Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, left, and Swedish challenger Alexander Gustafsson attend a news conference in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, ahead of the UFC 165 mixed martial arts event Saturday. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Neil Davidson)
by Greg Beacham
AP Sports Writer
Jon Jones saw all the zeros next to Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s name. He knows how much money the world’s best boxer made while dominating his opponent last weekend.
If Jones does something similar to Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 in Toronto this weekend, he realizes the reward for being arguably the world’s top mixed martial artist is only a fraction of Mayweather’s $40 million-plus payday.
And it doesn’t bother the UFC light heavyweight champion at all.
“I’m grateful to make the money I make,” Jones said. “As a 26-year-old, I never would have imagined being in this position. And I’m also a person that doesn’t believe money is the key to life or happiness.”
Jones (18-1) is the UFC’s main attraction at Air Canada Centre on Saturday when he steps into the octagon with Sweden’s Gustafsson (15-1), the latest 205-pounder to take a shot at ending Jones’ 2½-year championship reign. If Jones wins, he’ll break Tito Ortiz’s promotion record with his sixth successful title defense.
But MMA’s probable pound-for-pound champion won’t get anything near the jaw-dropping reward given to Mayweather for schooling Saul Alvarez. The financial disparities for the stars of these related sports have been topics of contention for years.
But don’t look for any indignation from Jones, who also has endorsement deals with Nike and Gatorade. The MMA champion and his two NFL-star brothers grew up on discounted school lunches, and he’s willing to be patient with a young sport he picked up just six years ago.
“Just being comfortable makes me happy,” he said. “I don’t need those type of paydays. Would it be nice? It would be great to get paid the way other pro athletes get paid. I believe it will come. I’m just going to keep doing my part. … If somebody is going to pay me over a million dollars to fight, do you think I’m going to talk trash about that? No way. I’m so happy. I think $40 million, that’s like ridiculous, in a good way.”
UFC 165 also features interim bantamweight titlist Renan Barao, unbeaten in 30 straight fights since his pro debut in 2005, defending his belt against former WEC champ Eddie Wineland. Heavyweights Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione also meet.
Just like Canelo, Gustafsson is the most logical challenger to a dominant champion. He has won six straight fights since his only career loss in April 2010, and nobody doubts he deserves the title shot given to him by UFC President Dana White.
Although Jones is a heavy favorite to defeat Gustafsson, the challenger is among the few 205-pound contenders who can match Jones’ impressive frame. At 6-foot-5, Gustafsson is slightly taller than Jones, although the champion’s 84½-inch wingspan is a bit broader.
“It’s not always about reach,” said Gustafsson, who trains in Stockholm and San Diego. “It’s about footwork. It’s being fast, in and out. Stuff like that. I’m really making sure I’ve really done my homework here, and I’m super motivated.”
But Jones is confident he can overcome any size similarities with his combination of study and skill.
“I’m really excited to prove that my size is just a really small part of what makes me, me,” Jones said. “If my height was the reason for my dominance, I think half the NBA would be top guys in the UFC. Gustafsson, he’s really nothing like me.
“What gets me motivated is he hasn’t had the life,” Jones added. “He wants to be the top dog. A lot of the guys I’ve fought before, they’ve been there and they didn’t appreciate it, and they lost it. Alexander has never been there, so there’s a fire that I’m sure he has that gets me fired up.”
Jones, who combs through his opponents’ interviews for threads to unravel their psyche, also said he found motivation for the fight in a Swedish interview in which Gustafsson called him an immature bully.
So dominant for so long, it’s not surprising Jones has to go looking for new motivations — and the next one after Gustafsson might be the next weight class.
Jones has spent much of this promotion entertaining questions about his eventual move to heavyweight, even as he claims he plans to chase Anderson Silva’s all-division record of 10 consecutive title defenses. While Jones won’t set a date for a move, he’s already scoping out UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, saying: “There’s some things I could do athletically that Cain has never seen before.”
“I want to do what makes the fans happy, and I know the fans want to see me take a heavyweight fight,” Jones added. “My biggest goal was just to establish this record at light heavyweight, and once this record is established, the day after the fight, the 22nd, we can start thinking about what’s going to be most interesting for the fans to see.
“If Dana wants a certain fight that makes sense, after this fight would be the time to offer it to me.”
And while not even a pay-per-view meeting with Velasquez would be likely to match the Mayweather-Alvarez fight’s jaw-dropping $150 million in television sales, Jones abides. He thinks MMA is much like himself — young, hungry and heading toward a lucrative future.
“Right after the Mayweather fight, I got so many messages, and they were all the same: ‘Now it’s time for a real fight,'” Jones said.
“‘It’s official, boxing is over, Mayweather is the only guy that matters left in the sport. After Mayweather, the sport is officially gone.’ It just seems like the fans are so ready for MMA to be bigger. It seems like in the fans’ eyes, this is the fight sport. I just think it’s going to take more time. What we’ve been able to do in our short history is remarkable.”
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