Former NFL Star Marcus Jones On The Ultimate Fighter And Why MMA Is Tougher Than Football

Marcus Jones was a first round NFL draft pick. He played for seven years, racking up as many as 13 sacks in a season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one of the mid-1990’s best defenses. Now he’s the most decorated football player to give the UFC a try. At the relatively ancient age of 36, Jones left what was no doubt a palatial crib in Florida to live in a house with a bunch of tattoeed freaks for weeks. All because he loves kicking ass. had a chance to sit down with Jones to talk TUF, drinking games, and why the UFC doesn’t have a player’s union. A lot of the football players we’ve seen in MMA have been guys that almost made it. College players or guys on the practice squad. You’re the first guy besides Johnnie Morton who’s had an actual career in the NFL. Does that hurt you by making you less hungry?

Marcus Jones: It’s like this: football and MMA are such different sports it’s like comparing apples and oranges. One doesn’t prepare you for the other. But the training aspect of MMA could help you in football. I think I would have been a better athlete if I had participated in MMA when I was in football. Just because MMA training is much harder. I’m not taking anything away from football, because I did it for a long time. It was like second nature to me. But in MMA the action is constant. You have to be ready for 15 minutes. A lot of people can’t do that, man. If you watch tape of football, at the end of the fourth quarter when the offense is running that two minute drill, guys are getting tired because the action is quicker. And there’s not that many plays. It’s only two minutes. Imagine five minutes with no stopping. You play football in five second bursts, not five minute bursts?
Jones: If a play lasts longer than five or six seconds, that’s probably a touchdown. You play in those bursts and then the clock stops and you get thirty seconds before another play starts. I wish in MMA you had thirty seconds to rest after every punch. When you played football, you played with the very best. Hall of Fame type guys like John Lynch, Warren Sapp, and Derrick Brooks. What did you learn from watching those guys prepare for football games that you can take into your MMA career?
Jones: I’m glad you asked that question, because no one has really asked me that question. The thing that I have learned from watching John Lynch and watching Derrick Brooks, these upper echelon football players, they became succesful because they were students of the game. They knew every play, not just where they were supposed to be, but where you were supposed to be. They knew everything about the sport. I never truly became a student of the game. I was one of those people lucky enough to have the physical attributes you needed to play the game. I was fortunate enough to be on a team with those kind of players, players who were totally dedicated to the art of football. Lifers. On the flipside, while they were taking the time to study al those plays, I was at home watching the first UFC’s and watching Royce Gracie put it down. I was that guy. I’m finally able to do something I’m passionate about. I hit some bumps in the road, you always do when you pursue something you really enjoy and love doing. To be successful you have to approach every single day like you won’t get the chance to do this again, even though it’s the one thing you love the most in the entire world. In MMA there are lots of big personalities. Some of the biggest were on the show with you. Does anybody in MMA compare to a guy you played with by the name of Warren Sapp?
Jones: We’re touching on some sticky ground. I’m going to be honest. If you’re not willing to be honest about something, I don’t think you need to speak on it. I think at some point there’s a part of being humble that’s lost on these stars in big-time sports like football, baseball, and basketball. A lot of things are given freely when you play those sports. When you start in high school your uniforms are free and everything is free. Then you go to college and get a free education. They build you up and you feel entitled to certain things. Just because you play a game. In MMA, nothing is given. No one ever says, ‘Hey come here and take this class free.’ You have to start at the bottom of the barrel. You have to get beaten up. Because if you are just starting and you’re not getting beaten and submitted at the gym, you need to leave and pick a better gym. Every fighter starts out humble and hungry. You want to learn, learn, learn. Then you want to apply what you learn. There will be times when you aren’t succesful. And when you aren’t succesful in MMA, everybody sees it. If you have a bad football game, so what? There’s 11 people on that field with you. Nobody’s going to see you unless it’s your parents looking for you. If you have a bad game in the cage, everybody sees it. You’re exposed instantly. You have to get rid of that big ego that says ‘I’m entitled to everything.’ You have to eat your humble pie, man. You have to take your lumps and bumps like everybody else. It seems to me, in a sense, that in MMA, every fighter is the quarterback. They are watching everything you do.
Jones: Exactly. That’s the right terminology. I’m going to go past that. In MMA, you’re the quarterback, you’re the offense, you’re the defense, you’re the special teams. All rolled into one. You understand what I’m saying? For sure. Now, back in the day Bill Goldberg was the toughest guy in the Atlanta Falcons lockerroom. They would have little wrestling matches between the guys and Deion Sanders would put money down on him. Who was the toughest guy in your locker room in Tampa Bay?
Jones: Oh man. God. I’d have to say Hardy Nickerson. It definitely wasn’t me. I know that seems funny because of me crossing over to MMA. But I don’t think you have to be an angry person or a violent person to do MMA. You just have to love competition. That’s the kind of person I am. I love winning. I enjoy what I do and I have fun doing it. When you put that together, you’ll never get tired of doing it. Because you’re doing something you enjoy. So man, I heard you got started doing this after a drunken night out?

Jones: It’s true. It’s true. It’s true. Yeah man, it’s true. I’m trying to figure out who in the hell would pick a fight with you? Even in fun. How did that go down?
Jones: I’m gonna tell you how it goes down. Me and my two best friends from college all played at Carolina. One guy was a linebacker, one was a tight end. I played defensive end in college, and every day I’d have to go up against him. Every day I’d get the best of him. We were close friends and lived together in college. Every year we’d all get together for a three day weekend and just drink beer. We were playing drinking games like bizz buzz that you play in college – you know those games you used to play in college? Right.
Jones: So we all started picking on each other. And someone said ‘Hey, let’s do some stuff you see in the UFC.’ And I said ‘Yeah man, let’s do this!’ We pushed all the furniture up against the wall and started wrestling. I was able to take him down I was trying to do things I’d seen. Like I tried to do an Americana. But nothing worked. Because you don’t know how to do that stuff. You just try to do what you’ve seen on television. Now he was taking kempo karate and he didn’t tell me. So he stands up and says ‘Let’s take it to another level. Let’s add some striking to this.’ I didn’t know any striking. I didn’t know how to throw a punch. But if he was going to do it, I’d do it. So I stand there hands down, and I’m thinking he’s barely going to throw a punch. This dude popped me. He catches me with an uppercut and I don’t mean some little uppercut. It hurt, you know what I’m saying? It had my jaw sore and everything. He hit me with that uppercut then ran at me and did a double leg takedown. He put me right into the back of the cabinets. And right at the moment I hit them cabinets, I was done. I was through. Back sore, jaw sore. Right after that we went to get something to eat and I couldn’t even open my mouth to get anything to eat. At that moment I was a victim. I thought ‘I’m big for nothing.’ If something happens right now I’m going to have to report it to the police. Because I can’t defend myself. The next day, I got in the telephone book and started to look up jiu jitsu. I remembered Monster Lobster was always inviting me up to Gracie Tampa to train with them. I just thought they wanted to get me in there and beat me up. But I called there and they said come on down. I go down there and the very first day I’m there I get choked out. It was a north-south choke and I fell in love. So, you went into The Ultimate Fighter house. But at 36, you’re what my Dad would call a grown-ass man. Did you ever think ‘What the hell am I doing in here with these kids?’

Jones: Man, that thought crossed my mind every single day I was there. It was one of those things where I felt like I was an old man with a stick up his ass, who decided to chase a dream. A lot of people don’t understand. It’s one thing to chase a dream. It’s another thing to work really hard while you chase that dream. I you have an opportunity you’ve got to take advantage of it by working your ass off. Was there anything you took away from some of these champion fighters and coaches you had at the UFC Training Center? From the way the approached training and fighting?

Jones: There’s a lot of things I took away from it, but the one thing I took away the most was something I said to myself: ‘How sick would I be if I don’t take advantage of this and push myself?’ This sport in growing exponentially. There are deals being made every single day and the world is going to participate in MMA. How sick would I be if I didn’t participate in this? I’m one of a very few people who have had this opportunity. Be it that I’m 36 years old. Be it that I’m the old man in the house. Whatever. I’ve worked my butt off to be in a position where I can be on this show, a show I’ve watched every single season. I was elated just to have the opportunity. To work your butt off to be in the position where people want to have you on the show. You can’t be some schlub who wakes up and says ‘I want to be on The Ultimate Fighter.’ It doesn’t work that way. There’s tryouts and all kinds of variable that go into it. I was just happy to get to do something I was so passionate about. In football you must have gotten used to having the cameras around in the locker room, even if they weren’t necessarily looking at you. Did that help you with what was a essentially a camera in your face for weeks at a time?
Jones: I really never gave the cameras much thought. That can’t be true. I can just imagine you talking to somebody and all of a sudden the cameraman is getting right in your face.

Jones: I was just trying to focus on not getting my ass whooped the whole time I was there. So I wasn’t trying to focus to much on the cameras. After a few days the cameras just became a part of the house you are living in. It was something you got used to. They were just always there. Did you meet the cameramen? Were you like ‘Hey Jon, what’s going on?’

Jones: We weren’t allowed to talk to them or nothing like that. You’re coming from a sport that has been around for a long time. It has a player’s union and the player’s all have high-powered agents. Now you’re stepping into almost a wild west atmosphere. What can MMA learn from football as an institution and a business?
Jones: Man, you are asking me some pretty tough questions here. I think what’s different about the league as an institution is that it’s been around for a long time. There were men who made sacrifices for the betterment of the league and the players. It’s a business that’s made millions and millions of dollars over the years. Right now MMA is just coming into fruition. It will take time. I don’t think that you’ll see the same kind of benefits you see in the NFL. The money will get there first, because it’s a hot commodity. But as far as there being a union for the fighters, I think that’s still some time in coming. In football, there is some trash talk, especially on the field. But off the field almost anything you say can be bulletin board material for the other team. Do you appreciate the opportunity to express yourself in MMA?
Jones: In MMA there’s really no trash talking. It’s really what you want to do to somebody. Trash talking is one thing. A lot of people trash talk in the league. But if another fighter says ‘I’m going to F you up, I’m going to break your arm.’ That’s what they mean. You know what I mean? The opportunity is going to come and when it does come I’m going to hurt you. If another fighter says to me ‘If we get a chance to fight, I’m going to try to break your arm,’ I’m taking him for his word. Because that’s what he’s going to try to do. It’s a little different. In the league everyone talks about what they are going to do to you, but they never will. There may be a fight for a second, but you have the helmet on. You can’t punch through the facemask. It’s a lot of posturing. In the cage, if I fight somebody and they say ‘I’m gonna mess you up dog. I’m gonna break you down,’ that’s exactly what they planning on doing to you. It’s not like trash talk. It’s what they plan on doing to you. My favorite guy in a football fight is the one fool who takes his helmet off.
Jones: That’s a dummy right there. Who takes off their helmet to go into the fight? Football players: keep your helmet on! I know they’ve got rules about what you can and can’t say. I’ll put it like this: at the end of the day do you feel better about your MMA future than you did before the show? Or was this a wake up call?
Jones: I’ll tell you what. It was a little bit of both. To be in the house and have some opportunity to learn from some guys who have been there and done that, to train with guys who were on that level – man. You know what I’m saying? I’ll put it like this: say you’re the big fish in high school football. You can run over everybody. Then all of the sudden they give you a call and say they are going to put you on the Dallas Cowboys. We’re going to coach you, we’re going to train you, you’re going to work with the other guys. Just from doing that, from being on the Dallas Cowboys for awhile and then going back to high school…your level of play steps up. You’re in the house with some people who do this every single day for a living. They’re some of the baddest dudes on the planet. Understand this man. I didn’t have a fighting background. I was in the house with a four-time Greco-Roman National Champion, a Division II wrestling champ, a kickboxing champ, an IFL champ, a Victory Fighting champ. These are guys who are lifers in this business who are working their ass off to make a name for themselves. All the sudden I’m holding my own with that calibre of fighter. It was so surreal and I can’t put into words what that means to a person like me who really loves this sport. To get in the cage with fighters like that. Oh my God. The memories. It was unbelievable man. It’s made me a better fighter. Just going there in that kind of atmosphere, around those types of guys, has made me a better fighter. Because if you had a bad day, ‘Oh well.’ There’s always tomorrow. The same cats that beat you up the one day will be there for you to get the chance to return the favor the next.
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