Arthur Jones plays defensive tackle for the Ravens. His younger brother Chandler was a senior defensive end at Syracuse last season and is a projected mid-round pick in next week's NFL draft. But their middle brother, Jon, can barely catch a football. He can't dunk a basketball, either, even though he's 6'4". Give him 100 50-mph pitches at the batting cage, and he'd hit 20. "Oh," he explains, "I'm scared of the baseball."
But Jon is the most decorated jock in the Jones family. "[It's] not even close," concedes Arthur. Making a mockery of Malcolm Gladwell's dictum that elite performers require 10,000 hours of practice, Jon, a former college wrestler, won his first professional mixed martial arts fight after just a few months of training. Within three years he was the UFC light heavyweight champion. "Bones" Jones, a lean 205 pounds, blazed through the division, leveling one opponent with a dazzling spinning elbow, another with a guillotine choke, another with ruthless striking.
In 16 pro bouts Jones, 24, has scarcely been touched; his lone defeat came on a disqualification for illegal downward elbow strikes. He may not be able to pitch, hit or catch balls, but he has almost freakish flexibility, a wingspan akin to a 7-footer's, an intuitive sense of the geometry and physics of his sport, and an ability to anticipate his opponents' moves. "I'm a different kind of athlete," he says.
Maybe most important, Jones is blessed with what he calls "the combat spirit," an ability to remain calm in battle. His demeanor in the Octagon is not discernibly different from his demeanor sharing Thai food with a guest near his Albuquerque training base. "I want to fight without fighting," he says. "Other fighters say, 'I want a war.' No, I train not to do that."
His latest test will be on Saturday night in Atlanta, on the UFC 145 card. In the most anticipated fight so far this year Jones will put his belt on the line against veteran Rashad Evans, 32, a past UFC champion and former stablemate of Jones's. The two worked together with the estimable MMA trainer-cum-mystic Greg Jackson. When it was clear that Jones and Evans were destined to fight for a title, Evans either left the gym or was booted, depending on whom you believe. Now based in Florida, Evans, who has likened the situation to an ugly divorce, has spent much of the last year questioning Jones's authenticity. "At one point," Evans says, "I liked him as a person, but I know how fake he is."
There is a genuine antipathy between the two fighters, a hostility Jones says he hasn't felt for any previous opponent. As recently as last week, though, he resisted slinging trash, figuring he'd express himself when the Octagon door clanged shut. The guess here: As long as no one tosses the belt to Jones in the manner of a football, he will hold on to it just fine.