The first mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter to be an international spokesperson for Nike, Jon started his unparalleled career in MMA striving to provide for his newborn daughter. Now a UFC champion, Jon reflects on his devout Christian lifestyle, his path to maturity and his experiences as a crimestopping hero.
When we talked to your brother Art he said you rocked him when he was wearing full pads!
Arthur is an athlete. I honestly think if football wasn’t his thing, he’d do pretty well in mixed martial arts.
He went on to say that after he finished playing football, he thought he may want to get into the UFC.
Just the thought of Arthur being in the UFC is a secret obsession of mine. He was captain of the wrestling team in high school. He was a two-time state champ, where I was only a one-time state champ in wrestling. He has that gift of physical combat. He uses it for football. If things don’t work out in football, then I cross my fingers and hope that he’d join the UFC.
What advice would you give him?
I would throw him into my program right away, as far as nutrition, because he would have to get down to 265, which is a big weight cut. I would throw him into everything I’m doing as far as nutrition. My head coaches, my fitness program, I would try to throw him into a legit program right away.
I imagine you can probably beat your brother Chandler, too.
I think I have a better chance of beating Chandler than Arthur.
When did you get involved in martial arts?
When I found out I was having my first daughter. I was on my way to Iowa State with a full scholarship to wrestle. I had an unexpected kid and I said, “Either I can finish out my four-year degree, or I can have some money when my daughter comes around.” I decided to go the work route, and I don’t regret that gamble. It’s been working out.
Who do you train with, and what discipline is it?
Do you study other disciplines?
When I first got out of college, I went to traditional jujitsu right away. And from jujitsu, I started western boxing and later Muay Thai kickboxing. Those are the three disciplines I study the most. I’ve never gone through a belt system at all. I talk to a lot of fighters and they’re ask, “What belt are you?” I’m a white belt. “No way, how’s that possible?” The white belt that has the gold belt.
I remember in my first practice, I did really well. I got punched in the face pretty hard. I had a little swollen eye, but the guys that I trained against that day were like, “Where are you from? What school did you transfer from?” I said, “I’ve never fought before. I always had to fight with my brothers.” Their jaws were on the ground because I had never fought before. To get that compliment from the guys, something as simple as them thinking that I hadn’t fought before, gave me the motivation from day one that I can do this.
Tell us about MMA and your entry into the UFC.
Very few people make it to the UFC. It’s the equivalent of being a football player versus being an NFL player. It’s a different caliber of player. To fight in the UFC you have to take your job extremely seriously. Some of it is luck. Some of it is being at the right place at the right time. Mainly, it’s your dedication and taking your job very seriously.
When did you realize you were good enough to be a champion?
After my first fight, getting my named announced. To hear my name in the arena it was like, “I just want to fight.” Once I got that first UFC fight out of the way, I thought, “If I can beat one man, I can beat any man, if I put my mind and heart to it.” I just had the faith right after my first fight.
How did you get the nickname “Bones?”
I got it in high school. I was on the football team, and I was a defensive end at 6’4” and 170 pounds—a lot lighter than I am now. I was a tall, skinny football player. I finally a starter my senior year so I would be up there with the big boys, weighing 170 pounds. I get down in my stance and you see these little chicken legs hanging out the bottom of my uniform. And I had skinny arms, too. Everyone started calling me Bones and I kept the name as a tribute to my hometown.
Your rise in the UFC was very swift.
I fought outside of the UFC for about 7 months after I first started training. Then I made it to the UFC after my first year of learning how to fight. It’s a pretty rare situation. I attribute making it to the UFC so fast to my years of wrestling. It had to have been kickboxing and breaking people’s arms, but wrestling is a form of self defense, so it really helped catch me up to people who had been fighting their whole lives.
What was it like fighting and winning a title against Rashad Evans, whom you had trained with?
Rashad Evans is a really good friend of mine. It was different, man—finding a person that you respect that you’ve had dinner with. We’ve talked about families together and all types of personal things. To prepare to hurt him, it was hard for me. He made it easier on me by talking trash after the fight. He knows so much about my personal life and he shared that with the world. He was one of the first people to get under my skin before competition.
Do you still train together?
No, we don’t train together. He just opened up his own gym in Florida and I’m still in New Mexico.
Who has been your toughest fight, so far?
It would have to be my last fight against this guy from Brazil named Vitor Belfort. He nearly broke my arm in the first minute of the fight, and I had to fight for 24 more minutes with some pretty bad damage in my right arm. I think that was my toughest fight.
How were you able to change Chael Sonnen, who is known for talking a lot of smack, and have such a respectful relationship with him?
It’s funny. He’s definitely someone who’s known to be pretty disrespectful. He’s big into selling fights, and he’ll say or do whatever to sell a fight. But, against me, he’s really changed his image. He’s been very respectful. It’s because I accepted this culture position with him, and I was prepared to go through all the drama, stress and controversy of what he said and how to react while keeping it classy at the same time. Now, all the getting battle ready is just out the window because he’s been a total gentleman.
How is it coaching the Ultimate Fighter?
It’s been a great experience being here in Las Vegas for 6 weeks, training twice a day with guys I don’t know and trying to teach them some of the things that I’ve done to become world champion. All the guys fight so differently. Some guys like to kickbox, some guys like to box, some guys like to wrestle and others like to play the submission game. You’ve got to find a common ground between all these guys. You’ve got to work on chemistry among them because they live together. You’ve got to have a healthy chemistry among all the coaches. There’s a lot to being a head coach.
You recently signed a sponsorship deal with Nike. You are the first MMA fighter to get a global sponsorship. Tell us about that.
It was a great opportunity. It was a goal of mine from day one when I joined the UFC. I wanted to be a Nike athlete. Everyone was like, “You don’t even wear shoes when you fight, so why would you want to be sponsored by Nike?” It was something that symbolized success for me, and it was something that I wanted and I put my mind to. I tried to do all the right things. They heard my cry and they said, “This guy’s a winner, he’s young and he’s our type of guy.” They decided to gamble on me. I’m pretty excited. I’m rocking the shoes with pride.
It would be a huge accomplishment for the sport. It will be another goal of mine that’s completed. I’ve been working really hard to get MMA legalized in New York State. I’ve visited the courts and the Senate twice, now. It’s a lot of work. I think there are some old problems that have been going on between the owner of the UFC and some of the politicians. That’s the real source of why New York hasn’t legalized MMA. All the greatest fighters throughout fighting history have fought at Madison Square Garden. It’s Ali, Frasier, every fighter. I would feel as though I’ve arrived after I fought there.
What do you want to do when you get done with UFC?
I would like to be financially secure enough to be done with working altogether and live the rest of my life relaxing, spending time with family and raising a healthy family. If things go according to plan, I want to open up a school in Rochester, New York. Traveling the world doing seminars would be cool. My immediate plan is just to do things right during my career and not have to worry about working.
Is there any truth to the rumor about you moving up to heavyweight?
It’s a definite possibility. By 2014, I’ll start entertaining that idea a bit more. I’ll have to gain a lot of weight. Right now, I weigh about 225. I’ll have to get on an Art Jones diet for sure—Start eating more food and lifting heavy.
Have you ever trained with your brother?
I’ve trained with Arthur quite a few times. Just recently, during the NFL lockout, Arthur came right over to New Mexico and started doing mixed martial arts training. He was getting pretty good at it pretty fast.
If you weren’t in the UFC, what would you be doing?
I really don’t know what I would be doing. I went to school for criminal justice. Law enforcement always seemed cool to me, but I really don’t know.
What songs are on your play list?
To be honest, I’m not that big into music, at all. I’m a big Bob Marley guy and that’s it. I look at myself as being a pretty mellow character and just chilling out, getting into the zone and relaxing. I don’t like to get all pumped up and riled up.
What are you most grateful for in life?
I would have to say being healthy. If you have health, the ability to stand up and get out of bed every morning, you can do so much with life. The sky’s the limit. Being healthy, being able to wake up every morning with a clear mind, able to make decisions. That’s what I’m most grateful for.
You have Philippians 4:13 tattooed on your chest. Tell me about your faith.
The scripture on my chest means to me that if God’s blessing you to do it, the sky’s the limit. I can do all things through Him that gives me strength. You can make it happen. I get reached out to a lot by people who are non-Christians and people who are Christians, every day. A lot of people don’t see how I can be a cage fighter and hurt people for a living and still praise God. A lot of people hate the fact that I believe in God and that I spread the ideal of believing in God. A lot of other people love the fact that I believe in God and love the fact that I’m a fighter who talks about and is open about my religion.
What do you tell people who are critical?
That religion has enhanced my life in so many positive ways. Religion and martial arts; there’s so many words that connect the two: life, discipline, respect, integrity. Just those words right there. Those words associate with Christianity and martial arts, perfectly. Since I’ve become a martial artist, I feel that I’m a better person. When I was a college wrestler, I would get in fights here and there just to try to prove that I was tougher than the next guy or because he looked at me funny because I was a college student. Now that I’m a martial artist, I haven’t come remotely close to getting into any type of confrontation because I’m so much more comfortable with who I am as a person. Martial arts has helped my life out in a positive way. In so many different ways.
I heard a story about you stopping a criminal in New Jersey right before the Rulon fight. What happened?
I’m big into meditation and visualization. I went to a park before my first world championship. I wanted to clear my mind and get away from the lights and cameras for a little while. I found myself in a park in New Jersey, getting ready to meditate. My coaches and I heard some screaming so we thought we’d jog over to see what this woman was screaming about. When we got to the scene, the woman was crying, and her husband was sitting in the car looking confused. They said that a guy had just ran up on them, broke their car window, snagged their GPS system off the windshield, and took off with it. She pointed that he went “that way.” My coaches and I, right away, busted out into a full sprint. We sprinted in the direction that she had pointed. When we turned the corner, we saw him still running. I sprinted up to the guy, took him to the floor, and held him until my coaches got there. We all held this guy down and called the police. We were nice to him. He definitely asked us to loosen up the restraints we had on him, which we didn’t. It was a good experience. It was a great day for me being in the right place at the right time and giving back to someone else.