Commentary

Jones' guard up inside cage and out

Originally Published: September 21, 2011
By Brett Okamoto | ESPN.com

Quinton Jackson/Jon Jones ABC Unfriendly fire: Quinton Jackson, left, and Jon Jones have traded barbs at every opportunity.

DENVER -- There was a time not all that long ago when Jon Jones was, in a very literal sense, approaching a sort of "super hero" status.

There was his electric fighting style, of course, but the perception came more from the fact he was so likeable outside the cage. Funny. Refreshingly humble, despite his achievements. Not to mention, a bona fide crime stopper in New Jersey.

Six months later, and where has that Jones gone? Just think about the accusations against this guy in the time since he claimed a UFC title:

He ducked a fight against teammate Rashad Evans by faking a thumb injury, then got into a reported "altercation" with Evans at a Las Vegas nightclub. Last month, Quinton Jackson claimed to have caught Jones planting spies in his camp.

It's crazy to think back just a short six months and remember the story line on Jones. He was mixed martial arts' golden boy. Now, to some, he's a cheating, cocky fake.

How has he handled that?

"In some ways, I'm excited for it," Jones told ESPN.com. "I'm excited Rashad is calling me a fake and Rampage is calling me a cheater.

"I don't want people to see me as a perfect golden boy. That's not who I am. I have my flaws. I'm human. I'm a man like everyone else. I make mistakes. Showing weaknesses is good."

What a build-up we've received heading into the UFC 135 main event between Jones and Jackson on Saturday at Pepsi Center.

Considering Jackson's personality, perhaps it should have been expected. But the psychological warfare going on between the two is better than, really, anyone could have asked for.

How much of it is genuine and how much is hype for the fight, well, that's up for debate. At the end of the day, it's clear the source of this feud is the fight itself. The belt.

But it does seem there's an added dynamic to their feelings toward one another.

A story has gotten back to Jackson regarding the first time he and Jones crossed paths. According to what Jackson's been told, Jones has claimed to others he approached him once in public but was ignored because Jackson was kissing a girl.

"Someone told me he said he met me a long time ago but I was with some girl and I started making out with her," Jackson said. "I think that's a bold-faced lie. I don't even kiss girls in public. If someone's looking at me, I'm not making out with no girl. That's just not in my character.

[+] EnlargeJackson/Griffin
AP Photo/Laura RauchJackson says he "barely trained" for his 2008 fight with Forrest Griffin and that that's why he lost.

"This is just him trying to make me look bad. I don't think he's a standup person. I think he is kind of fake."

When asked to comment on the story, Jones declined -- although he did acknowledge it wasn't just prefight nonsense.

"Yeah, it was something that happened a long time ago," Jones said. "I don't want to get into it and add anything extra to this whole fight. There's really no history between us. He's a big star and this is the first time he's acknowledged me.

"There really isn't a relationship. We don't know each other. We have nothing in common."

Regardless of whether or not the two have a history and even regardless of where the truth lies within the "Spygate" saga, it's all been a shot in the arm to the UFC. Although 2011 has seen some great fights, it hasn't seen a lot in the way of rivalries.

If there's one fact we can pull from everything that's been said leading up to this fight, it's that both men desperately want to win.

For Jackson, it's the opportunity to finally reclaim the belt he lost to Forrest Griffin in 2008 -- a fight he says he barely trained for. Ever since unifying the Pride and UFC titles in a win against Dan Henderson in 2007, Jackson has considered himself a champion. He wants the official title of it, though.

"I barely trained when I lost my belt to Forrest," Jackson said. "I thought I was going to walk through that guy.

"Other than that, I don't know where people get it that I'm not determined. I think people have jumped on that bandwagon. I want to show people I'm a champion. Ever since I beat Henderson, I've always carried myself as a champion."

And for Jones, it's an opportunity for him to silence a man who's openly questioned his morals and honor. As much as the champion might hesitate to admit it, Jackson has gotten into his head -- as Brandon Vera did 18 months ago. As he says it, "My life is based around him right now."

Expect these two to bring out the best in one another Saturday.

Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.