When Jon Jones was a kid, he frequently was the first player chosen in pickup basketball games. By his own admission, though, that was a mistake. Jones is no basketball player.
With brothers Arthur and Chandler starring on the Syracuse University football team, he often was expected to be a star wide receiver or running back. But Jones chuckles and admits he's lucky if he can catch one of every three balls thrown his way.
"Can't play basketball and can't play football," Jones said, chuckling. "Actually, I was never really much of an athlete. I always sucked at everything in gym class. My brothers were always the captains of teams they were on, and they were always very good at whatever they did.
"Not me, though."
That's not entirely true. Jones was a good enough wrestler that he twice was offered a scholarship at Iowa State. The first time, he couldn't take it because his grades weren't good enough to qualify. The second time, he declined because his girlfriend became pregnant and he decided to find a job to support his family.
Leah Jones will celebrate her first birthday on July 11, and as he prophesied when he learned that his girlfriend, Jessie Moses, was pregnant, he'll be working on Leah's birthday.
But while he speaks derisively of his athletic prowess, the 21-year-old Jones is supporting his family with his athletic ability.
He has become a mixed martial artist and is one of the hottest prospects under contract to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He'll meet veteran Jake O'Brien in a three-round light heavyweight bout on July 11 as part of the touted UFC 100 card at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
"Not wrestling, there was going to be a void in my life, and MMA was the closest thing I could see to wrestling," Jones said. "I didn't want to waste this God-given ability."
But Jones isn't your average wrestler-turned-MMA-fighter. Even during his days a junior college wrestling champion, Jones looked for something more exciting than grappling with his opponent on the mat.
So he often would take down his opponent, let him up and begin the chase to take him down all over again.
"During my collegiate wrestling career, I was always the type of wrestler who didn't want to get involved in ground too much," Jones said. "I didn't look at the ground as being exciting. I'd always win my matches by taking my opponent down, scoring the two points, and then allowing them to escape back to their feet. I'd do that over and over and over again. I'd take him down and let him up, take him down and let him up.
"When I got into MMA, I had the same mindset. I didn't want to roll around with people and grapple with people."
So Jones trekked to his local bookstore and scoured YouTube, looking for techniques on how to strike. And when he began to use his hands, he found something that he was a natural at.
He might not be able to dribble a basketball or catch a football, but there weren't many people around who could punch or kick or elbow the way he could.
What makes Jones unique, though, is that his striking is so unusual. He'll throw punches or elbows or kicks from any angle, often drawing audible gasps from the crowd. He dominated veteran Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94, never allowing Bonnar to get into the fight by landing shots Bonnar neither could expect nor see.
It was a high-risk style, but it's what Jones practices every day.
"Some people look at it and say it's flashy and high-risk," Jones said. "I don't look at what I do as being flashy, though. When I'm practicing those flashy, high-risk moves every day, they become part of what I do. To me, it's being unpredictable. And that's hard to train for, hard to counter and hard to block."
He's 2-0 in the UFC after wins over Andre Gusmao and Bonnar and on the verge of facing tougher competition.
But UFC president Dana White realizes that Jones has lots to learn and can't be thrown in against the best light heavyweights just yet.
White, though, is very bullish on Jones' potential as a future star.
"Awesome is probably the perfect word to describe this kid," White said of Jones. "He does some things that make you look at the person next to you and go, 'Did you just see that?' But at the same time, he hasn't been fighting that long. He's got a long way to go, and when we make matches we always take all of that into consideration."
Jones handled Bonnar like a veteran at UFC 94 and brought plenty of ooohs and aaahs from the crowd. He said he didn't notice as he was fighting and was a bit surprised at the attention he received post-fight.
It wasn't until he went home and watched a tape that he was willing to crack a smile.
"I'm still learning how to fight, but I'm learning on a really big stage," Jones said. "I'm creating my own funky, unique style. I'm out there trying to survive, and I don't realize how cool things look until I see them later.
"I see some of the things I do, and I wonder where they come from. I just react and things happen."