A Face of a Brutal Sport Is Trying to Change Its Image

Jon (Bones) Jones, the U.F.C. light heavyweight champion, made the rounds earlier this week in Manhattan, promoting his fight Saturday against Glover Teixeira.

There was a luncheon in TriBeCa; an early morning spot on “Live with Kelly and Michael”; an afternoon interview with Little Bow Wow at the Ultimate Fighting Championship gym near Wall Street.

At each stop, Jones made it clear that as an ambassador of mixed martial arts, his mission was to change the image of the rapidly growing sport from modern-day barbarianism to an artful blend of martial arts.

Three years ago, Jones at age 23 became the youngest world champion in U.F.C. history. Jones has held the title since then, and a victory over Teixeira in Baltimore would extend Jones’s consecutive title defenses to seven.

For all his accomplishments, however, Jones is not the most celebrated athlete in his family. Jones is sandwiched between his gigantic brothers: his older sibling, Arthur III, is 6 feet 3 inches, 315 pounds; his younger brother, Chandler, is 6-5, 270.

Arthur plays for the Indianapolis Colts and reached the Super Bowl two seasons ago as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. Chandler is a highly regarded defensive end for the New England Patriots.

Jones, who stands 6-4, 205, got the nickname Bones because he looked like skin and bones standing next to his brothers.

“I was the smallest of my brothers — they would give me these huge shoulder pads and this huge helmet and I had these chicken legs I still have today,” Jones said.

“Everybody used to call me Boney,” he recalled.

Jones was born in Rochester, the third of four children. His older sister, Carmen, died of cancer when she was 18. He has two vivid memories of growing up in Rochester. The first is his grandfather’s church, filled with songs, shouts and the Holy Ghost on Sundays. The second was learning that his favorite uncle — his father’s youngest brother — had been murdered in a ghastly gang-related incident.

“He was shot and tortured and burned,” Jones recalled. “I was devastated. He was the first person I loved who died. I’ll never forget the funeral. I’ll never forget the way I felt. I was happy to leave Rochester.”

The family moved to Endicott, N.Y., where his father, Arthur II, would became the pastor of his own church, Mt. Sinai, located in Binghamton.

Growing up in Pastor Jones’s home, there were no sleepovers, no cable television, no video games. There was church, school and sports. That’s how Arthur II and his 11 siblings had been raised and that’s how he and his wife would raise their children.

The three brothers flourished as high school athletes, and Arthur III and Chandler would accept scholarships to Syracuse on the way to the N.F.L.

Jones was an average football player, but like his father, he excelled as a high school wrestler and became a state champion. At Iowa Central Junior College, Jones became a national wrestling champion as a freshman.

He had planned to transfer to Iowa State but left school when his girlfriend became pregnant with their first child. With another mouth to feed, Jones found his way to an M.M.A. gym and began to train. With his background in wrestling, he found that the sport was a natural fit.

“I was the one who everyone thought might get lost,” Jones said.

While he lacked the size of his brothers, Jones’s long arms and legs and his explosive athleticism would made make him the prototype of an M.M.A. fighter.

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