By David Selig
The Baltimore Sun
7:20 PM EDT, April 24, 2014
For someone who's considered the best mixed martial arts fighter in the world, Jon Jones sure gets treated like a punching bag outside the Octagon.
He's been called out by some of the sport's biggest names. His merits are questioned constantly by fight fans on social media.
Even Thursday, before he was set to speak at an Ultimate Fighting Championship news conference in the Warehouse at Camden Yards, fellow fighter Phil Davis flipped over the placard with Jones' name and posed with it in an obvious sign of disrespect.
But if there's anywhere outside of his home state of New York where Jones can expect to have the crowd in his corner, it's Baltimore, where his older brother, Arthur, played for the Ravens for four years.
Jones made no bones Thursday about the fact that he plans to be the fan favorite Saturday night at Baltimore Arena, where he will defend his light-heavyweight championship against Glover Teixeira at UFC 172, the promotion's first pay-per-view here.
"Arthur has won a Super Bowl here in Baltimore, and now I'll get to win my world title here in Baltimore," Jones said. "I feel like I have the hometown advantage. It's good to breathe in some of this air and go to some of the restaurants my brother goes to. To see all the black and purple, I feel the support naturally. Hopefully that shines through on fight night."
The 26-year-old Jones is 19-1 and has defended the belt six times since becoming the youngest UFC champion ever in March 2011. But his critics feel his hold on the belt is as tenuous as ever, and they're not shy about voicing that.
Fans and fighters have questioned the judges' scoring in Jones' unanimous decision over Alexander Gustafsson in September.
Jones then touched off a bit of a social media firestorm last week when an anti-gay term was posted from his Instagram account. He has said that a member of his promotional team posted the comments under Jones' name in response to some negative comments about him.
Jones' image also took a hit in 2012 when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated. Later that year, he upset UFC president Dana White when he refused to face a replacement for his injured opponent on short notice, leading to the cancellation of a pay-per-view event.
But White said he sees a different Jones these days, especially after he survived the toughest fight of his UFC career against Gustafsson.
"I think he's a totally different guy now," White said Thursday. "His attitude has changed. ...
"The guy had never been in a fight like that in his life. He dominated everybody that he fought. Then he went in against Gustafsson and that fight was a war. It was his first war. He was in [expletive] deep waters, and he kept fighting. ... It takes a lot, man. It takes a lot to do that. ... I guarantee those two guys felt like they were closer to death than ever that night. And when you go through something like that, it changes you."
Jones admits he wasn't in the best shape heading into that fight, and that he underestimated Gustafsson. He pledged that won't be the case against Teixeira, a huge underdog, but one who is 22-2 and hasn't lost since 2005.
"Jon Jones, he's not invincible," said Teixeira, a 34-year-old power puncher from Brazil. "He's gonna lose sooner or later."
'How about Baltimore?'
Regardless of his opponent, Jones is motivated to put on a show in Baltimore, where his parents, Arthur and younger brother Chandler Jones of the New England Patriots will be in attendance.
Arthur left Baltimore for the Indianapolis Colts last month, signing a five-year, $33 million deal right at the start of free agency. But Jon said he doesn't think that will affect how he's received Saturday night. The chance to headline the first UFC card in this city is the reason he said he took this fight.
"Dana White and I, we were having a lot of disagreements about when I would fight next," Jones said. "He said, 'Hey, how about Baltimore?' and I jumped all over the opportunity."
Jones said some of Arthur's former Ravens teammates are expected to attend the fight, though he wouldn't say who.
Jones felt a wave of respect when he visited the Ravens' facility to give the team a pep talk in November, but he hasn't gotten the same reception in the MMA community.
UFC legend Chuck Liddell was one of the latest to take a swipe at Jones, telling Fox Sports this week that he would have "walked through his punches" if he fought Jones in his prime.
"I just look at it as flattery, really," Jones said when asked about those comments Thursday. "Just a few years ago I was a young kid in college looking at Chuck Liddell with my mouth wide open and looking at him like he was a god. And now I have him comparing himself to me and trying to stay relevant through me. ...
"I've gotten to the point now where I realize I'm not going to be a fan favorite. Maybe it'll change over time, but right now I'm not. I just need to embrace it and be comfortable with it."
Jones acknowledges there was a time when it did hurt that he wasn't more widely embraced. But — like he does with opponents using his 7-foot wingspan — he's learning to keep those distractions at a safe distance.
"On the way to this point it has been [painful], just always wondering, 'Why aren't I a fan favorite? Why am I getting criticized so hard all the time?' But at this point, it's really not painful at all," he said. "As long as I'm taking care of my family and breaking records and continuing to excel and continuing to find new endoresments — everything's working. ...
"Muhammad Ali was hated, and then he was loved at the very end. Floyd Mayweather was hated, and a lot of people are really coming around on him. So, I'm just trying to stay positive and try not to offend too many people along the way and hope for the best end result."
Jones an 'easy target'
Davis — who fights Anthony Johnson in Saturday's co-main event — wasn't taking the same approach Thursday. The former four-time All-American wrestler at Penn State seemed to be angling for a title shot as he launched an over-the-top round of trash talk about Jones.
He called Jones "chicken" a number of times, compared him to a Chick-fil-A sandwich and said repeatedly that Jones would be afraid to fight him. He even pulled out his cellphone to show reporters a video of him dissing Jones on a recent conference call.
"Not only is he an easy target, but he's the champ, and he needs to learn that I soon will be the champ," Davis said.
When asked if Jones is the best pound-for-pound fighter, Davis didn't miss a beat in responding: "On who's scale? On a man's scale or a chicken's scale?"
As much as he squawks, Davis isn't on Jones' radar yet. White made it pretty clear Thursday that, if he beats Teixeira, Jones is likely ticketed for a rematch with Gustafsson and then would probably face either Daniel Cormier or Dan Henderson.
And running that gantlet would remove any doubt about Jones, White said.
"If this kid wins the next three fights ... it's already hard not to call him the greatest light heavyweight ever, but what do you call him after that?" White said.
"He's on his way to being possibly the greatest ever. Whether you like Jon Jones or you don't like Jon Jones, you can't deny what he's done. What he's done is unbelievable."
Jon "Bones" Jones
Height: 6 feet, 4 inches
Weight: 205 pounds
From: Rochester, N.Y.
Fights out of: Endicott, N.Y.
College: Iowa Central
Brothers: Arthur Jones (defensive lineman for Indianapolis Colts) and Chandler Jones (defensive lineman for New England Patriots)
Upcoming fight: Faces Glover Teixeira for the UFC's light-heavyweight title at Saturday's UFC 172 at Baltimore Arena
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