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Jon Jones May Not Have Asked for the Hype, but He's Stuck with It

A year ago, Jon Jones was what you might call an up-and-comer in the MMA world. He had a couple UFC wins under his belt, mostly on the unaired prelims of pay-per-view cards, and primarily against middle of the pack opponents. He'd only been in the sport for a little over year, and people were just starting to come around to the idea that he was someone worth watching.

All that's changed now. After demolishing Matt Hamill (okay, so he lost via disqualification, but we all saw where that fight was headed) and then Brandon Vera, he has since been officially upgraded from up-and-comer to bright prospect. Instead of asking if he might one day fight for a title, fans have started asking when.

The hype is growing, and with it, the expectations. Only now that Jones has got the MMA world's attention, he's not entirely certain that he wants it.

"The hype thing, I kind of wish it would all go away," Jones told MMA Fighting. "I feel like I'm just a guy who has a job and I'm good at it, but I didn't ask for all the hype or to be the next big thing. I'm just trying to go out there and do what I love doing. It's weird though, because I'm saying that I never asked for it, but I do want to be the best and I'm aware that this is going to come with it, so what do you do? You just realize it's part of the game, try to be yourself, and remember that you're not anything until you're the champion."

And there's the rub. The more big fights you win, the more they talk about you. The more they want from you. It's a package deal, and the only way out is through defeat, which isn't in anyone's plans in this sport.

When Jones takes on Vladimir Matyushenko in the main event of the UFC on Versus 2 event this Sunday night, he'll face another part of the same dilemma. With so much hype surrounding him, and as such a heavy favorite with oddsmakers, anything less than a dominant victory may seem like a disappointment.
The hype thing, I kind of wish it would all go away.
-- Jon Jones

Before being offered the fight with Matyushenko, Jones said he wanted a big name opponent. He wanted a situation where he had as much to gain with a victory as his opponent did. Instead, he got a tough, grizzled vet of the fight game, but one who many casual fans remain relatively clueless about.

Jones knows who he is, which is why he spent more than two months at Greg Jackson's New Mexico gym preparing for this fight – the longest training camp he's ever done for any one fight in his brief MMA career.

"I look at Vladimir as the toughest guy I've ever faced. A lot of people might be thinking, 'Oh, Jones is taking him lightly.' That's silly. Look at the guy's record. I've never fought anyone with a record like that. The average fan might take him lightly because they don't know who he is, but I do and I'm going to try and whoop him up. He's fought for a belt before. Who else have I fought who's fought for a belt before? No one."

On paper, almost all of the advantages in the fight belong to Jones. He's bigger, faster, and younger. He has the wrestling chops to stay off his back, and he acknowledges that the striking game against someone of Matyushenko's somewhat limited arsenal will be "fun" for him.

The only thing he lacks that Matyushenko doesn't is experience, though he doesn't expect that to make much of a difference once the cage door closes.

"You can have all the experience in the world, but if you haven't fought a guy who fights like me, I'm not sure how much that's going to help you. I've watched his fights and he's definitely fought some warriors. I'm not saying I'm better than any of them. I'm just saying that I'm different, and I'm aware of that. I'm a fighter who can throw high kicks with both legs. I can throw you or I can shoot for your legs and take you down that way. I can do a spinning technique or a flying technique. I'm just very different from anyone he's ever fought."

Judging by Matyushenko's recent comments, he wouldn't necessarily disagree with that assessment. Truth be told, there may be no other fighter quite like Jones in all of MMA right now. That would explain the hype. It would also explain why the only way for Jones to meet expectations this weekend is to exceed them. Such are the perils of the prospect.

Like it or not, there's no avoiding it now.