“I love it. MMA is like swimming out into the middle of the ocean and realizing there’s no other side out there. It’s like climbing a ladder where there’s no top rung. When you take account of expert psychology stuff, working on flexibility, guard passes, working from the bottom, and I could go on, there’s so much to learn. I love it. But I say I’m at 20 percent of where I can be, where I should be… I just have to realize with rising, all of this will come. I embrace the whole thing. My goal is to be No. 1 in our division, and I know a lot comes with that, so mentally I’ve been preparing for it… I’ve always been looking and moving towards the top. Honestly, whoever the champ was, I was paying attention. It was Machida for a while. My eye’s been on Shogun for a while. I focus on the guy who’s the champion. Of course, I worry about who’s in front of me when they come in front of me, but really my goal is that belt. That’s where my heart is at. All my attention is on Ryan Bader right now, but that’s where my heart is.”

—Jon Jones talking to MMA Fighting about his focus heading into his bout against Ryan Bader at UFC 126

For the record, Jon Jones stressed that he isn’t looking past Ryan Bader. I’m not ready to say he’s taken his off the ball, but I wouldn’t blame you if you questioned that after some of the comments he has made recently. Whether that’s the case or not, Ryan Bader will likely be a much tougher challenge than Jones has faced in previous fights. Bader doesn’t plan on being Jones’ stepping stone.

“This fight is huge and this fight is the future. The winner is right up there with the top contenders. I’m not anybody’s stepping stone, I’m not a gauge, I’m here to win and that’s what I’ll do.”

“It doesn’t matter who stands in front of me, I’ve got to find a way to go out there and win,” said Bader. “Jon Jones is a dynamic fighter, he’s very exciting, he’s been going out there and beating people convincingly. He’s got spinning back elbows, great throws, but I’m looking to go out there and cut through the hype to beat Jon Jones.”

For what it’s worth, I’m still picking Jones but I wouldn’t be shocked if Bader pulls off the upset. Any predictions?

Image via Esther Lin for MMA Fighting