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Dissecting 'Bones:' The prep that goes into making Jon Jones perhaps the greatest ever

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Jones's history and storied relationships with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn are well documented. As it stands today, their bonds appear to be as intact as ever. Whatever one makes of Jones's personal shortcomings, professional failings and the intersection of the two, the weight of those failures seem light enough to have made precisely no discernible impact on what the three man collectively share.

Truth be told, however, they aren't the only experts and mentors Jones employs. In fact, there are three others. Jones seeks the counsel of three specialists - Brandon Gibson for striking, Israel (or Izzy) Martinez for wrestling and Roberto 'Tussa' Alencar for jiu-jitsu. Gibson and Martinez teamed up with Jones for the first time in preparation for Quinton Jackson in 2011. Tussa was a presence in Jones's life for years, but was only hired as a coach and member of the fight team before 'Bones' faced Chael Sonnen two years later.

What makes all of this noteworthy is both that the perspectives of Gibson, Martinez and Tussa haven't been heard in a full-throated way and that Jones is emerging from an unusual period in his career. Fighters routinely take long breaks from competition, but it's typically due to injury or other issues that prevent full commitment to craft. Jones's situation is precisely the opposite. He was uninjured the last 15 months and while unable to compete, he nevertheless had the freedom, time and resources to reinvest in his craft in the form of a career sabbatical virtually no elite fighter is ever afforded.

As Jones prepares to face Ovince St. Preux at UFC 197 on Saturday, Gibson, Martinez and Tussa describe in their own words their working relationships, the benefits and challenges of coaching Jones, what is expected from St. Preux and whether we are on the cusp of witnessing Jones as a more matured, skilled and capable fighter than the one who last fought in January of 2015.


What is the coaching workflow and does the team interact to make sure everyone stays on track?

Gibson: "Izzy and I have been working every camp with Jon since the Rampage one. That's where Izzy and I kind of came on to the team as coaches. We'd been working with Jon a little before, but that was the first camp where we were heavily involved. Between Greg, Izzy and myself, we've always been very communicative.

"We're on daily group texts. When Izzy makes adjustments to notes, he sends to all the other coaches, as do I as does Greg as does Tussa. And we do a lot of joint study sessions.

"That's the workflow. We've learned it from Greg and Wink. We're all part of this team. We all have our own responsibilities as coaches to Jon and as coaches in the group. We meet or exceed these responsibilities daily."

Martinez: "It's a unique coaching dynamic, that's for sure. Me and Brandon Gibson are the guys that kinda put in the most time with Jon only because Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn have a team of 100. They got so many other guys nagging and pulling on them.

"We have a team of fighters we try to help, but our core nucleus is about helping Jon Jones. That's what me and Brandon Gibson have done for so long. It's been such a unique experience with Brandon. We started in this game together. Both of our first fights with Jon Jones were Rampage Jackson.

"I didn't know much about MMA until I got the chance to learn from Greg and Wink, so we kinda just piggy backed off of Greg and Wink, but we spend a lot of time with Jon, me and Brandon. We spend a lot of time with him while coach Gibson is very organized, very efficient with his time. He's great to be around. He's very wise, very intelligent and very much on the cutting edge of the new technique and new skill set.

"Me and Gibson, we say we want our skills to be talked about six months from now and six months from now we're working on different skills.

"Tussa's been helping with Jon for years, but not as involved as he is now. Now Tussa's heavily involved. Jon's hired him as his full-time jiu-jitsu trainer. It's awesome because Jon knows he takes these guys down, he's getting a little older, so let's just finish this thing rather than try to hurt ourselves doing other things. Professor Tussa's amazing, so he's the jits guy. Brandon Gibson holds his mitts and is his striking coach. I'm his wrestling coach. Coach Winkeljohn is his striking coach, both he and Brandon Gibson help Jon with his striking. Greg Jackson is his head trainer that oversees a lot of what Jon does, oversees all of his Jon's training.

"We have a lot of team meetings. This week we had four team meetings at 8:30 in the morning and practice started at 9:30. So, we have team meetings. We have long film sessions. We were in the film room until 12:30 a.m. the other night where we basically get all of coaches on the same page. Everybody sits there. We talk about the same thing, we talk about what needs to be shown, what not needs to be shown, what needs to be changed, what not needs to be changed and a lot of times we can really come with a plan right then and there, stick to it, train, get some things done and advance, bring the team back together and do it again."

Is there a process in place to address Jones's weaknesses?

Gibson: "After each fight, we debrief afterwards. We like to review the fights with the fighters, we like to review the fights as a coaching staff. Some certain points are definitely long-term goals and objectives. Those are ones we typically address in the group and then there's certain one Jon comes up with as well, like 'I really want to focus on just weapon X' and we'll work on that over and over and over again.

"Then there's ones we address organically whether we see it through sparring or drilling. Sometimes it takes a new look to expose something that maybe we haven't seen. Maybe something we'll play out in this next fight, but I want Jon to be champion and have a long reign and go down as the greatest, so it may not be this next fight that a certain tool or flaw may play out, but who knows what 20-year-old kid is in the gym right now that may be challenging for Jon's crown in a couple of years?"

What sort of input does Jones have into his own training? How much does he dictate what's taught?

Gibson: "I would say there's other fighters in the UFC after a Saturday night Jon might come in and say, 'I'm trying THAT!'

"Sometimes the heavyweights are watching the lightweight guys spar. Jon could be watching John Dodson and say, 'I'm going to try that kick.' We'll play with that at the end of a workout.

"Jon, Coach Wink and myself were working pads. Anthony Pettis was watching. We asked Anthony Pettis to jump in and show some of his critiques of some of the kicks we were throwing. Seeing a world-class kicker like Pettis with a tae kwon do background come in and show some of his finer points, it was a cool collaboration."

What kind of preparation goes into a fight for the coaching staff?

Martinez: "We studied [Daniel Cormier] for a long time. Jon Jones was thinking about Daniel Cormier at the same time I was sitting in my house in Chicago or if I was sitting in Albuquerque, we were both thinking about Daniel Cormier. That's where we were.

"We were so obsessed with Daniel Cormier. We were watching videos since Cormier was in college. I've pulled up all of his logs, all of his videos. I went and talked to his training partners in the Olympics. I went and talked to his coaches, people in the training room when he was training. We were looking and searching for every bit of weakness. We feel like we've targeted his weakness as far as his wrestling ability. We knew that Daniel Cormier was going to be very tough to take down in the middle of the cage because he's a wrestler. We know he hasn't had as much experience wrestling on the cage. We know Jon's more experienced on the cage.

"I knew Jon could out-hand fight him. He wrestled at Oklahoma State. They're not known for being great hand fighters. We knew that hand fighting would be tough for this guy to break."

What was it like during what we'll call this 'sabbatical' for Jones?

Martinez: "That was definitely something that was interesting with Jon. He got a chance to stay out of the limelight. He got a chance to be on the back burner. He got a chance to really focus on himself and who he wanted to be. That's what last year was about, all the improvements. Watching all the Gustafsson tape, the Bader tape, watching Matyushenko tape. So many of the fighters he's already fought, going back and reevaluating his skill set. It was awesome to see him identify what he really needs to work on.

"He knew he wasn't as strong as he could be, so he went and joined a gym and got strong. He knew that he needed to work on different techniques. It's just been great."

Was it good for him to have the time off in terms of furthering his technical development?

Martinez: "There's definitely two ways to look at it. One of the ways to look at it would be, man, if Jon Jones continued to fight, he'd be the greatest guy ever. Then there's the other way to look at it. Jon Jones actually got a chance to heal some little injuries, little nagging injuries, sore fingers. Just sore little things that now Jon actually got to rest up. He's healthier than ever. He's better mentally than ever.

"I'm a firm believer this all happened for a reason and we're going to see the best Jon Jones April 23rd no matter what would've happened."

Gibson: "It's hard to play 'what if?' Jon is in his prime right now and I would like to see him defending his title regularly, but these are the circumstances we have and the cards we're dealt. I do think we've made the most out of it. I'm happy that Jon lives in Albuquerque. I'm happy that he can come into the gym every single day and I'm really happy that the past 18 months he hasn't had any injuries. He's been able to recover, he's been able to get stronger, he's been able to sharpen tools and add tools.

"From a training perspective, they've been great. He's been working on all these areas that we maybe saw potential weaknesses, shoring up those. Improving so many offensive tools, sharpening existing weapons, adding new tools.

"Along with that came all that work he's been doing in the strength gym...I also think we've had a good time window to do that in. I look at McGregor vs. Aldo and his jump up to Diaz. A lot of these guys can put on size and strength in a short window of time, but neurologically, how much time have you had to adapt to that weight and that size compared to what you're typically used to applying? Jon's had time to utilize this new strength and increase his speed with the techniques we've been working on."

What's he been like during this time? A good training partner? Upbeat? Or consumed by personal matters?

Tussa: "A lot of people get him wrong maybe because they see a lot of what happened in the past with him, but he's such a genuine person. He's very respectful. And that's something I appreciate from him, the respect he has for other people who he didn't even know.

"He's a great person and I'm a glad I can help him be better than he already is."

Gibson: "He was positive. He was really positive. The gym's always been a safe haven for him. The coaching group has always been real positive people, influential people in his life. Selfishly, I thought the more Jon spent time at the gym, the better it was for him.

"The media exposure he received was hard at times. The fan backlash was hard at times. You just go back in the gym and get better. I'm sure it was hard for him to watch DC hold that light heavyweight belt and stay active and keep his name in his mouth. I told Jon just to turn that into fuel and motivation and continue to get better. Eventually, the time will come where we'd be making that walk."

What can you say about Jones's development during this sabbatical?

Tussa: "Not that he didn't know what he was doing before, but now he knows what he's looking for. He's a little bit more aware of the situation, which position you're at and what you should be doing there, more than just survive mode. I've been working with him for the past three years, but honestly, there's been a lot of focus on that. I've never seen him so confident in his ground game.

"[His body type] benefits him because it gives him a lot of room on finishes, especially arm triangles, triangles with the legs or armbars, sweeps. I tell him when I work with him I wish I had those to work with. The greatest champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Roger Gracie, is the same height as Jon, really long - long arms, long legs. That's the thing. For Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it works perfectly.

"When I roll with him, I need to adapt to him because he's a totally different person. At first, it was very difficult. He has a great body type, great mind and working with Jon has been amazing. I've been learning a lot about the mindset, the strength of the mind and the work ethic is very fascinating to see. He loves it. That's his job and he takes it very seriously. Like I said, I'm not there only to teach him, but I've learned a lot from him."

Martinez: "When I first met Jon, his style was a little different for MMA. He was really, really great in the throws and the upperbody, which was awesome, but he needed to work some better leg attacks. Getting guys legs because in wrestling, Jon was a low-level guy, he was an ankle pick guy, misdirection type of guy where he shot low on the legs.

"It was pretty neat to teach him some different type of attacks and that's kinda where our base started, different types of attacks, fundamental hand fighting.

"Some of the best fighters I train, we're working such basic stuff and with Jon, we're working such advanced stuff because he's already got such a fundamental base. I think overall Jon's wrestling and MMA wrestling has improved significantly since we started because the idea of everything that we're doing in training, but also the idea that Jon's gotta get better. He's gotta bring in better practice partners. He brought in Ed Ruth. One of his training partners is Mike Benefil, a Division III NCAA champion. This camp he brought in Yoel Romero."

Gibson: "I don't want to give away too much on the technical aspects, but Jon's had moments over the past year and a half where he's sparring or drilling or shadowboxing that make all of us stop. It really puts into perspective, sometimes, how privileged I am to work with such an amazing martial artist as Jon.

"We work day in and day out and sometimes Jon's Jon to me, but there's definitely moments where I get to sit back and say, 'Wow, this guy is incredible and I'm very fortunate I get to work with him and help him guide his career.'

"I'm really excited to see the emotional side, the psychological side of it. Jon hasn't fought since January of 2015. I'm excited to see him come out, excited to make that walk, excited for every part of the process and excited to go in there and perform."

What sort of setbacks in training does he have?

Gibson: "Everybody has bad days. Everybody gets to that free throw line and misses sometimes. That's the grind of this sport and our job as coaches to take the pros from, use a teaching tool sometimes - maybe it's mental, maybe it's physical, maybe it's technical - and just stay on top of him, keep building these guys every day.

"They're all going to have rough days. I see lots of UFC champions come through that gym and not a single one of them is going to win every single round. And if they were, then they're in the wrong room."

What is Jones's biggest strength in terms of what he can do in training?

Martinez: "One of the coolest things about training Jon is you only have to teach him once. So, he's very intelligent and he's very, very body savvy. He knows how to control his body very, very well. He knows how to do a lot of unnatural things naturally and then force his body to do things that are unnatural immediately where most fighters, most wrestlers, most of my students, it's going to take them a little bit of time to get the techniques down. With Jon, it's amazing.

"'Hey Jon, try this,' and then literally you take a step back and you watch him try it and you're like, 'wow, this is great.' There's not much trial and error with Jon Jones in his wrestling and his fighting because he picks up on things so fast. It's really amazing to see."

Tussa: "Jon is a very interesting man. He's the champ for a reason. He's just got something else there, his ability trumps the knowledge. That's something I saw right away. He's a natural."

Gibson: "Rarely does Jon make the same mistake twice. I think that's one of the things that makes him so special. Some of these guys have a steeper learning curve or are more set in their ways and harder to make adjustments. Jon's a guy that can be aware of his own mistakes, figure out the solution and then go and implement it. It's pretty cool to see."

Doesn't that sort of learning curve create challenges for you as a coach?

Gibson: "I'd say it's a challenge. It's always a challenge and that's why I'm in this game. That being said, the challenge to compete at the highest, highest, highest level, we look at all the champions that Jon's fought - all the legends, all of the hall of famers - none of those camps were easy. None of that game plan was easy. None of that fight was easy. Sometimes you gotta make it look easy, a flawless victory like Chael Sonnen, that was pretty cool to see.

That's why I'm in this game, to be the very, very best and that's what Jon is. It is challenging sometimes when he picks up a technique so fast that it's already polished after a couple of reps, but the opponents are no joke. At this level there's no room for error. OSP can catch Jon with a variety of his weapons, so we have to make sure Jon's defense is very sharp that night, his eyes are open, his feet are in the right place and then implement what we do best.

Martinez: "Jon's a perfectionist. In his fighting, in his wrestling, he wants it to be perfect. It's tough because Jon will strive for perfection. We were in the gym for hours the other day because he was working on some things. He went up to watch the notes because he didn't feel right. I think that's one of the hardest things about coaching Jon. He's such a perfectionist, we have to sometimes pull him back from that and let him know he's doing really well, he's doing great and you don't have to stress over something like this because it's not how you feel or see it."

How important is having the right organic bond with Jones central to coaching him?

Martinez: "Teaching Jon, he believes in me. We have such a great relationship. Jon feels if I say something that it's going to work. Teaching Jon to wrestle, to shoot low, he knew how to do all that. My job was to make sure he didn't take any of that wrestling into MMA that he didn't need and that was part of the equation.

Tussa: "Even off camp, he's been working on his jiu-jitsu. When he saw a black belt with 20 years experience and started training with me and how much I know, how much I can help him, that's when he finally said, 'Man, I thought I knew a lot, but I don't know much. I have a lot to learn and I'm glad you're here.'

"That's why me and him have a good relationship. We never force anything. It happens at the right time when he's ready."

What are you expecting from Ovince St. Preux on Saturday?

Gibson: I see aggression. I see a lot of power. He's hungry and I know he's going to take the fullest advantage of this opportunity that he's been presented with. I also see a lot of openings. I see a lot of holes that we're looking to exploit.

"You can watch as much Jon Jones tape as you want and see a different Jon Jones each fight. From the dirty boxing Jon Jones against Glover Teixeira to long-range striking of the Shogun fight to the wrestling of the Ryan Bader fight. I think Jon is the most complex puzzle in mixed martial arts. I don't think OSP or his camp, it doesn't matter if we're fighting him on three weeks or three months or a year."

Martinez: "He kinda reminds me of Jon Jones's brother, Chandler Jones. Very athletic, strong, very good at football. He's an athlete. He's got power in his left hand, he's got power in his left leg. We know he's a very talented guy. We know he's hungry. We know he's a competitor. We know he understands how to learn, how to read things, how to make adjustments. We see a very talented guy, very hungry contender."

So, are you expecting big things on Saturday or do you have more managed expectations?

Gibson: "We definitely have a set of moderate performance goals that we look for along with growth. I want to see how Jon manages his emotions. I want to see how he makes decisions in the fight, how he listens to the corner, but there's also fights like the [Glover] Teixeira fight where we just sat back and let Jon paint a masterpiece. We were on him, but we didn't need to be on him about every single little thing.

"Those are always my favorite kind of performances, when our athletes are out there in that white space seeing, creating like he's in the Matrix."

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