Last weekend I took a trip down to Atlantic City, with the excuse being that I would get to speak with youngest champion in UFC history. Jones was at the Showboat to support one of his fighter friends at Cage Wars 8 and host an after party at The Foundation Room. (The Showboat was the very casino where I watched the inaugural Border Battle on a hungover Saturday afternoon at a friend’s bachelor party. Long story short, good memories at The Showboat.)
If it wasn’t for the prospect of getting beat up, the life of a fighter sounds pretty good. During the day the worst thing that happened to Jones was losing his sunglasses in the ocean. At night he gets to host parties at casinos.
Jones seemed extremely confident, as you would expect a UFC champion to be. Both men and women grabbed at him to take pictures and shake hands. You never know how a fighter will be treated, but just outside an MMA event, they’re as big as any other celebrity.
I asked Jones about the difference between classic Pride rules and the unified rules that the UFC uses. “UFC is what I’ve got and what I’ve always used and I’m happy with them.”
The entire Jones family is looking forward to football season. Jones’ younger brother, Chandler is a senior at Syracuse on the watch list for the Lombardy Award. Jones’ older brother, Arthur Jones of the Baltimore Ravens, trained with him during the lockout.
A few weeks earlier, Jones was part of a press conference to promote the upcoming fight with Rampage Jackson in Denver. While he seemed a bit annoyed with Jackson and Dana White referring to his youth, he insists he wasn’t mad. “I am young and my youth tends to show. Seems like a lot of people in America are trying to do things to make them seem more young. I’m young and I’m happy.”
Since becoming the light heavyweight champion, Jones has started popping up in advertisements. Most notably, K-Swiss ads with Kenny Powers and Bud Light ads with boss, Dana White. “I think it’s great. It’s good for this sport. The more fighters that get on TV, the more it becomes mainstream.”
Surprisingly, Jones didn’t seem as frustrated with the state of MMA in New York as I am. “I think for us fighters, especially, me, as a New Yorker, it’s up to us to work to get the sport legalized.”
Despite the fact that Jones already has a rivalry with ex-teammate, Rashad Evans, Jones refused to talk about a future fight. Before I had finished asking, he interrupted with, “I’m not looking past Rampage.” Not even to Rashad? “I never look past an opponent.” Alright then.
So his focus is on the former light heavyweight champion. “I think it’s going to be a great fight. Rampage is a tough, talented athlete. I’m fortunate for another opportunity to rise to the occasion.”
At 24, Jones is ready to answer (or not answer) all the questions we have to throw at him. It will be interesting to see how he changes if he keeps winning. For now, Jones is a supremely confident young man. (I’m an ancient 28, but I’m not making the mistake of calling him a kid.) With the way things are going, there’s no reason not to be.
[Images: Tom Briglia/PhotoGraphics Photography]