Jones keys in on tactics, not contempt

April, 19, 2012
4/19/12
6:27
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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You'd guess by now Jon Jones knows everything he could wish to know about Rashad Evans.

Not so.

There’s never enough intel -- not for Jones, especially when he’s days away from a fight the UFC light heavyweight champion has pondered over for far too long.

So while participants on a conference call designed to hype the main event for UFC 145 heard Evans lambaste Jones as a cocky liar and his old trainers as patently selfish, Jones gleaned something else. Something he thought was telling.

"They say if you want to get into a man's head, listen to the words that are coming out of his mouth,” Jones explained an hour later.

Apparently, among Jones’s many other gifts, the 24-year-old budding superstar is capable of filtering meaningful data, what he called "the true intent,” through the incessant noise of a melodrama.
[+] EnlargeJon Jones
Ed Mulholland/ESPN.comJon Jones turned down a chance to save UFC 151 from extinction. Does that mean he deserves all of the blame?

On Friday, after listening to Evans speak, Jones came to the conclusion that his challenger, rival and former friend is distracted. This is significant, Jones went on to say, because it signals that Evans, in some measure, isn't fully focusing on what it will take to win Saturday’s upcoming five-round title bout in Atlanta.

This is the champion’s take: While Evans has revenge on the brain, Jones is thinking tactics.

As insights go, it may not be Jones’ most impressive. Evans basically confirmed as much. Of course he wants win and regain the UFC belt, but the 32-year-old mixed martial artist is no less eager to teach hard lessons to the current titleholder and the team for which he once fought.

The champion sees Evans as being "more caught up than the fans are” in the drawn-out tale of how their rivalry and fight came to pass, and of the potential payback aimed at trainers they once shared.

“Rashad's biggest thing is to win this whole prefight drama,” Jones said. “He's stuck on winning over fans. He wants people to hate me and hate Greg Jackson. That’s the only thing he cares about, and in the process he has stretched the truth on numerous occasions.”

He's stuck on winning over fans. He wants people to hate me and hate Greg Jackson. That's the only thing he cares about, and in the process he has stretched the truth on numerous occasions.

-- Jon Jones, on Rashad Evans being caught up in emotions

Evans is certainly emotional about his situation, which any reasonable person should understand.

Not only does the challenger feel wronged by people he considered close friends; he lived the sporting truth that no matter how good you are -- and he’s excellent at this fighting stuff -- inevitably someone younger, faster, bigger or stronger is waiting in the wings. In this case, that happened while he was still in his prime.

Jones can claim to knows Evans’ thoughts or feelings, but for all his alleged intuition, he’s never actually experienced betrayal by a camp he helped build. He has no clue, at least not yet, what it’s like to have someone more talented than him come into his domain, divert attention away from resources that were dedicated to him and usurp what was once his.

Jones is the golden boy of the moment, and golden boys, for periods of their lives, know no such things.

The UFC light heavyweight champ has only begun his ascent. Youth, talent and physically unique dimensions, including a dominant shot-blocker’s wing span, all made up for the fact that he remains new to this game. Despite holding the belt, a distinction earned just three years after he stepped into the mixed martial arts world, Jones isn’t nearly as good as he projects out to be.

“If you tell him to go out and try something he'll just make it happen,” trainer Mike Winkeljohn said. “It's kind of incredible.”

Compared to Evans, whom Winkeljohn worked closely with for four years when the light heavyweight trained out of Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque, N.M., the trainer said Jones doesn’t do what’s “real normal for most people.” He doesn’t second-guess himself, in part because he’s come to rely on his faith and an ability to improvise in the Octagon.
[+] EnlargeJones
Ross Dettman for ESPN.comAccording to his trainers, Jon Jones' athleticism and self-belief are what separate him from the pack.

Half the time, Jones said, he doesn't even know what he's going to do in a fight until it happens.

“Rashad has tendencies,” said the son of a pastor from upstate New York. “He's fought so long he's figured out his favorite moves. I don't have favorite moves. He has no clue what to expect.”

That’s not quite right. Evans has some idea; after all, they have plenty of history in the gym. Depending on who’s doing the recollecting, Evans either put the kid in his place or, as Winkeljohn suggested, had “the fear of God” injected into him.

What the former Michigan State University wrestler may not be familiar with, especially over the last year or so, is how calculated Jones has become. Just as he listens and deciphers to find true intent, Jones also has developed a habit of saying only “what I want to be heard.”

This could be why some people, including and especially Evans, suggest Jones as fake, a fraud. Though the two can be confused, there is a wide difference between someone who isn’t the genuine article and someone who is coldly premeditated. Jones leans towards the latter.

During last week’s conference call, for instance, Jones made an impassioned defense of Jackson after Evans unloaded on the trainer. Offering a verbal one-two, Jones hammered home the notion that the bond he shares with the man Evans felt betrayed by is stronger than ever. He was clean and precise with this words. In real time it sounded like an articulate, honest-to-goodness endorsement of the crew set to work his corner this weekend.

Was this, as it appeared to be, a full-throated endorsement? Or was it more; a message designed specifically for Evans’ burning ears?

"Everything is said for a reason,” Jones answered. And he left it at that.

In this way, the young champion has come to emulate a man he respects more than any other to grace the sports world. Muhammad Ali is the greatest for many reasons, not least of which was his poetic license to verbally accost the opposition.

Jones is different than Ali here -- he said he’s different than Ali in several areas, but wouldn’t elaborate -- in that he generally kills with kindness.

Jon Jones, the smiling assassin.

That is, until his old buddy Evans comes up.

"I don't look at Rashad as a former friend,” Jones said. “I look at him as someone who's trying to take things away from me. He doesn't care about me. He doesn't care about my kids. Why should I care about him? This is a game, and my job is to destroy him."

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