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Could pre-UFC 152 distractions derail Jon Jones?

Jones dealing with firestorm before title defense against Vitor Belfort

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Jon Jones speaks during the UFC 152 pre-fight press conference at the Real Sports Bar and Grill in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. Jones will be facing Vitor Belfort for the light heavyweight title at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.

The inside of Jon Jones’ brain must look something like a billiards table after a break shot as Saturday’s light heavyweight title defense against Vitor Belfort approaches.

Listen to Jones talk and his words indicate a handful of thoughts running rampant from side to side with some gaining steam and others tailing off.

Heading into UFC 152 Saturday in Toronto, Jones has more on his mind than he’s ever dealt with in previous fights. A disgruntled boss Jones has yet to deal with, a resentful fan base that boos him at every stop and an opponent he hasn’t enjoyed ideal time to train for account for only the peak on the mountain of issues.

“I think it’s made my life a lot more interesting,” Jones said at a press conference Thursday. “It hasn’t made it necessarily fun, but it gave everybody something to do. I believe I’ve grown from it all, and I actually appreciate the curveballs life has thrown at me.”

No one is even asking Jones about his DUI arrest or global sponsorship deal with Nike, which illustrates the extent of the consequences associated with him turning down a fight against Chael Sonnen to save UFC 151. Those two topics were presumed to be the major story lines heading into Jones’ next fight.

The UFC 152 main event will instead come down to how Jones deals with the glut of distractions standing in his way. He admitted the criticisms got to him for a while but said a conversation with his future mother-in-law helped him look past the outside factors.

“She said, ‘You’ve got to look at the adversity in your life as new opportunities to grow,’” Jones said. “And I really took that to heart.”

Jones has made no attempt to hide his insecurities. He said he “felt terrible” about the way UFC 151 fell apart but refused to take any of the blame UFC President Dana White and fans are assigning him.

He’s always cared deeply about his public perception and hopes it can be repaired with a spectacular performance against Belfort. But Jones has shown slight reservations about fighting Belfort, declaring the former champion a more dangerous opponent than original UFC 151 foe Dan Henderson.

While fans probably roll their eyes at the assertion, it’s believable from Jones considering the circumstances.

The 25-year-old likes to study his challengers obsessively. There was little time for that with Belfort after the bout came together with less than a month’s notice.

In addition, Belfort began training with the lone fighter to take Jones the distance in the past three years. Rashad Evans, who knows Jones better than anyone as a former teammate, served as Belfort’s primary training partner.

“It’s something that was big for my game, and it’s been a joy,” Belfort said. “I love to train with Evans.”

Not all distractions are negative for Jones. Several major media outlets have picked up on the fact that Jones will fight the night before his older brother, Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones, and younger brother, New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, face off on Sunday Night Football.

Jones’ parents will attend the fight and the game. He’ll jump on a Sunday morning flight to Baltimore with them to catch the momentous occasion.

“I just hope they both play hard, and maybe if the one on the losing team has the better individual game, it won't hurt as bad,” Jones said. “They both better play hard. I’m excited to see it.”

Jones rattled off details about his brothers, including calling Chandler — a first-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft — “very braggadocious.” He glowed while talking about both.

For once, it appeared Jones’ mind was at ease from everything else around him. It’s taken awhile.

“What it’s forced me to do is be more secure in the person that I am and trust in my personality,” Jones said.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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