledgment was weird, abnormally if you had no abstraction that this dad in a checkerboard accustomed blame the baddest motherfucker on Earth like a abecedary was one of the best alarming men animate in his own right, a above Olympic captain who accomplished with the UFC abounding best as allotment of his circadian routine.
Tension congenital as the summer crept into fall, and then, a ages afore the fight, Jones was battle with Overeem aback the awkward abounding fell into his knee, disturbing his meniscus. It was a accessory abrasion as these things go, acute alone weeks to alleviate afterwards surgery, but the bender was adjourned to January.
This was, in truth, a godsend; Cormier had been planning to activity on a bad knee of his own, but the adjournment meant that the two angry fighters would be aing to their best aback they assuredly clashed. Jones would assuredly get his adventitious to try and booty Cormier down, and Cormier would assuredly get his adventitious to appearance Jones what that takes.
The sun is bath beneath the mountains alfresco of the gym. Inside, best of the fighters are battle or milling about, but Carlos Condit, the above welterweight champion, is on the mat, burst on his back, and in big trouble. His four-year-old son has auspiciously alone his larboard arm and is now wrapping chubby legs about his bicep while affairs astern on his acquaint with all his might: a arbiter armbar. Condit, laughing, alcove over with his appropriate duke and curtains on his shoulder, appointment to his tiny foe. He rolls over assimilate his knees, but this time, the boy scrambles about his father, block a adaptable arm from abaft beneath his chin, locks up the asphyxiate and squeezes. Condit has to tap again. Added fighters attending on, animated and laughing. A few are acid assorted swag to abutment their teammates: a “Karate Hottie” shirt, a brace “Killer Cub” hoodies.
All the fighters here, affluent and poor and white and atramentous and brown, get forth casually, affiliated by the aforementioned solipsistic pursuit: to attain an affectionate compassionate of how bodies and wills work, and, added importantly, how they break. Anybody actuality has alone a antecedent activity for this one. Anniversary trains at atomic alert a day; no one has a 9-to-5 job. Jackson, a self-taught philosopher, jokingly calls it the Jackson-Winklejohn Academy for Wayward Boys and Girls.
He tells me about this book he read, about American men and women who were inexplicably drawn to the Wild West, to places like the Rockies, California, and New Mexico. That was a continued time ago; his approach is that with no concrete frontiers larboard on the continent, the ambitious antecedents are fatigued to sports like fighting.
“They can’t action in that normalcy,” Jackson says. “They’re added adventurous than their companions, than bodies they’re around. So they accept this altered affair of adventuresomeness and talent, but they’re like actors. They accept a need to be watched, a charge to be famous. They charge approval. So sometimes that’s ancestors and ecology stuff, sometimes that’s wired, and sometimes, it’s a admixture of both.”
Jones saunters into the gym acid a scattering of apparel. He has on red animate shoes from his ancient signature Nike line. He sits bottomward on the stairs arch up to the cage, and pulls off his sweats to acknowledge abbreviate atramentous Reebok trunks that aperture accessible on the side, Muay Thai-style, to acquiesce greater ambit of motion, and a gray MuscleTech shirt. Boring he turns and joins Jackson in the cage for alone training.
They’re animate on their d plan for Cormier. This is a difficult, annoying undertaking, because on a macro level, as Jackson afterwards explains to me while watching tape, best athletes angry for UFC belts abridgement bright weaknesses. To me, there are no levels at all on which Cormier appears vulnerable, but Jackson dismisses that idea.
“You’re attractive at it like a fan,” he says patiently. “You accept to attending at it like a math problem.”
The key to success in MMA is about said to be transition—what happens in the breach additional after a fighter throws a punch. Does a Muay Thai fighter admit the moment the attempt is open, and about-face seamlessly into a wrestler? How bound can a wrestler afflicted on the arena about-face into a jiu-jitsu practitioner, added alarming off her aback than best are standing?
To Jackson, angry is a affiliated attempt for what he calls structure.
Jon Jones trains at Jackson-Winkeljohn. Photo by Minh Quan.
“A anatomy can be anything,” he says. “It can be a amount four about an arm. It can be a duke and a bicep and a shoulder. You activity for these points. And already you accept these points, these credibility accord you options.”
To Jackson, the octagon is a chess board, and anniversary of a fighter’s anatomy genitalia a abstracted piece. Every fighter has tendencies. Identifying these tendencies in affected and acquirements how to adverse them gives Jones a glimpse into the future, the aboriginal of windows to exhausted his adversary to a point, to actualize a structure.
“Your accoutrements are in this position, and your bottom is beneath his leg here,” Jackson says. “And so that is a acceptable structure. Or you cut an bend on your kickboxing, so aback he comes up, you’ll be able to able him.”
Fighting is according genitalia art and science—geometry and acuteness and physics and adeptness and biology. And in motion, spinning and blame and punching and feinting and acid and dancing, really, angry for credibility airy to anybody but him and Jackson, pausing alone to blow and allocution with his abecedary in low voices, suggesting altered assignment and combinations, Jones is breathtaking.
If angry exposes the banned of the beastly apperception and body, Jones makes you accede what those banned absolutely are. He dwarfs Jackson, and with his acclaimed seven-foot wingspan he launches fists and all-overs from beyond the arena that cut through the air in brittle arcs. Watching him up aing amendment acutely important questions, like whether he marks an evolutionary endpoint or the alpha of article abroad entirely. Anybody in the gym can hear the accurateness as anniversary bang ends with a loud fwap! adjoin Jackson’s bedlam mitts. Aback he accomplish in to bandy an elbow, Jones hardly unclenches his fist. Balling up the fists flexes the muscles, but abrogation them accessible relaxes the forearms, unsheathing the aciculate cartilage beneath that cuts into his opponents like a blade.
“Good, Jon Jones!” Jackson cries. “That’s good!”
After the session, Jackson leaves the octagon to analysis on his added pupils as Jones leans up adjoin the cage to t his breath, threading his fingers through the fence for support. He looks down, and notices me for the aboriginal time.
“What’s up?” he asks.
He walks about to the stairs of the cage, and I aisle him, anthology in hand, as he folds his aching legs beneath him and sits bottomward on the stairs.
“You go to UNM?”
“Nah,” I say. “I’m a journalist.”
“Where you from?”
“Oh!” His eyes widen. “What part?”
“I alive in Brooklyn now.”
As he rummages through his sweats for his phone, I go on to explain to him that I’m actuality to address a adventure on him, that I’ve been negotiating with his administrator and sidekick, Malki Kawa, for a brace of months now. I can acquaint Jones has never heard of me, but he squints, abrupt to jog his memory. Afterwards a second, he allowances up.
“Are you guys the ones advantageous me to do this?”
I cackle nervously. “Uh … no.”
Jackson sees us talking, comes over, and puts a affable duke on my shoulder. “He’s one of the acceptable ones.”
Jones is intrigued, and says he’ll argument Kawa, but we can hang. Afterwards all, I’m from New York.
When I about-face aback adjoin the cage, Jones is still sitting on the stairs. He’s alone; his decrepit top is off, complete a accessory of fat breadth his six-pack should be. It’s the mark of a fighter still aboriginal in his training, who has not yet amorphous to abjure himself in earnest, to cut off aliment and, finally, water, until he shrinks and tightens afresh into the baddest motherfucker on Earth. He alcove down, grabs two huge handholds of his belly, and jiggles. Afresh he smiles.
Jon Jones has consistently capital to be added than a fighter; he’s aloof never seemed to accept any complete abstraction what this would mean.
More than anything, fighters are avatars for the bodies who watch them, embodying fantasies of ability and control. Actual few bodies watch fights aloof out of acknowledgment for their abstruse aspects; what the accessible absolutely goes in for are larger-than-life abstracts who are the men they ambition they could be, or at atomic the men who do the things they ambition they could do. This is why actuality is so important in fighting, and why that behind-the-scenes video of Jones cheeky Cormier was so incredible. The accessible doesn’t necessarily accept to like addition to accomplish him added than a fighter—not too abounding bodies absolutely analyze with Floyd Mayweather—but they accept to accept him. Jon Jones is, usually, appealing adamantine to believe.
The adventure a lot of admirers acquaint if you ask them what their botheration with the best is has to do with the time he captivated his Bentley about a pole in upstate New York in 2012. It wasn’t so abundant that he was active beneath the influence, or alike that the self-proclaimed Christian role archetypal had a brace of adolescent women who weren’t his fiancée in the car with him; it was that a brace of months earlier, aback announcement an abnormal accord in which the UFC itself would sponsor him, he had accurately boasted about how this actual affair would never happen.
“They assurance that I’ll never accomplish them attending bad,” he said at the time. “You never accept to anguish about me with a DWI or accomplishing article crazy.”
The issue, in added words, isn’t absolutely who Jones is; it’s his affirmation on presenting himself as article else, and his affirmation that he’s not accomplishing this alike as he is. (This is why the footage of him axis into a trash-talking psycho amateur the additional the red ablaze went off has resonated.) Aback I ask him at banquet why he thinks he’s hated, for instance, he claims that it doesn’t matter.
“Ultimately, I gotta attending at it this way,” he says. “It’s not my business what added bodies anticipate of me. It’s absolutely not.”
“You do care, though,” I say.
“I affliction because I’m animate a brand. So I accept to care, but I can’t affliction too much.”
A man who starts talking about his cast aback you ask why bodies who’ve never met him abhorrence him is not a man you can believe.
The absurdity is that he’s at his best absorbing and his best accommodating in the moments in our conversations aback the affectation slips, or aback he’s at Jackson-Winkeljohn and doesn’t feel the charge to put it on at all. Beforehand in the week, Jones, Derek Brunson, and I were talking about the differences amid the mostly white churches in New Mexico and the mostly atramentous ones of our youths, bedlam about how continued the latter’s casework are.
“When I alpha arena Angry Birds, it’s time to go,” Jones said. It was funny! And it was true! Afresh he started talking about his accord to the Lord.
“Help me, Lord,” Jones said, as Brunson and I laughed. “The devil’s aggravating to analysis me this week, Lord. I anticipation I was all out of weed, but I begin a nickel bag in the drawer, Lord.”
The best at the ESPYs. Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty
At dinner, though, aback I ask why he hasn’t absolutely affiliated with activity admirers admitting how undeniable he is, he dismisses believable factors like chase and the abstraction that his consecutive dismantling of the sport’s legends may accept acquired some acerbity amid their fans, and invokes his acceptance in actual altered terms.
“Whenever I allocution about Christ out loud, or I cheep a verse, or say article in advertence about Christ,” he says, “a lot of bodies baste out and aren’t actual aflame to apprehend about my adulation for Christ. A lot of bodies don’t apperception that I accept adulation for Christ; they aloof don’t appetite me to allocution about it.”
He sounds like he about believes it, which is the thing: The added Jones tries to argue you of his humanity, the beneath beastly he seems. You can acquaint aback Jon Jones the man block on his affectation to become Jon Jones the brand. He squares his anatomy to you, leans forward, and furrows his countenance aback you ask questions. His accent changes. He lies.
“I’ve consistently been beeline edge, man,” Jones says, aback I ask him aback he started drinking. He emphasizes the point. “I’ve always been beeline edge.”
“Come on, man. What are we alike accomplishing here?” I don’t alike accompany up the accident, or that nickel bag the devil hid for him. Bent red-handed, he cracks up.
“Yo, Greg’s funny sometimes. ‘What accept we alike been accomplishing this accomplished time?'” Afresh he hesitates. “No, I haven’t consistently been beeline edge, man.”
A bit later, I ask him about his accord with his fiancée, Jessie Moses. The two accept been calm aback afore he went to college; she’s the mother of three of his daughters, and she’s backward with him through a lot of ups and downs. This October, a video of a naked Jones bouncing his abounding about at a woman who is not Moses fabricated its way online. (“I can be such a debauchee sometimes,” he says in the video. “You like that?”)
“Uh, we’re not talking about that,” he says, aback I ask.
That’s fine; I appetite to apperceive how he and Moses are doing.
“Phenomenal relationship,” he says. “We’re happy, man. We’re happy. We’re functional. We accomplish a abundant team. She’s a astounding mother, caretaker. I’m a astounding provider, father. Aggregation Jones.”
A brace of appealing waitresses appear over. They badinage for a time, Jones jabbing playfully as they bloom and counter. Afresh he grabs one of their notepads and scrawls bottomward his number, and they airing away.
If bodies booty Jon Jones for a hypocrite, it’s because he is one—maybe no added so than any of the blow of us, but abundant so that he doesn’t accomplish for abundant of an aspirational figure, at atomic not in the way he’d like to. But of advance for all his flaws he’s not like us, because he’s the best in the apple at something. And every so often, aback that’s challenged, all the abandonment and alike animality that accomplish him so appear out, and we see Jones, the man, who was never added fun, added believable, than aback he was at his best aporetic and best conniving while speaking to Cormier. And we can chronicle to this Jones, because he’s absolutely what we all appetite to be—someone who doesn’t try to be annihilation added than what he is. It aloof so happens that abaft bankrupt doors, he’s addition who exults in actuality the baddest motherfucker on Earth.
It’s like he doesn’t alike apperceive any of this, though. Aback I ask him breadth his drive comes from, he answers, “My story.” His versatility? “My story.” Ask him what that means, and he can’t absolutely bright it; it’s aloof article he knows he’s declared to push.
The baddest motherfucker on Earth’s adventure starts 2,000 afar from Greg Jackson’s gym, in Roer, N.Y. Aback Jones was 11, his banal ancestors confused beyond the accompaniment to Endicott, breadth they lived in a little white abode in a nice adjacency on the outskirts of a bad one. His mother Camille fabricated a animate in development aid, animate such continued hours that aback she got home at night, she’d about accomplish Jon rub her all-overs for an hour or more. His father, Arthur, was the oldest of 12 and the abbot at a babyish storefront church, breadth every Sunday was a ancestors reunion. Jon was the third of four; his sister Carmen was the oldest. Art was four years adolescent than her, and Jon aloof a year adolescent than him. Chandler, the baby, was three years adolescent than Jon.
With their parents working, Carmen looked afterwards her brothers, who adored her. (“She looked kinda like Beyoncé,” he remembers.) They were all forbidden, in a abode kept beneath austere discipline, from venturing out of their advanced backyard into the hood. For the aboriginal decade of Jon’s life, aggregate was good. Afresh Carmen got sick. She had her academician scanned, and doctors begin a tumor. Their ancestor had to work, and so the Jones brothers had to advice their mother booty affliction of their sister. First, Carmen absent her long, admirable hair; afresh she began to lose weight. Her brothers accomplished themselves how to baker to augment her; afresh they abstruse how to change her agriculture tubes; soon, they had to backpack her any time she larboard her bed.
“I was like a certified assistant by age 11,” Jon says. “I knew what I was doing.”
In 2000, Carmen passed. She was 17.
The brothers, devastated, affiliated together, and focused on what they were best at. Art was the captain of the football team, and Chandler was the best amateur on every aggregation he anytime played on, but Jon—everyone alleged him “Boney”—couldn’t t a canyon and could about distill a basketball. His calling was wrestling. Afterwards practicing adjoin Art—already 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds—other 189-pounders seemed on to Jon in comparison. The two dominated, and their ancestor would accord them money based on their performances: $2 for a win, $6 for a pin. By chief year, Jon was ranked 11th in the country. In the anniversary civic chief tournament, he accomplished fourth.
Art would abound up to win a Air-conditioned Bowl with Baltimore; Chandler accomplished amid the NFL leaders in sacks his additional year in New England. There was too abundant aptitude in the abode for Jon to accept had abounding opportunities to be one of the best at something. His parents, however, were abundant added anxious with their accouchement annual scripture than their bookish exploits, and his grades weren’t great. So afterwards admission in 2005, Jon larboard his ancestors and his girlfriend, Jessie Moses, in upstate New York, to arch off not to one of the big acceptable angry powers, but to Iowa Central Community College. In his aboriginal year, Jones won a civic championship in the 197-pound analysis and led his academy to a aggregation title. He additionally met a girl, who became abundant with his aboriginal daughter.
The aing year, Jones transferred to Morrisville Accompaniment College, a D-III academy an hour and a bisected arctic of Endicott. If things had gone differently, maybe Jones would accept transferred again, won a D-I championship, and fabricated the Olympic team; or maybe he would’ve retired from angry afterwards admission and become a cop. But in 2007, Moses, who ashore with Jones, got abundant with his additional daughter. He was 20 years old, and already drowning.
Jones alone out of academy altogether, acid his angry career abbreviate to assignment as a bouncer for $60 a night. He activated to be a attendant at Lockheed Martin and had about accustomed an action aback someone—barely an acquaintance, his name now absent to his memory—reached out to him on Facebook about training at a gym in the area. He absitively to analysis it out, and anon apparent that he was a natural.
In retrospect, Jones, with his angry accomplishments and a aberration athleticism that didn’t absolutely construe to added acceptable sports, was an about ideal prospect. He bound developed a routine: He would go to the gym to apprentice the basics of fighting, appear home, and abide his training through YouTube.
The adventure goes that Jones would watch anime and pro wrestling, and that he was already so artlessly attuned to angry that he could construe moves from characters like Goku and Triple H into techniques that would assignment in complete life. It plays into a approach that Jones was built-in with brainy abject that added fighters lack, a faculty of spatial acquaintance that allows him to cull from sources added fighters can’t admission and construe the abstruse into the real.
I ask Jones about it. He absolutely does watch anime; Dragon Ball Z’s his favorite. And YouTube absolutely was a acquirements tool. But.
“Nah,” Jones says. “I wasn’t throwing no fireballs or annihilation in the animate room.”
From the time he started training, Jones knew aloof how acceptable he could be. He dreamed of backward undefeated; he capital to be not aloof the best, but the flashiest; and he capital anybody to acknowledge how acceptable he was. He wasn’t agreeable with actuality a ablaze on fighting’s terms. He capital to be a boilerplate star.
To get anywhere a that point would booty a lot of assignment and a lot of dues-paying. His aboriginal activity team, BombSquad MMA, formed out of a tiny gym in Ithaca. He accomplished there adjoin men he outweighed by 50 pounds, and aback he got home, he went online and watched the greats—Fedor Emelianenko, José Aldo, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Urijah Faber. He watched his idol, Muhammad Ali. He watched seminars from taekwondo and kung-fu masters.
“I’d booty these abundant fighters, and I’d abstraction these guys,” Jones says. “I would abstraction the best, the best flashy, the guys that had that flair, the guys that had that wow. I’d abstraction those fighters, and I fabricated up my apperception that I’d be all of those at once.”
Jones and Moses were assured in July 2008, and he bare money. With angry banned in New York, he took his aboriginal bender in April, for a bounded advance in Massachusetts. His adversary was Brad Bernard, a podgy, pink, winless alehouse brawler from New Hampshire.
There wasn’t abundant to it. Bernard sucked. Added importantly, Jones sucked. He confused like a bairn deer, all asperous knees and elbows. But he was clearly a able fighter. He fought and accomplished four added men afore July 11, aback Moses gave bearing to their aboriginal daughter, Leah. The aing day, he fought Moyses Gabin in Atlantic City. He’d awfully accomplished in the few months aback the Bernard fight, amalgam aerial kicks, spinning aback kicks, advanced kicks, and elbows into his striking. It was awkward as hell, but he could do it.
In the aboriginal round, Jones bankrupt Gabin’s adenoids with a punch. In the second, Jones bludgeoned Gabin up adjoin the cage with a flurry of punches, afresh pulled back. Gabin sighed, and fell aback adjoin the fence. Jones’s eyes widened; he confused his feet, Ali-style, and threw addition combination. Gabin angry and took a knee. Jones confused again, afresh stood over him, bottomward shells until the adjudicator intervened. Jones turned, blew a kiss to the crowd, and absolved aback to his bend like he was abiding from a airing in the park.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the anchorperson cried. “At one minute and 58 abnormal of annular two, the champ by TKO is Jonny Bones a.k.a. Sexual Chocolaaaaaate Jones.”
Shortly after, Jones, 6-0, got a call. It was the UFC. They anticipation he was the best anticipation they’d apparent aback Georges St-Pierre, and they capital to apperceive if he could booty a activity in a few weeks.
Greg Jackson and I are in his office, alveolate into his exhausted covering couch and awash over his iPad. We’re watching the best difficult activity Jon Jones anytime had.
Jones has alone been activated alert in his career. The aboriginal was adjoin Vitor Belfort in abatement 2012, aback the amateur affective Jones’s arm, swung his larboard leg over his aing to abstruse it, and cranked. For a continued 20 seconds, the arm looked abiding to break. Jones’s bend absolutely dislocated.
“I aloof formed too adamantine to tap out, man,” Jones afterwards told me. “I was so amorous about acceptable and breaking records. Accepting it all go abroad aloof by borer … it aloof didn’t feel right.”
“What if Belfort bankrupt your arm?”
“It would’ve aloof been what it was.”
The additional time Jones was anytime in agitation was a year later, aback he fought Alexander Gustafsson in a five-round war. This is the activity Jackson and I are watching. It’s muted; instead of the approved anchorperson team, Jackson is talking me through it.
“He fights complete agnate to DC,” Jackson says.
“Gustafsson does?” I’m dubious. Gustafsson appears to be Daniel Cormier’s complete adverse in every way. The adjustable Swede is a boxer who stands 6-foot-5 and sports an 81-inch reach. “How so?”
“Entries, exits. You can’t attending at macro,” he says. I’m attractive at the activity like a fan again. Afterwards a few account of watching the two fighters clash, Jackson quizzes me. “How did he get abroad from Jon anniversary and every time?”
I adventure a anemic guess. “Wheels around?”
“He put both calmly in the air aerial so you couldn’t bandy any hooks, and he turns sideways,” Jackson says. “By putting your calmly up, it takes abroad both of their hooks, and afresh you move alongside so he can’t hit you with beeline punches. He does the exact aforementioned affair Cormier does.”
Jones is stronger and the bigger wrestler, but Gustafsson has the acceleration advantage. Afresh and again, he circles Jones, afresh rushes the best in a flurry of punches. By the time Jones is accessible to counter, Gustafsson has already aerial his accoutrements over his arch and pivoted away.
“He’s blockage abroad from Jon, blockage abroad from Jon. Attending how he’s blockage away. Literally animate from him. And afresh aback he decides, he’ll appear beeline on.” Jackson watches the awning intently. “See? Like that? Bang bang! Afresh he’s gonna move ancillary to side.”
It’s lunch, amid the morning and atramentous sessions, and the gym is quiet. Jackson is still acid the gray shirt he wore to morning sparring. “RISE AND GRIND” is accounting on the front, and “EMBRACE THE GRIND” on the aback in orange and black, the colors of Oklahoma State. It’s Cormier’s shirt, and aback Jones absolved in for training, he took notice.
Jon Jones trains at Jackson-Winkeljohn. Photo by Minh Quan.
“You apperceive if I get that shirt off you, I’m afire it, right?” Jones alleged out already Jackson got close. Jackson absolutely considers Cormier a acceptable friend, but he aloof smiled, affectation ignorance.
“It’s aloof a shirt.”
As I watch the Gustafsson fight, I’m cerebration about how earlier, Jones had about boasted about how aback it comes to authentic boxing, he doesn’t absolutely hit actual hard. (“I got no punching power,” he said, captivation his accoutrements abaft his back, agitation ancillary to ancillary while staring bottomward an airy opponent, and afresh throwing an uppercut. “But it looks pretty.”) Some pop would appear in accessible when, three account in, the amateur grazes the best with a beeline right, aperture a cleft on his countenance that will drain into his eye for the blow of the fight. A minute later, Gustafsson torques Jones to the ground—the aboriginal time he has anytime been taken bottomward in his career.
Jackson and I watch as Jones takes the additional round. Aback he allotment to his corner, his aperture is open, and he labors as he tries to choke bottomward mouthfuls of air. Gustafsson takes the third, mostly by artifice Jones, who spends the annular bend at the waist and acid on the quicker Gustafsson afterwards laying awning fire. And afresh the Swede runs out of energy.
“Gustafsson’s not affective as abundant now,” Jackson says to me as the fourth annular starts. “The botheration with that blazon of d plan is you accept to accept wicked endurance.”
In the fourth, it comes: a spinning bend that sends Gustafsson reeling. In his greatest moment of need, the best turns to his signature technique, a move he aboriginal able in Ithaca.
The move doesn’t accomplishment the fight, but it’s decisive. Over the final two rounds, Jones presses advanced and uncorks a battery of strikes, eventually acceptable a aing decision.
“He aloof doesn’t get tired,” Jackson says. “That’s his athleticism. He’s not air-conditioned fast or annihilation like that. He aloof doesn’t get tired.”
After the atramentous jiu-jitsu session, I drive aback to my hotel. I’m comatose off aback Jones calls, adorable me aback to the gym. He wants me to watch a clandestine battle affair with Jackson-Winkeljohn’s arresting coach, Brandon “Six Gun” Gibson.
“I activity at night, so I convenance at night,” he says.
When I airing in, Bob Marley is arena over the loudspeaker and Jones, already decrepit in diaphoresis in a black, sleeveless hoodie, is in the arena with Gibson. They’re dancing; Jones exhales acutely as he slings combinations, and his fists cut through the air afore landing on Gibson’s pads with aciculate fwap! fwap! adjoin his coach’s mitts. Suddenly, the two stop.
“Ahhh,” Gibson moans loudly, demography off his mitts.
Jones smiles as he looks over at me. “Dislocated his finger,” he says, smug, as Gibson tugs at his average finger.
“Part of the job,” says Gibson. Afresh he laughs.
Gibson grew up Albuquerque. He fought professionally, and abstruse kickboxing beneath Winkeljohn until a burst leg concluded his career; afresh he started training fighters at Jackson-Winkeljohn. Afore long, he developed his own arresting style. Now he works with all the fighters in the gym, leads classes in the arch coaches’ stead, and advance about every weekend to bend fights.
Round afterwards annular the two spar. Jones shimmies his amateur like a animate back, sidesteps, and sinks a advance bend into his coach’s bedlam underbelly. Aback Gibson advances, Jones lifts a knee as if he’s kicking, endlessly his adversary short. He fakes a shot, bend low, afore alteration levels and uppercutting clumsily into Gibson’s hand.
He uses the fakes to benumb his opponents, to alteration from aegis to breach and aback again. He’s consistently fluid, consistently moving. Jones starts with feints to agitate his foe’s accent and timing. In his angry stance, Jones extends his continued accoutrements beyond the arena at his opponent, befitting him at bay with the blackmail of putting a feel in his eye. Over the advance of the session, the two assignment on alien chains of punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. During one break, Gibson calls me into the cage. “Wanna see article cool?” he asks.
He calmly me a gridded area of cardboard that carefully resembles an NFL playcard. During fights, Jones’s bend calls out arresting combinations with cipher words accumulated with numbers, which represent what they’ve formed on in sessions like these. The accord amid Jones and his bend requires complete trust. Often, aback Jones tries a spinning bend or a aerial knee, that alarm comes from the corner.
Jones and Gibson activity for eight five-minute circuit in total. Aback they’re finished, Jones sits bottomward on the stairs and the chat moves to Cormier. I appetite to apperceive what makes him different.
“He doesn’t present annihilation different,” Jones says. “I anticipate he does present the accomplished akin of angry I’ve anytime been against. But different?”
He has a point. Cormier is direct, and his combinations are boilerplate a as adult as Jones’s. The botheration is that in fighting, there’s a adverse for everything, and the complete adverse for acme is speed. Jones has never fought an amateur of Cormier’s caliber, anyone who moves about as quickly as he does.
“He’s a fast son of a gun,” Jackson afterwards tells me. “He’s a abundant athlete. Aback that guy decides to footfall on the gas, he’ll go appropriate accomplished you.”
Jones is taller and longer, but Cormier is faster; Jones is the bigger aggressive artist, but Cormier is incomparable at wrestling, Jones’s abject skill; Jones has won adjoin bigger competition, but Cormier hasn’t apparent a distinct flaw. It’s a close-run thing, in theory.
The best is confident, though. I’m not abiding I’ve anytime met anyone so abiding of annihilation as he is that he’s activity to win in my life.
“It’s a new emotion,” says Chael Sonnen. We’re talking about what it feels like aloof afore a bout, as fighters makes their way from the assurance of their locker allowance to the cage.
“It’s not an affect anyone can feel unless they’ve been to war,” he says. “It’s fear. It’s anxiety. There’s about no excitement.”
He talks about how fighters on every agenda blanket their hands, cull on their gloves, and leave the locker allowance vowing that this is their aftermost fight, the aftermost time they’ll airing adjoin their own death. Win or lose, they’re aback training the aing week. Abhorrence isn’t the thing; it’s advantageous the fear. It’s addictive. Sonnen, who absent 14 times in his career, tells me that he’s capital a rematch with every distinct fighter who has anytime baffled him, except for one: Jon Jones.
It was Sonnen’s fault. Through a convoluted alternation of maneuverings, Sonnen—an outstanding wrestler angry appealing acceptable and eventually ashamed middleweight fighter—managed, in 2013, to defended a light-heavyweight appellation activity adjoin Jones for which he was in no way qualified, and which he answer with a advance of low-grade race-baiting. This did not go disregarded in Jones’s camp, and aback the time came, the best seemed beneath absorbed on assault Sonnen than on base him. For the complete aboriginal round, he threw Sonnen about like a child, advancing so berserk that he didn’t alike apprehension aback he about tore his own toe off. All the amateur could do was coil up in the fetal position and delay for it to end.
By the time he tore Sonnen apart, Jones had continued aback accustomed himself as the baddest motherfucker on Earth. In the aboriginal annular of his additional activity in the UFC, Jones affective Stephan Bonnar’s leg, spun, and landed an bend to Bonnar’s temple that aerial him off the ground; it happened so fast that Bonnar anticipation a fan had hit him from abaft with a bottle. Six months later, antic a new “Philippians 4:13” boom on his appropriate shoulder— I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me—he abashed out Jake O’Brien on background of UFC 100, the bigger appearance in the promotion’s history. Georges St-Pierre, arresting his welterweight championship on the card, acicular Jones out to his coach, Greg Jackson, who arrive him to Albuquerque to alternation with GSP and above light-heavyweight best Rashad Evans. Jones and Moses were assured their additional child, Carmen, but he accustomed and flew to New Mexico for the aboriginal time. He and Evans became aing friends.
Over the aing year and a half, Jones acid his abilities at Jackson-Winkeljohn, and by the alpha of 2011, his almanac stood at 11-1. That’s aback Jones boarded on the greatest agenda year in the history of fighting, an annus mirabilis that, if anything, may accept been too brilliant.
In February, he toyed with best Ryan Bader, outwrestling the backstab D-I All-American calmly and appointment him with a decollate in the additional round. Afterwards the fight, longtime UFC blush man Joe Rogan climbed into the cage and appear that Rashad Evans—the aing amateur for the light-heavyweight title—was injured, and that the promoters capital to bender Jones adjoin the champion, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
The Las Vegas army roared. Abaft Jones, Winkeljohn aloft his accoutrements in triumph, screaming, as Jones burst to his knees.
“I feel great! God is so good,” Jones said. “I feel so great. Hats off to Endicott, New York. I’m activity for a apple title, baby! Let’s do it!”
Evans larboard Jackson-Winkeljohn not continued afterwards this. By demography the appellation fight, Jones was about accordant to eventually activity Evans. It was a affectionate of betrayal—the aforementioned kind, a lot of diehards accept noted, that Cormier banned to accord out to Velasquez. What mattered to Jones, though, was that six weeks afterwards he’d fought Bader, he begin himself adverse off adjoin Rua for the light-heavyweight title. Rua’s brother agitated the belt out to the octagon, and Jones saw it aloof afore the fight; it was all he needed. He burst the champion.
Fans could apprehend the clammy thuds of Jones’s shots landing in the high deck. Alike as adjudicator Herb Dean jumped in to breach up the fight, Rua was borer out. A few months shy of his 24th birthday, Jones was the youngest apple best ever.
His aboriginal amateur was Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, himself a above champion. Rampage was air-conditioned as hell. He was black; he had a swagger; he wore an eight-pound automated alternation for a necklace; afore fights, he’d angular aback and bark like a wolf. Jones looked up to him.
When the activity started, Jones beneath bottomward and crabwalked to the centermost of the arena with one duke on the ground. It was weird; the amateur looked rattled. Afresh Jones attempt on him and pushed him up adjoin a fence.
“Oh, that crawl,” Jones says to me, laughing. He thinks he best it up from Evans, or maybe Anderson Silva. “It aloof acquainted so right, you know? The aboriginal time I crawled into the octagon I aloof acquainted like an animal, you know? Like a creature, like I wasn’t absolutely human.”
Jones spent three circuit blame the bits out of Rampage’s legs from ambit afore asthmatic him out. Rampage was chiefly a boxer who fabricated a animate animadversion out bad motherfuckers; he didn’t acreage a distinct ability attempt to Jones’s head.
To aing out the year, Jones fought Brazilian Lyoto Machida, who was a problem, addition above best who was acclaimed for amalgam arcane, anachronistic techniques that were anticipation to be abandoned to history. The harder you approved to hit him, the sillier you looked. The aboriginal annular was the aboriginal Jones anytime lost.
Midway through the second, though, Jones hit Machida with a beeline larboard that alone him to the canvas. Dazed, he fought his way to his feet, but the best noosed an arm about his neck, bound his hands, and squeezed. For long, alarming seconds, Machida was affianced amid Jones and the cage, his arm trapped at an bend over Jones’s. It looked as if he was fighting. He wasn’t. Jones let go of Machida as accidentally as he would a bag of groceries, and the amateur burst face-first to the ground, unconscious. Jones absolved abroad afterwards alike attractive back.
Jon Jones finishes Lyoto Machida at UFC 140. Via the UFC
Jones started the year by assault his aing a and accomplished by administration of three of the baddest motherfuckers the apple has anytime seen. This is aback bodies started aggravating to put into words what they were witnessing, alike rationalize it. They talked about the best with a mix of hushed awe and disgust. Actuality was a fighter who was added gifted, better-trained, and added artistic than anyone else, and who on top of aggregate abroad wanted it more. Here, also, was a fighter who was crushing all the heroes of the accomplished generation, and whose adroitness and admiration led him to use not aloof techniques that no one abroad could, but that no one abroad would. He was hacking at opponent’s legs, application ancillary and advanced bliss on and about the knees alike if it meant jeopardizing livelihoods. He was aiming elbows at eye sockets. He was fighting, generally, as if he meant it. Added than that, he was accomplishing this all while presenting himself as a moral paragon. Bodies began to allocution about whether Jones was alike fair. Sympathetic commentators like Joe Rogan didn’t help, disposed to abate him to the sum of his concrete attributes, talking about how he was aloof too big and too tall, his 84-and-a-half-inch ability aloof too long, and how no one could get a him—an arbitrary proposition, one ability say.
“Jon Jones’s ability is impossibly irrelevant,” Sonnen says. “But we’re activity to pretend ability matters? Any allegation that if you diminished his arm and legs, he’d lose, is wrong. You’ll apprehend things like footwork. There’s no such thing.”
To Sonnen, inside-fight allocution comes bottomward to a simple fact: big draws activity alone two or three times a year, but accomplish for the best acute stories. Because they don’t absolutely do annihilation account talking about best of the time, commentators and activity writers accept to ample amplitude by talking about things like ability and acme and footwork, partly as a way to accumulate from bombastic the obvious, and partly as a way to accumulate abroad from the abandoned at the affection of MMA.
One of the the things that makes angry altered is that—less because of any warrior’s cipher than because of the sport’s mechanics—it rarely makes sense, in theory, to concede. As continued as there’s time on the clock, a activity can be won with a distinct bang or sweep, or absent with one aberration or moment of hubris.
For this reason, angry is about hope. Sometimes, bouts end in knockouts; added times, a fighter blacks out; occasionally, a fighter is briefly bedridden with, say, a bite to the liver, and collapses. Added often, fighters break. They lose their will to continue. They lose hope.
“You do accomplish a decision,” Greg Jackson says. “There are lots of times in fights breadth you’re like, I could tap. I’m absolutely tired, and I’m asthmatic blood, and I can aloof accord up and let this guy exhausted on me, or accord him an arm or whatever. Those decisions do happen.”
Jon Jones became the baddest motherfucker on Earth by authoritative the baddest motherfuckers on Earth accord up. He makes them lose their will to fight. He makes them surrender. Anybody can get finished, and best do, and this is why some ability acquisition it aural themselves to beam at times they’ve been agape out. But alike the saddest amazon cans pride themselves on not giving up. It’s why so abounding fighters, accident alertness while angry in a authority with boilerplate to go, will attempt until they bore into the abysm rather than tap.
Jones actual rarely finishes his opponents flat-out; nine of his 15 UFC fights accept been stopped, but he has yet to assault addition out cold, and he’s acquired alone one to lose consciousness. He does article worse: He takes abroad their pride. He breach them. It’s a atrocious irony, but the best alarming affair about the best may not be the assault he puts on you, but the anticipation that it won’t end bound and mercifully. This is what Sonnen agency aback he says that the alone affair that affairs about Jones is that aback you activity him, you’re activity to get aching badly. And as they apprentice it first-hand, his opponents apprehend they can airing out of the cage any time they’d like. All they accept to do is accord in.
There are bodies who will acquaint you that, alike if they haven’t fought yet, Jones-Cormier is already one of the best rivalries in MMA history—maybe the best. It’s not aloof that these are the two best in the world, or that they accomplish for a abundant abstruse matchup, or alike that they absolutely can’t angle one another. There’s article abroad at comedy here.
“What makes this rivalry?” Sherdog’s Jordan Breen asks me. “From the minute Jones says, ‘Are you still there, ?’ Cormier’s complete acknowledgment is incredulity.”
It’s a activity amid two men who breach everyone, anniversary faced with an adversary who doesn’t break. Anniversary absolutely can’t accept the added alike thinks he can win. Anniversary believes, basically, that the added is a fraud—and maybe it’s not adamantine to accept why.
Jones and Cormier are negatives of one another, anniversary altogether apery what the other’s activity could accept been if things had angry out aloof a little bit differently. Jones’s career is a phenomenon of declining upward. He was a ablaze anticipation wrestler who never formed adamantine abundant to get into the appropriate schools, had to retire early, and stumbled into MMA as a way of acclimation a bedraggled life. Now the ancestor of four’s a millionaire, a champion, already planning his escape.
Cormier, on the added hand, did aggregate right. There’s a accord that the Olympian is a “benevolent, admirable man,” as Breen describes him—a man who sacrificed his own dream of acceptable the abounding appellation rather than abandon his friend, who says that he sees his backward babe Kaedyn sitting on the top of the cage, auspicious him on every time the aperture locks abaft him. But he never won at Oklahoma State, never medaled at the sport’s accomplished level, and afterwards angry his way out of abjection is alone now experiencing his aboriginal besom with stardom. He’s fought for over two decades, and has about annihilation to appearance for it.
This is Cormier’s aftermost chance. A win would acquiesce him to assuredly claim, afterwards all these years, that he’s the complete best. It would change his life. For Jones, there’s article abundant added abstruse at stake. It’s the adventitious to prove that he’s article added than an aloof actor or a dragon swatting bottomward agilely armed and adventuresome heroes by demography the aing affair he has to an according and breaking him. It’s his adventitious to accomplish bodies believe him.
The alone affair continuing amid Jones and absolute distinction is Cormier. Should he exhausted his greatest battling and exhausted Gustafsson again, Jones will accept absolutely bankrupt out the sport’s covering division, in which case he’ll move to the abounding analysis to booty on superfights before, perhaps, abrogation the activity entirely. From here, the approaching all seems so clear. You can brainstorm bodies years from now attractive over his record, and seeing what is now and may abide his one loss, and aggravating to amount out how an angry fighter was beaten.
So I ask him at banquet one night, and his eyes about-face and his apperception inverts and for a breach second, the baddest motherfucker on Earth isn’t in Albuquerque anymore. He’s 600 afar away, bristles years in the past, in Las Vegas, central an eight-sided alternation articulation fence with a man aloof a few strides abroad who in abnormal is activity to airing appropriate beyond the cage in advanced of the referee, God, and anybody and advance him, afresh and again, until the activity is chock-full or Jones goes horribly, mercifully limp.
His opponent, Matt Hamill, is a bad motherfucker. He won the NCAA D-III civic championship three beeline years in academy and won two medals in the 2001 Deaflympics, and has a 7-2 almanac as a able fighter. Thick-necked, with beady eyes set beneath a low, coriaceous brow, Hamill looks and fights a bit like a rhino.
Before long, Jones slams his adversary to the arena with abundant force to rip a accept out of its socket. Then, sitting on Hamill’s , Jones unleashes a battery of elbows. Some get through, and accompanying rivers of claret cascade from the arch of his adenoids assimilate either ancillary of his face, pooling in his eye sockets. Hamill, built-in deafened and now blind, is abandoned as he’s anytime been.
Jones looks at adjudicator Steve Mazzagatti, eyes argumentation for a stoppage, but he’s ignored. Exhausted, he switches aback to tired, about apathetic punches. Hamill can alone lift an arm abroad from his anatomy into the air to block the onslaught; still, the adjudicator refuses to intervene. Jones looks at him one aftermost time, afresh tucks his appropriate arm into his body, lifts his bend beeline into the air, and aims it beeline bottomward assimilate Hamill’s face.
“That’s an illegal elbow, Jon! Stop! Stop!” Mazzagatti cries, assuredly diving in to abstracted the two as Jones looks up in surprise. “You can’t do that elbow. Angle up.”
Mazzagatti grabs Jones’s arm like a ancestor administration a arch adolescent and guides him over to the board for a blame and one-point deduction. Hamill charcoal burst on his back, accoutrements splayed on either side. He tries to get up, blame his all-overs into the air, but can’t. The adjudicator walks aback to the centermost of the ring, aeroemism over to associate at him, afresh after-effects his hands. The fight’s over.
There’s commotion as coaches and cameramen flood the octagon for the decision. Afterwards a abbreviate deliberation, anchorperson Bruce Buffer has it. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he says, “referee Steve Mazzagatti has alleged a stop to this contest. Due to advised elbows, there’s been a awkwardness of Jonny ‘Bones’ Jones. Therefore the champ is Matt Hamill!”
Five years later, Jones grimaces hardly at the memory.
There’s a theory, traded by alive sorts to this day, that because Hamill confused his shoulder, he could assure himself with alone one arm. And because Jones’s arena and batter was so barbarous and relentless, Hamill couldn’t blow extensive out to his ancillary to tap out afterwards accepting his face caved in. So he verbally submitted, but alone Jones could hear. That’s why Jones kept pausing and attractive up, about allurement Mazzagatti to alarm the fight. But the referee’s antipathy affected the fighter to booty the accommodation into his own hands.
It makes sense. Sometimes, faced with an adversary who is accepting baffled abominably but won’t break, ascendant fighters will carefully end the activity with, say, a bite to the spine. Maybe the actionable elbows—in truth, no added able or alarming than elbows from any added angle—were an act of mercy. It’s a nice theory, in the way it suggests that Jones, a Christian, the son of a preacher and a development aid artisan who about fights about afterwards conscience, at atomic already begin article bigger than himself in the cage, and in the way its actuality suggests that for all the bodies who appetite to address him off as a actor and a fake, there are at atomic some bodies who appetite to accept it.
“No,” he says. It was annihilation like that; he was so inexperienced, he didn’t alike apperceive the bend was illegal. He was heartbroken. He’d consistently dreamed of backward undefeated.
We move on, and afresh I ask him.
“What’s it like to airing in a ring?”
“It’s the best activity ever, man,” he says. “It’s like the realest moment ever.”
I’m sitting here, in this chic restaurant in this poor burghal aing to the greatest fighter to anytime live, because of what I perceived to be commonalities. We’re both adolescent and black, and accept been athletes best of our lives; I thought, in our own way, we both reveled in competition, aloof as I thought, in our own way, we were both tough. But I realize, alert to Jones, that I’ve never believed in annihilation as abundant as he believes in himself.
Excited, he starts speaking faster.
“When you airing into a cage, there’s no hiding,” he says. “There’s no ambuscade who you are. If you formed hard, it’s gonna show. If you’re a , it’s gonna show. If you’re scared, it’s gonna show. If your cardio’s not right, it’s gonna show. It shows. If you got heart, it’s gonna show. So it absolutely shows appropriate afresh and there what affectionate of man you absolutely are, what you’re absolutely fabricated of.”
The baddest motherfucker on Earth spends the majority of his time hiding, lying, assuming to be article else. But angry reveals things. Aback he accomplish into the cage, he leaves his affectation behind, and aggregate is bare abroad until all that charcoal is who Jon Jones absolutely is.
“Are you abashed at all?” I ask.
“No, I’m not scared.”
He moves on again, and we allocution for awhile. By the time I cull him back, his Caesar bloom is continued gone.
“Are you abashed of anything?”
“Nah, man. I’m not abashed of anything.” He pauses, curious.
“What are you abashed of?”
Top photo: Getty Images
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