The secret of Jon Jones' brilliant UFC reign? The immense power of belief

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

NEW YORK – Something is missing here.

Jon Jones is the UFC light heavyweight champion and, at only 25, already one of the greatest mixed martial arts fighters of all-time.

He comes from a family of athletes. His oldest brother, Arthur, is a defensive tackle for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. He's a big man, but Arthur Jones has incredible burst and the body control of a man much smaller.

His youngest brother, Chandler Jones, was a first-round pick of the Patriots who kicked off his NFL career in a big way, getting six sacks in his first eight games.

And then there is Jon.

He's 6 feet, 4 inches with the kind of wingspan that would seem to make him a perfect two guard.

But, no.

[Related: How does Jon Jones stack up against the combat greats? ]

"Basketball," the champion says, "I just don't have [the ability]."

He might have made a great wide receiver, shooting across the middle to nab a pass out of the sky and then running it into the end zone for a touchdown.

Again, though, nope.

"Football, I just don't have it," he says. "I can't catch. I can't throw. I just can't. I really can't do it."

Jones chuckles.

"I'm not able to do much of anything athletically," he says.

That part, though, is not quite true. He was a sensational wrestler in high school, winning the state title in his weight class in New York. He won a junior college championship and would have gone on to wrestle at Iowa State had his girlfriend not become pregnant.

The reason for his success, despite what he claims is a lack of athletic ability, is passion, motivation and belief.

He'll defend his UFC light heavyweight belt Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., against Chael Sonnen in the main event of UFC 159. With a win, Jones will tie Tito Ortiz's divisional record for most successful title defenses at five.

It's not been that long since he was in high school, and Jones still remembers those days clearly, when he felt as if he could do nothing right.

No matter what it was, Jones said he always seemed to be second-best.

[Related: Chael Sonnen's "character" is why he's challenging Jon Jones ]

The reason turned out to be simple. Jones began to win in wrestling when he finally developed confidence in himself. For years, his coaches would tell him how good he was, but he didn't buy their story.

When he became a senior, he decided to take them at their word. They would repeatedly tell him how good he could be, and so he accepted it and went out and wrestled with the attitude that he was the best.

Suddenly, he started winning and pretty much never stopped.

"I didn't believe, and I was a weak, inferior kid," Jones said of his high school self. "As I grew up, I began to believe. … Once I believed I could be No. 1 at something, I began to believe I could conquer anything."

It's that attitude that he could conquer anything that has helped him deal with Sonnen's mind games. Sonnen is one of the premier talkers in the game and has an ability to get inside a fighter's head.

If he's done that with Jones, it doesn't show.

He said he studied sports psychology once he got into the UFC, and that helped him immensely.

Jones said he understands things at a much deeper level now and can react appropriately. He doesn't believe in showing weakness publicly.

"I get nervous, too," he said. "It's a big fight for me. I just don't show it."

When he first joined the UFC, he instantly became popular. He displayed an "aw shucks" demeanor and told stories of how he'd watch video on the Internet to learn moves he used in the cage.

But as he flourished, he began to develop a personality that he conceded some found arrogant. Many felt the trappings of success had caught up with him.

When he stood up to UFC president Dana White and refused to fight Sonnen at UFC 151 on eight-days notice, he was widely excoriated. But he never budged, and White was forced to cancel the bout.

Jones said he would do it again if he had to, though it was hardly a pleasant experience.

[Related: Chael Sonnen facing long odds against Jon Jones ]

But all of it is a result, he says, of him compartmentalizing and prioritizing things in his life. Everything is about preparing him to win.

No longer is he willing to accept losing because he's the weak, inferior kid.

"Learning sports psychology took things to a whole new level," Jones said. "It's gotten to a point where I'm looked at as arrogant. I can't control that and I'm not going to be apologetic for it. It's the way I need to be [to be successful]. I need to believe."

He believes, and no longer is anything missing.

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