More to Jon Jones than just innate skills
Throughout his relatively brief UFC career, light heavyweight Jon Jones has excited fans with spectacular performances.
His unorthodox striking, superior quickness and eye-opening takedowns have many in mixed martial arts circles predicting Jones will become UFC's 205-pound champion in the not-too-distant future.
Jones' physical skills have played a key role in his rapid rise, but they are not the foundation of his success.
It's his Christian upbringing that prepared Jones for success in life, no matter what line of work he would choose to pursue. Fortunately for MMA fans, Jones opted to fight for a living.
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With so much praise being heaped on him, Jones might have gotten caught up in the hype. He might have gotten an inflated ego and believed that no one could compete with him in the Octagon, that greatness is his birthright.
Believing the hype is something many young professional athletes fall victim to, which often prevents them from reaching their potential. It is unlikely this will happen to Jones.
His head is on straight, and all the credit goes to his parents -- Pastor Arthur Jones and Camille Jones.
"My parents kept me in the house," Jones told ESPN.com. "Having that Christian base keeps me focused on what I have to do. It keeps me out of the clubs and in the gym.
"My parents always kept us in the house. We weren't allowed to spend the night at other people's houses. We were sheltered kids. Now all the discipline that was instilled in me is coming out; I'm naturally doing all the right things."
Those Christian values were taught to Jones long before he could walk. Jones, like his brothers Arthur Jones Jr. (a defensive tackle with the Baltimore Ravens) and Chandler Jones (a defensive end at Syracuse), was introduced to biblical teachings as an infant.
Within weeks of his birth, Jon's mother was carrying him in her arms to Mount Sinai Church of God in Christ in Binghamton, N.Y., every Sunday.
"The Bible says that if you train them in the way they should go, when they get old it won't depart from them," Camille Jones told ESPN.com. "We've always believed that what you put in your children, whether [or not] they stray away, no matter what they do, [the teachings] will always be in the back of their minds.
"Jon was born on a Sunday. Jon has been in the church all of his life, all three of my boys. Once they turned 6 weeks old, they were in the church. They've had the teachings of their father and their grandfather, who was also a pastor."
To this day, the 23-year-old Jones relies heavily on the values he learned from his parents. He applies those values inside and outside the Octagon.
Despite the accolades directed at him each day, Jones is far from a complete fighter. He is still learning his craft.
To improve his chances of success in the Octagon, Jones has developed friendships with some of the most respected and talented fighters in MMA. His closest mixed martial arts associates can be found at Jackson's Submission Fighting, which has its headquarters in Albuquerque, N.M.
Members of Jackson's Submission Fighting, home to some of the world's top mixed martial artists, are a close-knit bunch. Jones joined the camp little more than a year ago but has quickly established solid friendships, especially with several veteran fighters.
They have embraced Jones and help him steer clear of potentially bad situations.
"I'm definitely a young man, but I have a lot of older guys around me," said Jones, who will carry a pro mark of 10-1-0 (4-1-0 in UFC) into his fight Sunday against Vladimir Matyushenko in San Diego. "All of my friends are in their 30s and late 20s, so I guess I am aware of all the avenues where I can mess up. I'm not naive of the ways there are to mess up.
"Being around guys like Rashad [Evans] and [Georges] St. Pierre and all the fighters who've been there, done that helps me; they know all the temptations out there of being a pro athlete. I just keep my eyes open and focus on the things I'm not good at, and what makes other people better than me -- technique and things outside the Octagon."
How much Jones has learned from his teammates will be revealed against Matyushenko. The veteran fighter doesn't possess Jones' athletic skills, but he knows his way around the cage.
Matyushenko (24-4-0) has more than twice as many fights under his belt as Jones. If Jones makes a mistake, Matyushenko will take advantage of the opportunity.
No one has found a hole in Jones' game. The one question that has arisen recently is how will Jones respond to fighting off his back? Matyushenko will attempt to find the answer.
"I was watching his fights and never saw what he would be able to do from the ground," Matyushenko said during a recent conference call. "I will use my skills and experience as much as I can to get him there."
Jones isn't worried about fighting off his back. In some ways, he welcomes the opportunity to display his skills in that area.
No matter where the fight takes place, Jones believes experience won't determine the outcome. Jones is extremely motivated to one day become light heavyweight champion and believes that will carry him to victory.
"I just need to be myself and allow things to happen," Jones said. "If it's God's will, good things will happen. Right now, my goal is to be the light heavyweight champion of the world.
"I've watched his fights and they all have been pretty similar. He has tendencies, where I don't really have too many tendencies. That's going to play a huge factor in the fight and be a big advantage for me.
"It's experience against ambition, and my ambition will overtake him."
Franklin McNeil is a contributing mixed martial arts/boxing writer for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which now airs on ESPN2.
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