ALBUQUERQUE, NM -- In the four short years since Jon Jones captured the UFC's light heavyweight strap as a raw and creative athletic specimen at age 23, much has been written about Jones' maturation outside of the cage. And in a curious way, all that noise has helped to disguise Jones' growth where it really matters most, how the polished champion of 2014 barely resembles the unhinged talent who stole the souls of the division's old guard in those early years.
Whether it's outwrestling the wrestler (Chael Sonnen), or out-brawling the phone booth brawler (Glover Teixeira), Jones' current iteration clearly revels in taking the road less traveled. Besting opponents at their very best strengths, just because he can... which is a frightening thought, and one Jones says will carry into his 2015 grudge match against former U.S. Olympic wrestling captain Daniel Cormier.
"I think I focus on it so much, I focus on their strengths so much that I almost adapt it," Jones told MMAFighting.com. "I become so familiar with what they're good at that I just almost adapt it into my psychology, into my skillset, and then subconsciously it just starts playing out in the fight. Doing what they do.
"I will try to wrestle Daniel Cormier. I definitely plan on making him work extremely hard for any takedowns he's going for, and I'm definitely going to be looking for takedowns myself. I'm more than capable of taking him down, and I believe in my top game. So I'll definitely look to attack Daniel at his strengths, and weaknesses."
Even if Jones is merely posturing, there's no shorting the boldness of his words. Anyone who's seen Cormier unleash his inner Zangief on the Barnett's and Henderson's of the world understands the danger in testing the two-time Olympian in his own wheelhouse, especially considering that Jones' tangibles -- his vast reach and height advantages -- would suggest an opposing plan of attack.
But hey, according to those closest to Jones, that competitive fire that borders on irrationality is just what makes Jones the great champion that he is.
"I think Jon has the capability to outwrestle DC," said Brandon Gibson, Jones' striking coach. "He's put some of the best wrestlers in the world on their back. Jon is one of the best wrestlers in MMA. I think with the strikes in front of it, his dynamic movement, takedowns are going to be there for us."
"We're definitely going to try to wrestle Daniel, there's no doubt," agreed Greg Jackson, Jones' head trainer. "We're trying to beat him everywhere. The kind of inception of that mentality started actually way back when I was working with Georges (St-Pierre), and he took down (Josh) Koscheck. Sun Tzu always has this thing where he says ‘always attack your enemies weaknesses.' But that's not true. If you have the ability to attack your opponent's strength, the psychological breaking process is much faster than if you're just attacking his weaknesses.
"Fighting is a very scary thing, right? You get in there, people are trying to knock your block off. You have faith in yourself. You have to be like, ‘This is what I go to. When I'm in trouble, here's what I go to.' If you, right off the bat, take that safety zone away from somebody, psychologically now this guy's gone. And that breaking process is accelerated. Not just like you're going to break like you quit, because that's not what breaking is at this level. Breaking is accepting. Like, they just can't figure out a way to get around you now. So it's important to understand that some fighters, you need to attack their strength, as long as your guy is able to do that. The Sun Tzu maxim doesn't always hold."
Whether Jones will follow through on his promise to outwrestle the Olympic wrestler remains to be seen, though if he succeeds, it'll stand as one of the more impressive notches on Jones' already impressive belt. Cormier has defended 100-percent of the 11 takedowns attempted against him since he joined Strikeforce in 2009, nearly all of them as effortlessly as a big brother would shuck off the feeble charges of a younger brother.
But Jones has never been one to shy away from a challenge. Given the barrage of hatred and hostility the two light heavyweights have shared since brawling inside the MGM Grand, there could be not sweeter ending for Jones than to come away having embarrassed Cormier at his own game.
"I grew up wrestling," Jones said. "I started wrestling when I was 12 years old. I think a lot of people forget that, especially when I'm fighting a guy who's competed on the Olympic level. They make me seem like I'm just a striker. But you know, my sense of wrestling is very strong. I would say that's still my base. I have very successful stats in wrestling, pretty high takedown percentage and pretty outstanding takedown defense.
"I've had all types of fights, but I like these ones. The little added motivation, [a guy] telling you you're going to get your butt kicked and dominated. It just feels good. At the level that I'm at, just being in so many great fights, you need little things to keep that fire going. Not only going, but raging."