A 44-year-old fighter sat on top of a cage with his arms in the air and a smile on his face. Moments earlier, he was looking down at his opponent, who had fallen limp to the ground after taking a punch straight to the head.
James "Binky" Jones had to make sure that Biff Walizer, his opponent that October 2013 day in Shogun Fights IX, was done for good. He stared for a couple more seconds, then threw his arms up and ran to climb the cage and flex for his fans.
"The Lord has blessed me, man," Jones, of Baltimore, said Thursday. "I don't feel like I'm 44. I feel amazing."
Jones is normally one of the oldest mixed martial arts combatants on any fight card. He'll be the very oldest Saturday night at Shogun Fights X at Baltimore Arena, where he's scheduled to face 34-year-old Noe Quintanilla in the sixth of 10 scheduled bouts.
Jones wants to win the fight, no doubt. But, perhaps because of his age, he has a different outlook on mixed martial arts and what he gets out of the sport.
"It's a love and a passion for the sport," said John Rallo, a close friend and head instructor and owner of Ground Control Academy in Baltimore. "I think, in the past, the goal was to always strive to get to highest level possible. At this point, Binky understands that he is 44.
"We both say that it would've been nice if this stuff were around when we were younger. The sport didn't really hit the scene until the '90s."
Jones wasn't introduced to jiu-jitsu until he was 30, but it wasn't necessarily foreign to him then. He started wrestling for the Dundalk Hawks Wrestling Club when he was 6, then continued at Mount Saint Joseph in high school.
Jones even competed at the Division I level for a couple of years at Morgan State, but said he soon "fell out of love" with the sport. He stopped wrestling "and started eating doughnuts and started drinking," he said.
"But I missed the excitement of wrestling," added Jones, whose nickname comes from a childhood attachment to his pacifier. "Then the [Ultimate Fighting Championship] came along, and I saw [UFC Hall of Famer] Royce Gracie out there, a small guy, kicking guys' butts twice his size. Then I started training jiu-jitsu, and fell in love again."
Jones soon began working with Rallo at Ground Control. In 2001, he started fighting as an amateur, and after three matches — two wins, one loss — he turned pro.
Jones' career hasn't been spectacular. He is a modest 11-13 all time. Before his knockout victory over Walizer last October, he had lost four straight, thrice by knockout and another by submission.
But that doesn't deter Jones, who doesn't define his career by his win-loss record. Over time, he has learned more about how mixed martial arts and jiu-jitsu can help him stay physically and mentally healthy. In preparation for Saturday night's fight, Jones said he has been swimming more, to help with his cardio.
Still, fighting at a professional level requires certain sacrifices. His strict dieting sometimes can interfere with real life. During Father's Day on Sunday, Jones' family wanted to celebrate with a big meal. Because he was cutting weight, he had to pass.
"What he's doing now, at 44, is pretty crazy," said Dan Root, another fighter who trains with Jones at Ground Control. "Just look at the average 20-year-old now. They're not in shape. Then there's Binky, who's in great shape. He's always working, always doing something and always active.
"The biggest thing about doing something at that age is it's an attitude that says: 'I'm never going to quit.' "
That phrase became rooted in his mind about four years ago, when Jones met Rick Snyder at the Nicole Van Horn Fundraiser, benefitting kids with cancer.
Snyder, a Patterson Mill High student, was battling brain cancer at the time. Jones and Rallo met his family and shared a meal. Snyder was a huge mixed martial arts fan, so Rallo invited him to walk out with Jones during one of his Shogun fights.
After that bout, Jones gave Snyder his gloves, which he took home and hung up on a wall in his room covered with Ravens memorabilia. Snyder died last August. He was 18.
"One day, I was sitting on his couch and he said, 'Binky, you're getting old. Are you still going to fight?' " Jones recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, buddy, and I'll never give up, and I learned that from you.'
"So every time I yell 'Ground Control' during class, all the students say: 'Never give up.' "
Jones teaches kids ages 5 to 13 every Tuesday and Thursday. He takes pride in helping them become better human beings, both by teaching them the basics of jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts, and by encouraging good behavior in the classroom. He emphasizes that they're students before they're athletes.
On Saturday night, a group of those kids will join Jones during his walk out for his fight against Quintanilla as a treat for their hard work during their training sessions.
On Sunday, Jones will go out with his own two kids and wife to enjoy that Father's Day meal he skipped to make weight. He said they'll celebrate a win, then watch the World Cup.
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