It is Christmas Day, and Arthur and Jon Jones are slap-boxing again, two grown adults playfully bobbing, weaving and grappling in front of their parents and children. It was inevitable, really.
Days later, Arthur won't remember what was at stake. Maybe it was the remote control or the last piece of chicken. All the second-year Ravens defensive tackle knows is that, as usual, he got the best of his little brother, who happens to be one of the meanest men inside the Octagon.
Their mother, Camille, who has witnessed this bout a hundred times, said the youngest of the three Jones boys, Chandler, a junior defensive end at Syracuse, knew to stay out of the fray.
"They have grown up?" Camille said sarcastically. "They haven't stopped fighting. Jon has this thing where he always wants to challenge Arthur, just to test his strength. … I don't want to hurt little Jonny's feelings, but he's still not as strong as Arthur. But he keeps trying."
Those brotherly brouhahas back in the day sparked a competitive fire that forged three athletes who are at or near the pinnacle of their respective sports: Arthur, a backup lineman for the 13-4 Ravens, who play the Patriots Sunday for the AFC championship; Jon, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight champion; and Chandler, who recently announced he will skip his senior season at Syracuse, where he's a defensive end, to enter the 2012 NFL Draft.
Through individual triumphs and family tragedies — the death of their older sister and a fire at their home — the brothers have formed a lasting bond. They have thrived thanks to their religion and strong faith in their family.
"Guys always ask why I smile so much," said Arthur, whose wide grin lights up the Ravens locker room. "I'm healthy. I've got a beautiful family. My parents are both still living. I have so much to be happy and proud about and to smile for. And I play for a great organization, so why not?"
An untimely injury
Like pretty much every player on the Ravens roster, Arthur's road to Baltimore had its hurdles.
Arthur garnered first-team All-Big East honors as a junior at Syracuse. He contemplated leaving for the NFL a year early. Camille urged him to enter the draft — "Way down in my heart, I was thinking 'Please leave! Take the money! And run!'" she said — but she left the decision to him.
He chose to stay in school so he could finish his degree and try to help the Orange get to a bowl game. He would also get a chance to play with Chandler, who would enroll at Syracuse in the fall.
Within a month of announcing he was staying at Syracuse, Arthur tore a pectoral muscle. The injury prevented him from working out for most of the offseason and still nagged him during the season.
About two months after he sustained the injury, an electrical fire started in the laundry room in his parents' home. The blaze was limited to one room, but the house and many of the family's belongings had smoke damage and the family dog died.
"Bishop was some type of mutt. My dad loved that dog. He took it hard," Arthur said.
In the weeks leading up to Arthur's senior season in 2009, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. ranked him No. 12 on his Big Board (Kiper's list of the top 25 prospects in the nation), which was seven spots behind Ndamukong Suh, whom the Detroit Lions eventually drafted No. 2 overall in 2010.
But playing through an injury that wasn't fully healed, he saw his production dip. He totaled just 19 tackles and 1.5 sacks in nine games before a knee injury ended his season three games early.
"It was just a rough year," said the now-25-year-old, shaking his head. "I just kept smiling and kept having tunnel vision knowing that God has a plan and everything happens for a reason."
When the Ravens selected Arthur in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL draft, they knew they were getting a tough, selfless and competitive defensive lineman who struggled as a senior due to injury.
"[After] his junior year, Arthur was one of our top 20 rated players based off spring scouting," Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "[Northeast area scout] Andy Weidl had studied him and really thought highly of him, in terms of a fit in our defensive scheme. … [He] would take on blocks, free guys up, but he also had the ability to make plays on his own."
Arthur said he loves it in Baltimore and he still believes that he made the right decision to stay at Syracuse instead of going pro early. When Chandler, 21, asked his oldest brother for career advice after recording 39 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a junior, Arthur told him to follow his heart.
"I saw what happened to Art after his junior year and how he got hurt," said Chandler, who is on track to graduate in May. "I would be lying to you if I told you that it didn't [play a part in my decision]. … He told me, 'Remember what happened to me.' But he didn't say to leave or stay."
Chandler said that the NFL's Draft Advisory Board has projected him to be a third-round pick.
Jon and Chandler had always looked up to their oldest brother for guidance and inspiration. But the Jones boys learned to rely on each other when their older sister, Carmen, was diagnosed with brain cancer and quickly grew seriously ill. She died at age 17 when Arthur was in eighth grade.
"She was an angel. You ask God, 'Why?' But I guess God had a better plan for her," Arthur said.
An adolescent, Arthur didn't really understand what cancer was. He figured Carmen would get better, just like that. She had to. He struggled to come to grips with her fading health as her motor skills declined and she was unable to do the things she loved, like playing the piano. But he got some comfort knowing they had grown closer than ever.
With his father, Arthur Jones Jr., who is a pastor in Binghamton, N.Y., and his mother, who used to work with the mentally handicapped before complications from diabetes caused her kidneys to fail, tending to Carmen during her two-year battle with cancer, the brothers survived the difficult and confusing time together. There were left at times to fend for themselves until Carmen was released from the hospital and spent the rest of her life in their home.
"We had to raise each other and look out for each other and cook for each other," Jon said. "Me, Arthur and Chandler, we had to keep each other strong. We really fed off each other's energy."
"It brought us all closer. It made that puzzle that much tighter," added Arthur.
Growing up, the brothers were nearly inseparable — that's what happens when you cram three boys into one bedroom — but being a year apart in age, Arthur and Jon were particularly tight. They went to the same schools. They ate lunch together every day. They had the same friends. The three brothers even made their own code language that they would prefer stays top-secret.
"We can talk about someone in the room with us," Jon said. "They have no clue we're talking about them and we're speaking perfectly clear English. But we can't really share it with anyone else."
They would stay up late playing the "NFL Blitz" video game with the sound off so their parents would think they were sleeping. And Jon desperately wanted to beat his big bro at anything.
"I was always the one who tried to make a competition out of things because Arthur was good at everything," Jon said. "Arthur is an awesome older brother to have. He's everything, man. … No matter what's going on in my life, I'll always have Arthur there as my right-hand man."
Still together, still fighting
As Jon, whose nickname in mixed martial arts is "Bones," trained for his first title UFC defense — it would be against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson — this summer in Albuquerque, Arthur was at his side.
To get in better shape for the 2011 season, Arthur, a two-time New York state wrestling champ in high school, participated in boxing and MMA workouts, sprinted up sand dunes with Jon and swam in the pool at night. If the NFL lockout had stretched into August, Arthur was prepared to schedule his first pro MMA bout. He is still interested in getting into the Octagon in the future.
"I have no doubt in my mind that Arthur could be a top heavyweight in the UFC if he dedicated two years to mixed martial arts," Jon insists. "He could hang with the top guys in the sport."
Thanks to the workouts with Jon, Arthur showed up to training camp in much better shape than his rookie year (though he admits it has been hard to keep his weight down during the winter).
"He's done a tremendous job," Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said two weeks ago before throwing a jab at Arthur. "Obviously, he doesn't look as good as his two brothers look."
The Ravens like Arthur's versatility, as he can play both defensive tackle and end. Because of his wrestling background — his father and both of his brothers wrestled in high school, too — he plays with good leverage. They also believe he has surprising quickness for a man of his size, though the 6-foot-3, 313-pound Endicott, N.Y. native is still looking to record his first NFL sack.
"It's hard to find good, solid defensive linemen," Ravens defensive line coach Clarence Brooks said. "And when you've got those guys in the program, you keep them, you nourish them, you make them better, and they end up playing more down the line and doing good things."
Added Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who believes Arthur will eventually be a starter in the NFL, whether it is here or elsewhere: "He's dangerous. He may be all smiles and goofy and all that, but his brother is a UFC champion and he knows that Arthur can throw down."
Arthur has made 20 tackles in 14 games in 2011 as the primary backup to both Ngata and Cory Redding. He is "hungry" for a larger role, but he says he is content with being a backup for now. He left the Ravens' 20-13 win over the Texans with a leg injury, which head coach John Harbaugh has said is not serious.
Arthur made his first career start against the Cleveland Browns on Christmas Eve when Redding was scratched with an ankle injury. His parents, brothers and two-year-old son (Arthur IV) were at M&T Bank Stadium when he was announced as a starter and sprinted out of the tunnel and through a cloud of smoke onto the field. Chandler, who was witnessing an NFL game live for the first time, said the sight sent chills down his spine.
"It was definitely a beautiful Christmas gift for me. It was great for them to see me run out of that tunnel," Arthur said. "It was special. And more important, we got the win on top of it."
The next day, he and Jon were exchanging love slaps at his Baltimore home. It wasn't an NFL field or the Octagon, but at that moment, it was the most important battle each had in 2011.
"I knew it was going to happen and I got the best of him," Arthur said. "So the older brother still has it on him."
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