Exclusive: Jon Jones Has Some New Tricks to Show Off Against Brandon Vera

For the past six weeks Jon Jones has been at Greg Jackson’s gym in New Mexico, getting ready for a main event showdown with Brandon Vera on the UFC’s first Versus event this weekend. Despite Vera’s edge in Octagon experience, Jones is better than a 2-1 favorite in this fight, but he says he knows that the fans are a fickle lot, and he needs to show what he can do against the elder opponent who swears he’s on the verge of getting back to his old destructive self again. We sat down with Jones recently to get his thoughts on Vera’s renewed sense of purpose, the lingering effects of his disqualification loss to Matt Hamill, and more.

Clay Guida told us in a recent interview that he’s not using his plane ticket to get to Denver for the fight on Sunday and is going to drive his RV instead, and stay in it instead of his free hotel room. You guys are both at Greg Jackson’s in Albuquerque right now. Are you going to ride up in that beast with him?

Yeah, I’m going to go with him. I haven’t been inside [the RV] yet, but I hear it’s like the ultimate bachelor pad, like there’s video games and everything. It’s supposed to be pretty sweet. I’m going to use my hotel when I get there, don’t get me wrong, but I’m looking forward to driving up with Clay. We’ve been doing everything together. We’ve been eating together, training together – not directly with each other, since we’re in different weight classes – but we do our conditioning together. It’s been great.

I’d imagine that doing conditioning with a guy like Clay is pretty tough. He never seems to get tired.

Absolutely. He’s made me feel like crap this whole training camp. He makes me question myself and whether I’m really in shape or not. We both do drills where he does it and then I do it and he blows through everything and then is bouncing around afterwards, whereas I’m trying to catch my breath. He sets a really high standard for me. If I can do cardio with Clay Guida and hang in there though, it really makes me feel good.

How much of a difference has it made for you to do full-time training camps at Greg Jackson’s now instead of back home where you had a much smaller team?

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It makes a huge difference. A lot of people say you can’t see the effects of a new training camp until two or three fights down the road, but in the Matt Hamill fight, which was my first real training camp with Greg Jackson, I saw a huge difference in my performance. My striking, my ground-and-pound, everything was better. Now I can’t wait to display what Greg Jackson’s is all about against Brandon Vera. I’ve been doing way more jiu-jitsu than ever before. I’ve been working with Mike Winklejohn, who’s a great striking coach, and Kru Phil Nurse has come down, so I think the benefits are really starting to show in practice. Hopefully it shows against Brandon Vera.

Speaking of the Hamill fight, does the disqualification ever still bother you? Do you ever find yourself thinking, if only I hadn’t thrown the downward elbows, I’d still be undefeated and I’d have that win bonus in my pocket, or have you made peace with it?

I made peace with it. I was talking with Greg and he tells me things like, ‘Peyton Manning threw hundreds of interceptions to get where he is.’ Or, you know, ‘records are for DJ’s,’ and that helps me realize that this is not the stuff you should focus on. I mean, I never ever want to lose another fight, but I just focus on the big picture. Even though I have an L on my record now, I think about all that I learned from the fight. I got a lot of letters from fans telling me that they appreciated the way I handled the disqualification, so I think it was actually a good thing for my career.

I also learned not to believe the hype too much, about myself or anyone else. Matt Hamill was supposed to be this great wrestler, but I was able to go at him and beat him at his strength. Now the hype is that Brandon Vera is this great kickboxer who’s just going to outclass me, and I’ve never been in there with such a technical kickboxer, and that’s the hype. But this will give me the chance to show what I can do against someone like him.

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Against Vera it seems like you don’t have to worry as much about being taken down as you did against Hamill and O’Brien. Do you think opens up the striking for you a little more in this fight?

Definitely. With Jake O’Brien and Matt Hamill I spent the majority of my training camp working on takedown defense, getting up off the ground, working from my back, stuff like that. There was almost no striking training before those fights. Now I get to really focus on what I do best, which is my wrestling offense and my striking. I’m not underestimating his takedowns, but I get to really come out with some of the more random striking attacks I have, more spinning techniques and stuff like that.

It seems like you’ve managed to work in your share of spinning techniques and crazy striking attacks so far. Are you saying there’s new crazy stuff that you’re going to bring out in this fight?

Absolutely that’s what I’m saying. That’s what you’re going to see.

What do you think of Vera’s style?

I think he’s a good muay thai fighter. He’s very sound. But watching his fights I see that he’s been doing the same tricks over and over again. He’s got a good left kick and good leg kicks, and he’s very on point and very technical, but I would just say that I realize what his tendencies are.

His comments on you seem to focus on inexperience. He says you haven’t really been pushed yet and aren’t as experienced a fighter as he is.

For him to say that I haven’t really been pushed yet, you know, that’s not my fault. I’m sure Stephan Bonnar really wanted to push me and whoop me up. I’m sure Matt Hamill wanted to push me and whoop me up, and I’m sure Jake O’Brien did too. But they weren’t able to do it. Every opponent I’ve faced wanted to win the fight and thought they had a way to win the fight, but they didn’t win.

As far as Brandon saying he has so much more experience, I don’t think he’s ever fought anyone like me. I’m not saying I’m better than any of the guys he’s fought, but I know that my style is definitely a lot different than anyone he’s fought. I’ve never seen any of those guys try too many spinning techniques or go for a flying knee. The only opponent he’s fought who was long like me is Tim Sylvia, and the only guy he’s fought with really good kicks was Keith Jardine, and he lost both those fights. He might think I’ve never been really hit or never fought anyone like him, but I feel the same way about him. I think I’m a completely different animal.

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It seems like with each fight the hype around you grows. Do you take notice of that? What do you make of it?

I do notice it, but I block it out. I can’t control it. All I can control is my performance. The things people think about me or say, the attention, it’s not something I can control. I haven’t even fought anyone in the top ten yet, so I don’t believe my own hype. I know how I do in practice. I know where the holes are in my game. I do appreciate having those supporters, and I appreciate what people say about me on blogs and stuff.

What keeps me in check is, well, I’m a huge Anderson Silva fan. When I was still really new in the sport, I got to watch Anderson Silva fight Thales Leites. I was front row, getting to watch my idol at a UFC event, and people just booed and booed him. After that fight people talked so much trash about him, about how he’s not that good, how he doesn’t finish fights, and I’m thinking, oh my God, there’s all these forums talking about how great is before this, but now since he doesn’t knock the guy out he’s horrible and he sucks?

That was a firsthand experience of how brutal fans can be. People jump bandwagons really quick. One bad performance and people will turn on you. That’s why I don’t believe the hype. I know even if I beat Brandon Vera but it doesn’t look good, people will call me overrated. I can’t control that, so I just have to worry about what I can control.