TORONTO — A smiling Jon (Bones) Jones walked on to a makeshift stage Thursday to confront underdog challenger Alexander (The Mauler) Gustafsson.
Always thinking of a new angle, Jones was wielding a smartphone in front of him. His view of the square-off would soon be posted on Instagram, the UFC light-heavyweight champion told the media in front of him.
Jones (18-1) took to social media soon after, managing to squeeze a biblical verse, Nike and Gatorade into the same tweet.
“There is nothing special about me, I just work extremely hard,” he wrote. “Anything can happen.”
A picture below showed a smiling Jones, a Nike swoosh prominent on his hoodie, pointing to a bottle of Gatorade — his latest sponsor. To further make his point, he added Phillipians 4:13 and the hashtags for both companies.
Fighter, man of faith and six-foot-four, 205-pound billboard, Jones is currently the brightest star in mixed martial arts.
“His life doesn’t suck, right,” UFC president Dana White said dryly. “He’s got a lot to be happy about.”
A victory at UFC 165 Saturday and Jones will set the record for most consecutive title defences (six) in UFC light-heavyweight history. He already holds the record for most submissions (five) by a light-heavyweight and is tied for most finishes (nine).
A former junior college wrestling champion with an 84.5-inch reach, Jones’ size and length make him hard to penetrate and tough to defend.
At 6-5, Gustafsson (15-1) is one inch taller and has good striking skills. But while the 26-year-old Swede has won his last six fights, he hasn’t faced the kind of opposition that Jones has.
The bookies have made Jones anywhere from a 9-1 to 20-1 favourite to beat Gustafsson.
White usually dismisses such odds. But he was slightly more circumspect Thursday.
“I think that they’re making lines that they don’t want a lot of money going on Jones because they think Jones is going to win. That’s the way the book works,” said White, no stranger to the betting window.
“Jones is good, really good.”
About the only people who believe Gustafsson can win are those in the challengers’ camp, although most pundits are quick to cover themselves by saying it’s a sport where anything can happen.
Gustafsson, a lanky likable Swede with battered ears, doesn’t think he is being disrespected.
“Not at all. I don’t takes anything personally. I don’t read too much. I don’t think too much. I’m going to go in there and shock the world on Saturday,” he said.
“I’m more than prepared,” he added. “I can’t wait to get in there. I’m just living the dream right now. I’ve got a one in a lifetime shot and I’m going to do the best of it.”
Jones, 26, believes this defence will go the way of all the others.
“I think I have a lot more tools in this fight to win the fight,” he said.
“I’m going to do all kinds of unpredictable spinning elbows, flying knees, shots, fake shots, all types of stuff,” he added. “He really needs to be on his game.”
Jones seemed less than impressed by Gustafsson’s striking, saying he’s not fighting a world boxing champion.
“I’m fighting a guy who throws punches,” he said. “Alexander’s boxing defence, I’ve said it a lot of times now, is not that good … He’s a good puncher, he has pretty good footwork. Not a great boxer.”
When the Swede stood next to Jones in front of photographers, he couldn’t resist putting his arm behind the champion so he could touch the shiny championship belt slung over his shoulder.
A smiling Jones pulled away. “That’s as close as you’re going to get,” he said.
Jones joins welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre under the Gatorade flag. The Montreal MMA star has blazed the way with blue-chip sponsorships including Under Armour.
It’s a long way from fighters advertising the local gun shop.
Jones can be forgiven for Thursday’s blatant plug in that his deal with Gatorade had only been announced hours before. Jones will wear the Gatorade logo on his shorts when he walks into the cage Saturday night against the Swede.
Chances are he will wear a Nike T-shirt on his walk through the Air Canada Centre. Jones, who signed with Nike in August 2012, wore a “Bones Knows” Nike shirt at UFC 152 in Toronto last fall.
As for Phillippians 4:13, Jones always wears that. It is tattooed on his chest. It references the verse “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Gustafsson’s ink is all about winning. He adds a shark’s tooth tattoo on his arm for every win.
Jones was the picture of calm Thursday as media swarmed around him. White says he has adjusted to life as champion, pulling back from going down the wrong path in the wake of a DUI charge after a May 2012 incident that saw him crash his Bentley in upstate New York.
“Everything changes when you’re the champion,” White said. “Obviously the attention, the money, everybody’s gunning after you. There’s a lot of pressure.
“Jon Jones has really turned around and changed his life in the last year. He’s a young guy, he got that belt, you saw what happens when fame and money and all that stuff starts to come together. I’m really happy with the way he’s turned around.”
Jones, who meditates the day of his fight, does seems comfortable in his own skin as champion.
“It’s a great honour. To be the best in the world at something, and to travel to different countries and know that you’re the champion of the world, it’s one of the coolest feelings that a man can ask for.”