I talked to Jon Jones for this week’s SI.com column, in which he discusses what it was like growing up with two brothers who both now play defensive line at Syracuse (with the eldest headed soon to the NFL) and how he learned to strike by watching YouTube videos:
The gym I train at is a really small gym, a lot of wrestlers, so I didn’t have a striking coach until this last fight. I had to teach myself how to strike. I would study a lot of videos on YouTube, or go to different websites where I could watch old Pride fights. I just became obsessed with MMA and watched videos over and over again. I learned the moves and took them to practice and started using them. Before I knew it I was considered a pretty good striker.
YouTube videos can really teach you a lot. It depends how you search for them. If you look really hard, you can find videos of seminars from some of the best fighters in the world. It’s just a matter of taking them seriously. You have the Bas Rutten’s and the Anderson Silva DVD’s, but you can find most of that stuff on the internet for free, so that’s what I was doing. I was basically teaching myself with them. Now I can honestly say I’ve been taught by some of the best teachers in the world because I’ve watched some of the greatest seminars online.
Obviously, Jones is a freakish athlete who can simply do things other people can’t, such as watch YouTube videos and then beat up UFC veterans. But what struck me was his humility and obsession with improving as a fighter. Check this quote, for example, on what went through his mind after the UFC offered him the fight with Bonnar:
Originally when I got the offer to fight Stephan Bonnar I told my manager I’d think about it. I went online and watched a couple of his fights. I really focused on the fights that he lost, saw him at his weakest moments, and it inspired me to think that I could be better than him. I gave my manager a call back about three hours later and told him I’d take the fight.
I didn’t know what the UFC’s angle was. I didn’t know if they were trying to give Bonnar an easy fight back against a kid who had only been fighting for one year and has a bunch of holes in his game. Or, I thought maybe they were impressed with me after the Gusmao fight and maybe they wanted to see what I could really do. I just knew that if they were going to give me this opportunity I was going to take it and do my best with it. I dedicated my life to Stephan Bonnar. I knew how he moved. I knew his tendencies. I just became obsessed with him, and it paid off. The energy I put into preparing for him really showed, and it honestly surprised me how one-sided that fight was.
Jones also said he sees himself moving up to heavyweight eventually, though at just 21 years old he’s got time. If he gets with good trainers and stays as focused and determined as he is now, he’ll eventually be a champion in at least one weight class.