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Jones’ win caps off blockbuster week for UFC

Rua Jon Jones’ timing couldn’t have been better.

The 23-year-old Endicott, N.Y. native stopped the more experienced Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (24-5) with third-round strikes to become the UFC’s 12th light heavyweight champion at UFC 128 Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Jones’ (14-1) dominating performance put an exclamation point on the end of a week that began with the UFC’s parent company, Zuffa LLC., purchasing its only close competitor, Strikeforce. Zuffa majority owner Lorenzo Fertitta said the company plans to run both entities simultaneously, as the organization continues its campaign into the sport’s international market. No doubt Jones will figure heavily in the UFC’s future plans.

Jones’ ascension to the top of one of the UFC’s most popular divisions was reminiscent of Georges St. Pierre’s first championship bout against legend Matt Hughes at UFC 50 in October 2004. However, Jones was able to accomplish what St. Pierre couldn’t the first time around against Hughes -- he easily handled the 29-year-old Rua, even though the Brazilian champion already had 19 fights under his belt by the time Jones debuted in the sportin April 2008.

In an interview prior to his bout Saturday, Jones had no doubts. 

“I believe with my whole heart that it will be a different story, that I’m going to be better than St. Pierre in every way,” Jones told The Times. “I’ve got Georges to help me stay away from the situations that he’s gone through.”

Jones is getting a fast education in the sport. According to a February press release, agent Malki Kawa merged his firm with the entertainment-based Authentic Sports Management, positioning the 6-foot-4 champion for more lucrative sponsorship opportunities.

Jones said he also picked up a few tips from St. Pierre and other teammates at Jackson-Winkeljohn Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M.

“I’ve had lessons about how to deal with temptations like women, how to budget your money,” said Jones. “I’ve gotten advice from Georges like how to deal with Dana White in business meetings. We talk about training hard, but not overtraining; about confidence.”

Jones’ assuredness drew much attention during fight week, as reports circulated that the fighter was signing his autograph with the words “2011 Champion” following it. Jones seemed to back up those words before he entered the Octagon on Saturday, when he and his coaches stopped an alleged robber on the New Jersey streets hours before the fight.

Jones, who'll likely face ex-teammate Rashad Evans sometime later this year, has the potential to be a strong champion for the promotion, and his back-story doesn’t lack for interesting angles.

At age 23, the former Iowa Central Community College wrestler is the youngest champion in UFC history. He comes from an athletic family: older brother Arthur plays for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and his younger sibling is a lineman for Syracuse University. His father is a pastor and his mother has battled obesity.

Jones said his parents did a good job of hiding that his family was poorer than most, but that his older sister’s death from brain cancer when Jones was 11 years old put a deep financial strain on them.

“Nothing was handed to me throughout life,” said Jones. “I never had a pair of new sneakers ever growing up. I remember being in college I’d be hungry a lot of times, because my parents just couldn’t send the money. Almost every holiday, I had to stay in Iowa because I couldn’t afford to fly back to New York for Christmas.”

Jones said he takes nothing for granted, and is sensitive when others don’t recognize that.

“I try my hardest to come across -- I feel I’m a good person,” Jones told The Times. “I have good morals and I genuinely care about individuals. When people say hurtful things about me, it really bothers me a lot. I take a lot of pride in not being arrogant.

“I think a lot of people fear to be great,” said Jones. “I don’t.”

RELATED:

L.A. Times March MMA Rankings

UFC 128: Jones Captures Title

-- Loretta Hunt

Photo: Mauricio Rua, right, kicks Jon Jones during their mixed martial arts match at UFC 128 March 19, 2011, in Newark, N.J. Jones won by TKO. Credit: Mel Evans / AP

 
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