There was a time, not so long ago, when Jon Jones associated becoming UFC light heavyweight champion with making it as a mixed martial artist.
Reaching the 205-pound mountaintop was motivation enough for Jones, who spent hours in the gym sparring, working to refine his skills and developing into arguably the best fighter on the planet.
All that dedication and hard work would pay off on March 19, 2011, in Newark, N.J., when Jones defeated Mauricio Rua by third-round TKO to become the youngest man ever to don a UFC title belt. Jones (16-1) is proud of his accomplishment, but it no longer fuels his motivational engine. What Jones seeks far exceeds wearing a light heavyweight title belt; he now aims for immortality.
When his fighting days come to an end, and that’s a long time from now, Jones wants to leave a mark others will desire to surpass.
When Jones steps into the Octagon on Sept. 1 to make the fourth defense of his title, hard-hitting Dan Henderson will be standing in front of him. Jones is aware of the potential threat Henderson presents and his mind will be focused on minimizing it. But Henderson won’t be the only fighter Jones will battle that evening.
Recently retired former light heavyweight champ Tito Ortiz won’t be far from Jones’ thoughts. These days Jones fights to surpass Ortiz’s UFC light heavyweight record of five consecutive title defenses.
“The biggest motivator really is the goals, the records,” Jones told ESPN.com. “I’ve done great things, but I want to be talked about when I’m done.
“Right now being a tough dude isn’t enough. I don’t have any of the records. I’m the youngest champion and so far I haven’t been taken down, but outside of that ... Tito has records, Chuck Liddell has records. I don’t have any records. So I’m fighting for records.
“I’m creeping up on one and that’s Tito’s all-time light heavyweight record. That’s my big one; that’s my immediate goal right now.”
This is who Henderson must confront -- a champion determined to retain his belt, but more important, a man on a mission to leave his mark on the sport.
Jones turned 25 last month and his body is still developing -- quickly. If Jones is going to break Ortiz’s record, he can’t have a setback on Sept. 1.
The clock is ticking on his days as a 205-pound fighter. Jones knows his body will force him to abandon the light heavyweight division within the next couple of years, but he refuses to allow the physical growth process to consume his thoughts.
Besides, he’s doing everything necessary to ease the weight-cutting process.
“I can’t say it’s something that is on my mind, but it’s definitely something that is inevitable,” Jones said. “It’s going to happen. Mark my word -- it’s going to happen. I will fight at heavyweight. But it’s not going to be anytime soon. My staff every year gets bigger. I have an assistant now, a nutritionist, everything. So I’m doing things more professionally. My weight cuts are easier.
“I’m eating cleaner. Everything is easy.”
The day, however, is coming when Jones can no longer cut to 205 pounds. And when it arrives he wants to have a celebration.
Jones looks forward to beating larger guys and leaving no question that he truly is the baddest man on earth. But that claim can never be fully realized if he doesn’t continue to take care of business at light heavyweight.
It’s the reason he insists Henderson will fail next month. Jones refuses to give Henderson a remote chance of preventing him from achieving his immediate or future goals.
What about the powerful overhand right Henderson throws to finish his opponents? No problem. Jones isn't the least bit intimidated.
"Dan Henderson doesn’t have anything that I haven’t seen," Jones said. "Rashad Evans had an overhand right that was extremely fast, way faster than Dan Henderson’s, with an extremely fast double-leg coming right behind it.
"Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson had equal H-bombs in both hands. That’s intimidating.
"I respect Dan Henderson a great deal; I’m training my heart out, like I always do, with extreme passion. I’m going to go out there and try to KO him."
In every sense Jones is guaranteeing a win over Henderson. But still, the heavyweight division waits, as Jones has light heavyweight business to complete at UFC 151 and after.
“It’s too soon to begin talking about me moving to heavyweight,” Jones said. “Maybe when I’m 27 and I’m starting to have a hard time making (205), that’s when.
“Right now fighting at 205 is still a lot of fun for me. I walk around at 225, so a 20-pound cut isn’t a tough cut.”