Inside the long-awaited return of Jon Jones and his quest for heavyweight glory

ALBUKERK, New Mexico — JOHN JONES One summer, I walked into the Zia Strength Systems gym and felt a little dizzy. Jones was eager to tell Jordan Chavez, his strength and conditioning coach, the good news.

Jones has fought in the light heavyweight division at 205 pounds throughout his successful career. Before shedding that weight for competition, the man considered by many to be the greatest MMA fighter of all time weighed in at around 230 pounds.

However, Jones was on cloud nine that day, telling Chavez that he woke up weighing 263 pounds, two pounds short of the heavyweight limit.

“He was pumped up,” Chavez told Sportzshala. “Shows me a picture and everything is in scale. And I’m like, ‘OK, well, we’re exactly where you wanted to be.'”

Since relinquishing the UFC light heavyweight title in August 2020, Jones has slowly, steadily gained weight to take on his next challenge: becoming world heavyweight champion. After nearly three years and over 30 pounds, the time has finally come.

Jones will take on Cyril Gein for the vacant UFC Heavyweight Championship in the main event of UFC 285 on Saturday in Las Vegas.10:00 pm ET on Sportzshala+ PPV). With the win, Jones will become just the eighth fighter in UFC history to hold undisputed titles in two weight divisions, adding to a list of accomplishments that frankly dwarfs even the greatest of his peers.

While many title fight fighters bask in the spotlight ahead of the tournament, there is an air of mystery in Jones’ camp. He gave very few interviews and posted even fewer instructional videos on social media. Before the week of the fight, not a single photo of his new physique appeared on the network. He and his coaches adhere to the principle of “show, don’t tell”.

But those close to Jones told Sportzshala that for the past two-plus years, he’s been consuming 5,000 calories a day while working his way up to deadlifting over 600 pounds and adapting the principles of his MMA attributes – speed, creativity and cardio. to a much heavier body.

Jones has already accomplished more than any other fighter in MMA history. He has the longest unbeaten streak (18) and the most title defenses (11, tied with Demetrius Johnson) in the UFC. Jones has the most UFC title fight wins (14) and his only career loss was a controversial disqualification in a 2009 match that he clearly dominated against Matt Hamill.

“He’s Michael Jordan, LeBron James in mixed martial arts,” said Henry Cejudo, one of Jones’ trainers and a former two-time UFC champion.

Jones became the youngest fighter to win a UFC title when he was 23 and never lost a cage championship. So why now, at the age of 35, is Jones looking for another crown and more glory when he is already statistically ahead of the field?

“I wanted to challenge myself,” Jones said in the Sportzshala video. “I wanted to dare to become great and do what I promised the fans a long time ago. And here we are.”

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JONES & UFC President Dana White hosted an online Q&A session with fans in October 2012. White asked him about a potential move to heavyweight, which the UFC promoter had not necessarily supported up to that point.

“I will definitely move up to heavyweight,” Jones said. “But that will probably be around 2013. Maybe at the end of 2013.”

The idea of ​​changing the weight class has been in Jones’ mind for more than a decade. It just never made sense until now. Jones dominated the UFC light heavyweight division, defeating seven former or future UFC champions between 2011 and 2015. agencies and regulators clearing it of intentional fraud).

Jones was reinstated 15 months after a second doping ban to regain the UFC Light Heavyweight belt against Alexander Gustafsson in 2018. After that, he scored three more victories, raising his record to 26-1. However, the 205 lb competition was closing the distance. Or maybe Jones just wasn’t as motivated to fight Thiago Santos and Dominick Reyes, his final last fight at UFC 247 on February 8, 2020.

“I just felt like I was in a place where I felt like I wasn’t losing to any of these guys,” Jones said in an Sportzshala video interview last month. “I felt that the fans lacked interest. I started fighting guys that were relatively unknown to the general public and I just wanted to do something that would scare me, something that would get me up in the morning.”

Shortly after his unanimous decision victory over Reyes (watch this fight on Sportzshala+), Jones decided that he would finally make his move. He watched fights with Stipe Miocic, the most successful UFC heavyweight of all time, and terrifying puncher Francis Ngannou. After months of haggling with the UFC over how much he would make for a big heavyweight fight, including how much “Deontay Wilder got” according to Dana White, Jones announced in August 2020 that he was vacating his post. UFC light heavyweight champion and officially entered the heavyweight division. Jones later hired former Golden Boy boxing executive Richard Schaefer as an advisor to guide future contract negotiations.

Jones made it clear at the time that this would not be a quick process. He will be patient and will gradually gain weight before stepping into the octagon against men who can tip the scales in the 265 pound region, maximum heavyweight. This idea was highlighted when he watched Gustafsson, one of his old contenders at 205 pounds, make his UFC heavyweight debut in the summer of 2020 against former champion Fabrizio Werdum. Gustafsson lost via submission in the first round.

“I don’t think [Gustafsson] did it right,” Jones told Sportzshala in a December 2020 interview. “Just because you’re gaining extra pounds doesn’t mean you’re ready to compete with these boys who were born that way. You have to really take your time, find your body, find your legs, your new speed, your new rhythm. And then go there and play.”

WHEN JONES REFUSED light heavyweight title, he and his team set to work. Greg Jackson, Jones’s head coach for 14 years, began looking into the heavyweight champion record and top contenders: Miocic (who then held the belt), Ngannou, Gein and Curtis Blaydes. Jackson also said he was watching British prospect Tom Aspinall because he believed Aspinall could be at the top of the division when Jones was ready to compete at the new weight.

“A lot of this is just preparatory work,” Jackson said. “These were just ideas that I was thinking… We were just watching how things were going. I just think he needed a new challenge, something that could lift him up a little.”

Initially, according to Chavez, the goal was for the 6-foot Jones to go to his first heavyweight training camp at 245 pounds. But by early 2021, Jones already weighed 240 pounds. However, food and powerlifting continued as Jones trained with Jackson, striking coach Brandon Gibson, and others.

It was a departure from earlier years when Jones trained little, if at all, between fights. Now his trainers say it’s like two-plus years of training camp for UFC 285.

“I would let myself get fat,” Jones said in December 2020. “Training now without a scheduled fight is different. It shows maturity and shows how much I really want to do this. all makeup. There are guys who are much bigger than me. I just keep pushing… I have to dedicate my whole life to this project. I am dedicated to this cause.”

Jones followed a consistent diet of chicken, ground beef, and steak for over two years. Carbohydrates were also needed. Jones said that eating rice for breakfast was unusual and the whole meal felt “tedious” and “like work”.

“The biggest thing with quantity [training] performance he gives in a given day, his carbohydrate intake is significantly higher compared to [what] Most people understand, “Oh, stay away from carbs, stay away from carbs,” Chavez said. “I’m like, ‘No, for what you’re doing, you need all the carbs you can get. I thought, “When you’re full, you probably still need another serving.”

In addition to training in mixed martial arts, Jones came to Zia Strength Systems four days a week to do strength training. Chavez said he used a conjugate method — mostly variations of the deadlift, squat and bench press — with Jones to develop strength and, just as importantly, endurance.

Chavez said Jones maxed out at 645 pounds in the deadlift, but the trainer was more concerned about how many reps he could do with more weight to achieve that kind of endurance. Chavez said Jones could do 15 500-pound deadlifts. Jones has gained almost 400 pounds on the bench, an impressive 84 inches for a man with long arms. But more important to Chavez was that Jones could bench 315 pounds five times.

“I know very few people who have T. rex arms that could do it, and even fewer who have longer arms than you and I combined to do it,” said Chavez, who worked with Jones for many years. eight years.

According to Chavez, Jones’ squat approached 600 pounds. But it was his five-plus reps with a 500-pound squat that the trainer wanted more than a higher number.

“The amount of his absolute strength is just over the top, but his strength endurance surpasses even his previous one,” Chavez said.

As soon as Jones weighed 260 pounds last summer, he stopped the bulking phase of his metamorphosis. Jones said he didn’t like the way he moved, being so heavy, forcing him to shed those extra pounds. Chavez said Jones is likely to enter the cage on Saturday at 250 pounds.

“I feel like this is the ideal weight,” Jones said. “I have endurance. I have speed, explosive power. I still jump high and takedowns very fast. Whatever I do, you understand? I feel myself good. I feel like a strengthened version of myself at light heavyweight.”

JONES HAS MORE extracellular problems in September 2021….


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