Jon Jones has had enough of hearing about how he ruined the team. The UFC light heavyweight champ has had enough of Rashad Evans going off in interviews about this cocky kid who came to Albuquerque and drove a wedge between Evans and his coaches at Greg Jackson’s gym. He’s had enough of Evans acting like he was the perfect teammate, pulling people aside for heart-to-heart talks intent on maintaining team unity. That might make for a pleasant story, Jones said in a recent phone interview, but it isn’t the whole truth.
"There were people at Greg Jackson’s gym that he never even said hi to," Jones said of Evans. He may mourn the loss of the original team now -- what Evans refers to as the "Jackson Five" -- but when he was there he was only interested in hanging out with "the elites," according to Jones.
"He’s never gone to a team dinner," said Jones. "He never went out and said, ‘Hey, let me buy these other guys a drink because I can afford it.’ It was not like that. He just had [Donald] ‘Cowboy’ [Cerrone], and basically the guys who had money in the bank and could hang with him, dress with him, and look good standing next to him at the club. That’s not a team member."
To hear Jones tell it, this is a big reason why the Jackson’s MMA coaching apparatus -- especially Jackson himself and striking coach Mike Winkeljohn -- have stuck with the champ leading up to his fight with his former teammate at UFC 145 on April 21. It’s because "I’m a true team member, not just one of those stars," Jones said. "That’s why they love me like a brother."
In the lead-up to the fight we’ve heard a lot about the time Jones and Evans spent in the gym together. Both men are guilty of telling the sparring tales that usually stay behind closed doors, and Evans has insisted that it’s what he learned while on the mats with Jones that will give him an edge in the fight.
But that door swings both ways, Jones pointed out, and what Evans seems to be forgetting is that when he left Albuquerque, he left his original MMA mentors behind.
"I have the coaches that taught him how to fight," said Jones. "They taught him the guard passes he uses, the ground-and-pound system that he uses, the punches that he used to throw and the combinations. I mean, it almost seems not fair sometimes."
On Evans’ end, the split with the Jackson’s MMA team was a bitter one. He declared himself "done" with Jackson and his gym after accepting the fight with Jones following a very public falling out, and he’s since claimed that Jackson’s willingness to corner Jones against a former student "speaks volumes about his character."
Comments like that haven’t gone unnoticed by Jones or his coaches, and that’s given the training for this fight a very different feel, according to the champ.
"He always talks down about Greg Jackson now and he always talks crap about our team, by saying our team was just commercial and we’re overrated. But all those insults have really made it almost personal for our coaches. We know his psychology. We know what makes him tired. We know everything about him. He’s in trouble."
It’s the same with their sparring sessions, Jones said. Evans thinks he figured out how to beat Jones during those days in the gym together? That’s fine. Jones learned a thing or two from them as well.
"What people don’t realize is, Rashad says, ‘I trained with Jon and I have his number.’ But that’s a crazy thing for him to say, because I trained with him, and one thing all my fans know is that I’m not just a good fighter, I’m also a smart fighter. If he truly believes that I don’t remember every training practice we ever had, what I landed and what I did well against him, he surely must remember that. He should be nervous. I’ve done great against fighters I’ve never trained with before. I mean, I fought [Lyoto] Machida when I’d never fought a karate fighter before, and I beat him in a karate match. So Rashad thinking that the time we spent together wasn’t extremely beneficial to me, I think he’s crazy."
The personal back-and-forth has already given this fight a different flavor. Jones admitted he had a hard time getting up for his title defense against Machida, but going against Evans is a different story since he’s "glad people think that this is the guy who’s going to beat me. That gets me pumped up."
But beyond being an intense rivalry, it’s also a fight that may come to define both men once it’s over. For Evans, it could easily be the last real shot at UFC gold. For Jones, it’s a chance to further solidify himself as a UFC great for the modern era. He’s already the youngest champ in UFC history -- an honor he described as "kind of cool" -- but in many ways, he said, "I feel like I really haven’t done anything. Not compared to Matt Hughes, guys like that. I haven’t done anything. I think there’s more, and I’d be sad if I didn’t achieve more."
He’s already knocked off several former champs in dominant fashion, but this will mark the first time he has to face a former friend and teammate. Is he psychologically strong enough for that, many fans wonder. Can he use Evans’ words as motivation without letting them get to him? Can he separate Evans the opponent from Evans the person?
"I look at Rashad as someone who wants to embarrass me on national television," said Jones. "That alone inspires me to get my butt up early in the morning and late at night and train harder than him. Because who wants to get knocked out and have that on everyone’s DVR? I don’t."