UFC's Jon Jones eyes crossover stardom
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LOS ANGELES - On nights when Jon Jones' four daughters are in bed, when he's done with his training and video games and frequent trips to the gun range, the UFC's light heavyweight champion sometimes spends hours searching for answers online.
"I just Google, YouTube things like, 'What is confidence?' and 'How to be a winner,' and 'How to think like a winner,"' Jones said. "I just obsess myself with being confident. I'm not always the most confident guy, but even if I'm not, I'm going to pretend. I'm going to lie. I'm going to act like I have no fear."
Mixed martial arts' premier pound-for-pound fighter is determined to win a mental game these days, even if he's mostly playing against himself.
Nobody in the 205-pound division seems to have much of a chance against a dominant athlete who never stops trying to get better -- and who's chasing nothing less than global stardom.
Jones studies confidence with the same detail-oriented passion that he applies to jiu-jitsu and kickboxing. While it's usually not advisable to fake skills inside the cage, he can do it on the outside -- with help from his Tony Robbins motivational recordings, of course.
"Do I have my doubts? Of course I have my doubts, but I would never share them," Jones said. "It messes with your opponent. Sometimes I believe I'm so confident that my opponent, subconsciously, believes in me, too, and that's when you've really got it going on."
If Jones beats Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 in Toronto this weekend, as he is widely expected to do, he'll break Tito Ortiz's UFC record for light heavyweight title defenses. It's a goal Jones set for himself, but it's just one in a long list that can't be contained by an octagon.
The good-looking star with two brothers in the NFL and endorsement deals with Nike and Gatorade imagines showing up on silver screens soon "in a really big movie with some major actors." Jones wants entertainment accolades and magazine spreads, such as the shoot he did recently for GQ.
"A lot of really cool things have been happening for me. It's a living testament: If you set a goal and you believe in it whole-heartedly, it's going to happen. Literally every goal that I've asked for, everything I've asked for out of life, has come to pass."
And unlike some fighters who don't think far beyond their next paycheck, Jones speaks in mindful terms of his growing brand. He wants to set an example for other UFC fighters as a master navigator of the intersection of sports and entertainment.
"No longer will we be looked at as a loose organization where there's a lot of shadiness going on, a lot of crookedness and mistreatment going on," Jones said. "I believe I can play a part in us being the ultimate professional team."
He also knows there's a sizable section of the UFC's fan base that can't stand him, although he can't understand why. At a recent public appearance in downtown Los Angeles, several hundred fans lustily booed him onstage until his self-deprecating charm and quick wit won them over -- until they booed him again as he left.
Jones laughs at the whole scenario, choosing to focus on the fans who buy up his Nike gear within hours of its release.
"I realize that a lot of great athletes and fighters are hated," Jones said. "I just need to be comfortable with it. I have a really strong group of friends and mentors around me, and they're what matter at the end of the day. ... Basically, the Yankees are hated for a reason. Whoever is good at anything is usually hated, so it is what it is, and I'm really comfortable with it. What I like to focus on is how many people support me."
But underneath the layers of his growing fame and celebrity, Jones insists he'll always remember he's in this position because he took up MMA six years ago as a way for a junior college wrestler to earn some extra money after unexpected fatherhood.
Jones doesn't watch much TV while he's at home with his fiancee, his daughters and -- until recently -- 13 dogs, including 10 German shepherd puppies.
When he sits down, he obsessively watches fight film, both his own bouts and his future opponents' fights, to the point where he knows the announcers' descriptions by heart. He searches for tendencies and weaknesses, looking for edges in everything from other fighters' footwork to their demeanor in interviews.
"I study on a ridiculous level," he said. "It makes no sense how much I study. I feel like I have an unfair advantage. I can't believe nobody else has really got on to it the way I have."