NEWARK, NEW JERSEY — Six weeks ago, Jon “Bones” Jones wasn’t even on the card for UFC 128.
Now not only is he getting a title shot at just 23 years old, he’s also favoured to beat light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua when they step into the octagon Saturday night at the Prudential Centre.
Watching Jones at the open workouts Thursday, it’s easy to see why he’s held in such high regard and why UFC boss Dana White offered him the fight when Rashad Evans pulled out because of an injury.
He stands 6-foot-4, but his legs appear to be as tall as an average man. And when those monstrous limbs snapped his trainer’s pads, it was almost as loud as thunder cracking.
Between his size and the way Jones carries himself, it’s easy to forget just how young he really is. Until you catch him cracking a boyish smile or sharing a joke or a laugh with another fighter.
Even in the midst of his workout Jones couldn’t resist shouting out to 135-pound bantamweight Urijah Faber who walked by the practice mats.
“California Kid!” he called out between kicks and punches, grinning from ear to ear.
Then in the blink of an eye, Bones threw his lanky frame in the air wrapped his legs around his sparring partner and flipped him to the floor.
“I’ve been working on that,”he joked to the horde of media watching him.
Jones somehow manages to take all of the attention in stride and he doesn’t let the pressure get to him.
“I just try to live in the moment,” he said.
Jones is convinced he will beat Rua Saturday and if he does he’ll become the youngest UFC champ ever.
“My biggest advantage will be my unpredictability, my size, my youth,” he said.
Jones is often described as being naturally athletic, as though he somehow came out of the womb a warrior.
“Outside of having freakishly long arms, I don’t really think I have that much athleticism,” he said. “I think I just worked real hard top learn martial arts.”
Those “freakishly long arms” actually give him a reach of 84.5 inches, the longest ever in the UFC and 10.5-inch longer than Rua’s reach.
It’s difficult to imagine how Shogun is going to defend against that.
But even if Jones loses, he’s definitely destined for greatness.
And he is the future of the UFC at a time when the company and MMA are exploding around the world.
“It’s going to be big, man!" Jones said, adding it’s his job to help build the sport and “make it more mainstream.”
It’s a role he takes seriously.
This and that
Although Shogun was sidelined after undergoing another knee surgery last year, he claims his knee is fine.
And, with the help of his translator, the Brazilian said he doesn’t expect to feel any ring rust Saturday, even though he’s been away from the octagon for 10 months.
Bantamweight Eddie Wineland believes his deceptive power will carry the day when he steps into the octagon with Urijah “The California Kid” Faber, at UFC 128.
“I possess a lot of power for a 135 pound guy,’ Wineland said at the open workouts.
Faber seemed surprised to hear his opponent’s camp is eager to test his chin.
“This chin speaks for itself,” he said, pointing to his cleft chin and chuckling.
“The number one search on Google for buttchins, right here,” he joked. “So I think we’ll be okay.”