UFC champ Jon Jones' goal-setting approach began in high school
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Yes, it is true that should Jon Jones win at UFC 165, he will break Tito Ortiz's mark for most consecutive title defenses in the light heavyweight division.
But that's just the record. The story here with Jones is the one behind the record -- that of setting a goal and achieving it.
"So far I've been able to achieve every goal I've set," Jones told Newsday. "I'm a believer in goal-setting and achieving them and believing in yourself.
Jones, 26, is considered by many to be the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter right now. He'll defend that mythical title, along with his real one, against Alexander Gustafsson in Toronto this Saturday on pay-per-view.
"Just being remembered, that's ultimately one of my biggest goals, and me going down as an all-time great would definitely help with that," said Jones, a father of four.
But Jones' desire to set, then achieve, goals began 300 miles south and east of the most populated city in Canada. It was in Endicott, N.Y., where Jones remembered first becoming a goal-oriented athlete.
As a junior at Union-Endicott High School, Jones finished in third place in the 2004 state wrestling tournament. He decided 2005 would be different.
"More important to me than graduating," Jones said.
J.J. Stanbro, Jones' high school wrestling coaches, remembered watching the 2004 final match with Jones.
"That was the point where he really started to focus on it," Stanbro said.
He became a more inquisitive wrestler in his senior year, asking question after question about a particular move or opponent during practice or after watching film.
"Walking around the building, he was a regular high school boy," Stanbro said. "When it came time to step on the mat, he was all business."
Jones went undefeated that year and won the state title at 189 pounds with a 2-1 victory over Huntington's Jack Sullivan. (Arthur Jones, Jon's brother who now plays defensive end for the Baltimore Ravens, won the 275-pound state title that same year.)
"Man, just that feeling of 'I did it,' that feeling of accomplishment was a feeling I never forgot," Jones said. "It made me a believer instantly. It really enhanced my psychology for the rest of my life."
To the point of winning a national championship in wrestling at Iowa Central Community College the following year.
"At that point, that's when I realized I really could do anything I put my mind to, I really could compete with anybody in the world at any sport," Jones said. I know that's not necessarily true, but that's the way I kind of believe. If I apply myself, put in the effort, put in the hours, I'm that caliber of athlete I can do anything I put my mind to. It's gotta start with me."
That mental approach has manifested itself in his MMA career. Jones has been victorious in 18 of his 19 pro fights, and that one loss was a disqualification for an illegal elbow in a bout against Matt Hamill that Jones completely dominated. Hamill managed to land seven of 19 strikes in that fight, compared with Jones' 55 of 106.
Since winning the light heavyweight title from Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in March 2011, Jones has faced four former UFC champions and one WEC champion -- Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen. Only Evans made it to the final round.
In Gustafsson, Jones faces a new challenge. The 26-year-old Swede is 6-foot-5 and says he has a reach of 81.2 inches (several MMA websites list Gustafsson's reach as 76.5). He's the tallest, lankiest opponent Jones has ever faced. Jones has an 84.5-inch reach, the longest of any UFC fighter ever, but he doesn't see that as his greatest advantage. Nor is it speed or power or size.
"The best advantage to have is intelligence," Jones said. "Intelligence. I believe I'm a smarter fighter than this guy. Not saying that I'm a smarter person or what not. Just, when it comes to this sport, I believe that I am light years ahead of him."