Phil Nurse is likely the most respected striking coach in the sport. I caught up with Nurse during Thursday’s open workouts to discuss the mindset, evolution and creativity of his hottest protege: UFC light heavyweight Jon Jones, who faces Rampage Jackson at UFC 135 on Saturday night.
Heavy: Jon has a ton of hype. Is he the most talented fighter you’ve ever trained?
Phil Nurse: I wouldn’t say he has the most talent of all of them, but he definitely has the most creative mind. With that being said, he has talent, but his creativeness helps enhance that talent, if you know what I mean.
Heavy: Do you try to keep from being too creative, or do you let him explore a little bit?
Nurse: A little bit of both. I like him to be creative. But at that high level, you want him to be creative, but you also want him to know when he’s going to use it. You don’t want to use it just to use it. And my thing is that you use it at the right time. You don’t want him just looking to use it. Use it when it’s going to be effective. Use it when it’s going to finish the fight. Use it when it’s going to enhance something. But don’t just start spinning for the sake of spinning. And that’s what I have to hold him back on.
Heavy: He seems like a very intelligent guy. Not just in the cage, but in his daily life, he’s very reserved and thinks things through. Does that surprise you that a guy who is so young can be so wise beyond his years?
Nurse: I like to say that you are never there until you are there. If you’re twenty-four and people say you act like you’re thirty-four? You’re just acting like you’re thirty-four. You’re not there until you’re there. And part of it is that you actually have to go through those young years. That’s what’s going to make you thirty-four when you’re actually thirty-four. So I don’t think it’s a bad thing that he’s twenty-four. It’s not a bad thing that people say he’s so young. That’s life. You have to learn things. You have to go through them to learn them. So all of this that’s going on with him, it’s an important part of learning and developing his character and who he will be in the future. I think it’s the right way to go.
Heavy: If you could envision what Jon Jones is going to become someday, how far along do you think he is right now in terms of reaching his full potential? If, indeed there is a cap to our potential or to his potential, how far along is he right now?
Nurse: He has a long way to go. He’s still just starting out. He’s just at the beginning and hasn’t been in the game too long. People are seeing him now and they’re saying “oh, Jon Jones! He spins and he flies and does all this crazy stuff!” That’s just the start. You’re going to start seeing his whole martial arts vibe going that way. People are looking at him, like guys I train, and they’re telling me “oh, I want to learn what Jon Jones does.” He’s totally capable of doing that for a couple of years. People will see something new every time. And that’s part of my job, is to keep people guessing. There are always things we work on that aren’t even done yet. But I always tell him, use it at the right time. Don’t just use it because you can use it. It doesn’t really matter what they’ve seen so far – he’s going to continue to evolve. He still has a lot more to offer.