Three years and multiple punches to the head later, Jon Jones still remembers one moment in particular about the night he first won the UFC light heavyweight title.
And it's probably not any moment you've been considering in the time since you read the headline, clicked it and digested the nouns in the paragraph above.
It's not when he won the fight or had the UFC's gold strapped around his waist by president Dana White. Instead, the most memorable moment for Jones came when Mauricio "Shogun" Rua made his entrance to the octagon and one of his cornermen held the belt in the air. Jones happened to be looking up at the big video screens above the octagon inside the Prudential Center at the time. He was the challenger, so he was already in the octagon awaiting the champion, the introductions and the fight.
"When I saw that belt, over Shogun’s head, standing there in the octagon I made up my mind that no matter what happened, no matter how he hit me or what he broke, I was not gonna leave without that belt," Jones said Monday during a lunch with a small group of reporters in Manhattan. "[It] reminded me at that very moment why I trained so hard, why I was there, he reminded me that the experience was real and that this was for the opportunity to be number one in the world for something.”
Jones said that since he had done so many interviews and news conferences and media availabilities that week, he "almost forgot" what the point of his time in New Jersey was.
“When I looked up at the monitor, I was like, 'Whoa, this is for the belt. This is my moment,'" said Jones, who grew up in Ithaca.
Jones won the title that night -- March 19, 2011 -- with a thorough destruction of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in Newark. He opened that fight with a flying knee and high leg kick, in part because of the excitement of seeing that belt and being reminded once more what was at stake for the then 23-year-old Jones.
Jones (19-1, 13-1 UFC) hasn't lost since. He's 26 now and will attempt a seventh consecutive title defense this Saturday at UFC 172 against Glover Teixeira (22-2, 5-0) in Baltimore.
One thing will be noticeably different on this night in Baltimore than that night in Newark -- the champion's championship belt won't be visible upon his walk to the octagon. It never is, so long as Jones remains the champion. Call it a lesson learned by a challenger-turned-champion.
“I never forget that moment," Jones said. "I never bring the belt to the octagon with me because of that. I don’t want to re-inspire somebody last minute.”