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Jones is perfect face of UFC
What a wild ride 2011 has been for Jon Jones.
It began in February when Jones defeated fellow light heavyweight contender Ryan Bader by submission at UFC 126. In March, after securing a title shot six weeks earlier, Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history when the then-23-year-old defeated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua for the light heavyweight belt at UFC 128.
But the creation of the legend came before he ever stepped in the Octagon that night, when Jones — en route to his traditional pre-fight meditation time, at Great Falls Historic Park in Paterson, NJ — saw an elderly couple screaming for help. Jones chased down a man who'd just bashed the couple's car window and stolen their GPS, then held the robber down until police arrived.
You can't make this stuff up.
Jones (14-1), defended his title for the first time in September, when he manhandled former champ Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 135 in Denver and silenced the doubters who wondered if he was all hype and no experience.
"Jon Jones, I'm telling you, that kid's here to stay," Rampage said afterward.
And Saturday night in Toronto, Jones will step into the Air Canada Centre in Toronto for UFC 140 as the face of UFC, a humble, likable kid seen by many as a once-in-a-generation fighter who could dominate the UFC for years to come.
A heady experience for the son of a Pentecostal preacher from upstate New York.
But if there's anyone who can cope with the pressures of fast fame, it's Jones. It's been just three years since he was called up for his first UFC fight as a last-minute fill-in at UFC 87. He had two weeks to prepare and came away with a unanimous decision. Now he's king, the heavy favorite over former light heavyweight champion Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida (17-2). Yet, you can't tell it from Jones' coolly confident demeanor, with a quiet voice not prone to bold predictions or pre-fight trash-talk.
One of the few times Jones has stepped back and thought about his incredible journey was earlier this year, when he walked into a Bentley dealership. He'd never bought a brand-new car before. Now, here he was, surrounded by ridiculously expensive automobiles. He could buy any one he wanted.
"That was a really cool feeling," Jones told FOXSports.com. "I'd put everything in the bank account. And there it just really hit me, going to that dealership, that I've become really successful."
He got a 2012 Bentley Continental GT, with 500 horsepower, front turbo and a sticker price of nearly $200,000.
Don't expect that success to change Jones' down-to-earth demeanor. He's the exact spokesman UFC needs as it becomes more mainstream: clean-cut, intelligent, a marketing dream. He began a recent interview by saying, "Bonjour, monsieur." He plans to take his parents on a cruise after UFC 140. He's the perfect counter-example for those who look at UFC as where two hooligans beat each other's brains out in a cage.
There are other premier fights at UFC 140. Former heavyweight champ Frank Mir will take on former interim champ Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, while Nogueira's twin brother, Antônio Rogério Nogueira, will take on former light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz. Canadian Mark Hominick will fight Chan Sung-Jung.
But make no mistake, this is Jones' show, even if it's not the fight fans wanted. The hoped-for matchup against Rashad Evans didn't materialize because of Evans' lingering thumb injury, but Jones-Machida ought to be an intriguing battle even if Jones is a 5-to-1 favorite. Jones is known for his unorthodox striking style and spinning elbows, while Machida's elusive style is based on karate, judo and jiu-jitsu.
Before Saturday's fight, Jones and his coaches will bundle up in winter coats, jump in a van and travel to a beautiful park near Toronto his head coach, Greg Jackson, found. That's where Jones can tune out the noise and center his thoughts.
"Meditation is just something that makes me me," Jones said.
The entourage will go in separate directions. Jones will sit, stare at nature, close his eyes, pray for safety and wisdom.
Before he knows it, an hour and a half will have passed in silence.
"We have thousands and thousands and thousands of thoughts every single day," Jones explained. "To really simplify your thoughts for an hour, think about just one moment, one environment, to put that much mind power to one thing, it really elevates you."
"It's praying," Jones continued. "It's talking to myself … It's me telling myself to trust my abilities, telling myself I was meant to be here, telling myself that I have a gift and that I'm using my gift to find my purpose in life."
And so, in a place near Toronto whose exact location he won't reveal, Jones will sit in the sub-freezing air. He will visualize his training leading up to this fight. He'll think of the laps he's swam, the miles he's ran, the ropes he's climbed, the sparring he's done. "Why be nervous?" he'll tell himself. You're prepared.
"Then you just stand up and open your eyes and say, 'This is my show,'" Jones said. "'This is my moment. This is UFC 140, and my name's on the card. This is my time to shine.' Why doubt anything? I just get up feeling like Superman."