When UFC light heavyweight Jon Jones
sits down to watch tape on a future opponent, it is an exercise in excess. In fact, that's kind of the point. For Jones, there's no such thing as too much time spent studying the man he's about to fight.
Take Ryan Bader
, for instance. To prepare for their fight at UFC 126
on Super Bowl weekend, Jones has procured tape not only of Bader's fights, but also his interviews and even a recent fan Q&A session. Now he "can't watch them enough." As he told MMA Fighting recently, he already feels like he knows what's going on inside of Bader's head.
"When you watch someone's interviews, you can tell where they're at mentally," said Jones. "There's certain words people use, keywords that show their level of confidence. Like, if
I win this fight. Or, I hope
. I might
be able to do this. For instance, when [Bader] says, 'When Jon does that spinning back elbow he has his back open for a split second and maybe I can take his back.' Just the fact that he mentioned that in a Q&A tells me that's on his mind and that's a move that frustrates him, that's bothering him, so I should work on it and make it even faster and harder for him to see coming. People give a lot away in everything they say."
It's not just what they say, either. Jones admitted that he also pays close attention to Bader's Twitter, as well as the Twitters of Bader's friends and training partners – anyone the Arizona-based fighter spends a considerable amount of time with – on the off chance that they might "give something up."
"I have one fight, one individual to pay attention to in order to get me one step closer to my dream," said Jones. "Why not just get totally immersed in the things that he says, the things he tweets, the people he's around? ...I just like to know every angle. I use the internet to know every little thing I can, kind of like a spy. I just think, if I was Ryan Bader, how would I beat Jon Jones? I think about the ways I could lose the fight first instead of thinking how I can beat him."
But there's a flipside to all that mental preparation. With as much time as Jones spends on the internet trying to learn about Bader, it's inevitable that he come across what people are saying about him.
He's 23 years old, has been a pro fighter for less than three years, and yet the hype and expectations surrounding him have grown exponentially with every fight. It's getting to the point where there are so many more ways to fall short of those expectations than there are ways to exceed or even just meet them.
"Meeting people's expectations is something I do worry about, and it's something Greg [Jackson] tells me not to think about," said Jones. "He says, 'You know Jon, you don't even need to win a fight, when you think about it. You're 23 and you're still learning. You're still a baby, so no fight for you should ever be a big, must-win fight for you, and no name or no opponent besides the cream of the crop should even affect you. You have so much time, a setback right now would only make you better.'
"But expectations, they're my personal little thing, my personal struggle. For the most part, I try not to show that. I try to just go out there and have fun, because when I'm having fun nothing else matters. I'm flowing and doing what comes to my mind."
Still, when fans ask UFC president Dana White when – not if – Jones will get a shot at the title, he hears it. When former champ Forrest Griffin is asked if the UFC will match him up against Jones soon and responds with, 'I hope not,' Jones hears that too, and it's almost impossible not to be affected by it.
"It's crazy. It's mind-blowing. It's like being on this rollercoaster. Hearing guys like Forrest Griffin say that it's like, really? Is that really me he's talking about? I have to step back sometimes and realize how lucky and blessed I am. Being down here at Greg Jackson's, it keeps me honest.
"I have times where I don't have any special fighters around me and I'm whooping up everybody at practice. But then there's weeks like the one coming up here where Rashad Evans is here, Mike Van Arsdale is here, Georges St. Pierre, Andrei Arlovski...just this powerhouse workout squad, and it really reminds me that I don't know anything. I'm just like a kid around my older brothers, getting beat up every day."
But while Jones helps his light heavyweight teammate Rashad Evans as he prepares for a title shot against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the spring, that same old question rears its head: what happens if Evans becomes the UFC's 205-pound champion once again?
The two Jackson camp fighters have said repeatedly that they'll never fight each other, so does Jones, who seems to be rapidly approaching the top of the division, patiently wait his turn? Does he move to heavyweight? Or does he consider a third option?
"The thing about me and Rashad is, we have to be happy for each other and we have to always be pulling for one another," said Jones. "Rashad's star climbing will only make my star climb. Me trying to bury him in any way or wish he won't be successful, that won't help me at all."
This is why, according to Jones, the issue that seems so complex to almost everyone else is really quite simple in his mind. He might be guilty of over-thinking everything else, but not this. On this one, there's only thing to do, he said.
"If Rashad won the title, I would wait right where I'm at. There's so many great fighters I haven't fought yet. If Rashad won I would be so happy for him and hopefully he hangs on to it for a while. I'm also growing, so there's a possibility for me to go up to heavyweight at some point, but I've got a lot of time left to me at 205 [pounds]."