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UFC 165: Jones on brink of record - and career change?

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- Jon Jones has achieved everything he has set out to accomplish in his mixed martial arts career.

The prodigy from Endicott, N.Y. became the youngest champion in Ultimate Fighting Championship history at age 23 when he defeated Mauricio Rua for the light heavyweight title in 2011. He won five consecutive fights against men who at one time held the belt. Outside the Octagon, he has attracted blue-chip sponsors that have usually eluded the niche sport. In 2012, Jones became the first MMA fighter sponsored by Nike, and Gatorade on Thursday became the latest to sign him up.

With a victory over Alexander Gustafsson (15-1) in the main event of UFC 165 in Toronto on Saturday night, Jones (18-1) would cross another milestone off his list: It would mark his sixth successful defense of the 205-pound belt, which would set a UFC record. He currently shares the standard of five with Tito Ortiz, who held the championship from 2000-03.

"I'm always a very motivated guy," Jones said. "I think my motivation and work ethic is the reason why I've been able to accomplish so much in the time that I've been a part of the UFC."

In Gustafsson, the UFC has marketed this fight as a rare case in which Jones has faced an opponent of similar build. Gustafsson is 6-feet-5, an inch taller than Jones. Jones has an 84.5-inch reach, the greatest at any UFC weight class; Gustafsson is officially listed at 76.5 but insists it is actually 81.2.

Gustafsson, a Stockholm native who splits his time between Sweden and San Diego, has won six straight fights since hooking up with the latter city's Alliance gym, the most recent of which was a December decision win over Rua.

"I've been home in Stockholm and I've been here with Team Alliance in San Diego," Gustafsson said. "I've been blessed having a great camp and having such great guys around me. So, I'm just feeling great and feeling ready."

Jones is a significant favorite on the Las Vegas books, on average about 7-to-1 as of mid-week. The champ hasn't done much to dissuade the notion.

"He has terrible boxing defense," Jones said during a Monday media luncheon in downtown Los Angeles. "He says he wants to stick and move. Stick and move is a lesser man's psychology. It tells me he's afraid to stand in there and trade with me."

So what does motivate Jones, then? He has all but cleaned out the light heavyweight division. A potential superfight with Anderson Silva is on hold after Silva's upset middleweight title loss to Chris Weidman in July.

It could be a move up to heavyweight, something MMA fans have desired for a while.

"Cain Velasquez is the champion right now," Jones said. "I think there's some things I can do athletically that Cain has never seen before. If he can be a small heavyweight, then I can be a small heavyweight with a whole different playbook."

Or it could be something entirely different.

"I've set a lot of goals where I can reach really high," Jones said. "Do huge movie roles, or doing something in boxing is really more of a realistic thing. If I can get myself really strong, do a two- or three-year camp, I would be more than ready for the challenge."

--In the co-feature bout at Air Canada Centre, Brazil's Renan Barao (30-1, 1 NC) defends his interim bantamweight title against veteran Eddie Wineland (20-8-1). Barao is making his second defense of the interim title, created last year due to bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz's knee injury. With Cruz still on the shelf nearly two years out from his last fight, UFC president Dana White has indicated he may have no choice but to strip Cruz of the title and have the winner of Saturday's fight drop the "interim" tag if Cruz can't soon return.
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