A first-round draft pick out of North Carolina with Tampa Bay, Jones proudly spent all seven of his years as a defensive end in the National Football League as a Buccaneer. In 2000 Marcus racked up thirteen sacks for Tampa Bay, placing him eighth in the league on the NFL’s list of quarterback takedown specialists. He also went on to record 29 total tackles during the same season.
At 6’6″, 265 pounds, Jones got his start in mixed martial arts training out of Gracie Tampa in Florida alongside Rob Kahn so it should come as no surprise where the strength of this not so gentle giant lies, and that’s firmly on the canvas where he can utilize that good old fashioned Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that made his friend and mentor Royce Gracie so famous in the earliest days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
As a lifelong professional athlete at the highest level imaginable, Jones is much younger than his thirty-six years of age may imply at first glance. At the same time, he’ll be the first to admit that he’s not getting any younger in this physically demanding sport where the strong devour the weak.
This is what lead the former gladiator of the gridiron to the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter. It’s sink or swim time, and what better place to find out if you have what it takes than being trapped inside a complex with fifteen other stinky, bad breath having grown men. Guys that would like nothing more than to tear your head off, and help you up afterwords.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com recently had the chance to catch up with Marcus where we discussed a number of topics including his not wanting to spend a lot of time rolling around with Royce for good reason, going from making truckloads of money in the NFL to $800 in his first professional fight, having to rub Vaseline all over his enormous hands just to get them to squeeze into a 4X UFC glove, not watching a single football game since he walked away from the sport, and much more.
FiveOuncesOfPain: It’s well known that you have had a decorated career in the NFL; Now that you’ve had some time in the fight game, could you make a true distinction as far as which sport has given you the greatest amount of satisfaction?
Marcus Jones: Honestly, to be real with you: I really enjoyed playing football when I first started, like in high school and college, but I’ve always been a really big mixed martial arts fan. I would always rush home during football just t get a chance to catch some of the fights that came on television. I don’t want to take anything away from either sport though. I’ve been an avid fan of football since I was a little kid growing up. Having the opportunity to pay at such a high level was great. At the same time, I think my true passion is….. You know I always say that your true passion is something you can sit and watch all day, every day, 24-7 and not get tired of it. That’s how I feel about MMA.
FiveOuncesOfPain: You said that you’ve been a mixed martial arts fan for a while now; Do you remember the first time you saw a UFC, or any kind of MMA event?
Marcus Jones: I think the first time I saw an entire UFC was when I got drafted. It was the first time I was able to actually start paying for some of them, you know [laughs]. I first became a fan when it was Royce Gracie just running through people. That played a major role in why I wanted to become involved in MMA. When I started out I didn’t even know how to defend myself, and the first thing I saw when I opened up the phone book was Gracie Tampa. Rob Kahn is one of the first black belts under Royce Gracie and I’m like, “Oh my gosh!”. It’s like I get to sit with the pope because he has a direct link to God, you know [laughs]. I ended up getting choked out on my first day and just fell in love with it.
FiveOuncesOfPain: So have you been able to spend a good amount of time on the mat with Royce?
Marcus Jones: You really don’t want to spend that much time on the mat with Royce, because he’s just one of those guys, he’s really intimidating, you know what I mean? I mean really, it’s like, would you get on the basketball court and play with Michael Jordan? You’d be nervous, wouldn’t you? That’s the same way I feel about Royce Gracie. Royce Gracie is the Michael Jordan of MMA. To actually just be in his presence is so overwhelming that you just get nervous, you know.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Oh yeah, no question. Do you still watch a good amount of football now? Do you follow the game closely, or is it more mixed martial arts at this point?
Marcus Jones: Well, I’m going to be honest; Since I retired from football I haven’t watched a game. I think the last game I watched….. I watched about a quarter and a half of the Super Bowl when Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy were coaching (Super Bowl XLI: Bears vs. Colts – February 4, 2007), just out of respect to them. It’s one of those thing where either my light is all the way on, or it’s all the way off. Either I’m doing it, or I’m not. When I watch football it’s not from a fans point of view. I still have that competitive edge.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Now it wouldn’t seem like you would be in any kind of desperate need for money coming from the NFL; Would you say that your hunger for competition is the true driving force behind your move to MMA?
Marcus Jones: You know, I think so, because if you get into mixed martial arts, and I’m going to tell everybody out there: You’re not making any money when you first get in this. Honestly, I think my first fight was for like $800. That doesn’t cover medical bills or anything like that if you acquire any. It has to be for the pure love of the sport. I think that’s what a lot of people love about this sport. Most guys that are in it, and have really spent some time in MMA, they’re in it because of the fact that they truly love the sport and nothing else. You’re not making a fortune doing this.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Do you feel like out of all the sports that are out there such as football, baseball, wrestling; Do you feel like true hand to hand combat is what human competition really boils down to?
Marcus Jones: Yeah, it’s as real as it gets out there. I try to tell people like this: Put yourself in this situation; you’re on a team with a whole bunch of players, you know, basketball team, baseball team, football team, and that guy from the other team that you’re facing looks you and says, “Man, I’m going to beat you up! You aint nothin’! I’m gonna take you down!”, or whatever, he’s just talking. Now come over to the MMA side of things where you have a guy that’s saying, “I’m gonna break your arm!”, he means it [laughs]. You know what I’m saying? He’s going to literally try to break your arm. I don’t want to take anything away from any of those other sports, but honestly the truest form of competition is mixed martial arts. I used to be a big fan of boxing back in the day when they had fighters like Mike Tyson and all of those guys, and they used to really come out and lay it on the line. Right now MMA is the one sport that everyone can see that the guys come out there to fight, and they fight!
FiveOuncesOfPain: Right, like back in the day when the heavyweight division was stacked with fighters like Tyson, Razor Ruddock, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Michael Moorer.
Marcus Jones: Back in the days. They used to come out and fight. Now it is what it is. There was one point in boxing where like four different heavyweight champions and I didn’t know who three of the guys were. Everybody wants to keep their belt and they don’t want to challenge the other guy with the belt, so you never get those really good fights anymore.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Oh absolutely. Now you’re used to the bright lights during your career in football, and so much is made of the the jitters you can have fighting in the UFC for the first time; Do you not really get too stressed out before bouts due to the fact that you used to perform in front of tens of thousands of people in the past?
Marcus Jones: No, it doesn’t matter man. I get the jitters every time I’m getting ready to fight. It’s the weirdest feeling in the world. I’m going to tell you what it is: When you have a helmet on, and you’re out there with a team, there’s at least ten other guys out there on the field with you. So you might make a mistake, and nobody sees it. You might get blasted, and nobody sees it. When you’re dealing with MMA, you’re the offense, you’re the defense, you’re the special teams, you’re the quarterback, and you’re the coach. You’re everything rolled into one when you’re out there. You’re visibility is just amplifies a thousand times. It’s like having that solo line with the guitar in the middle of a huge concert, if you make a mistake, everyone’s going to hear it.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Of course, but don’t you think that’s one of the major allures of fighting in mixed martial arts? Of course with a team the attention is spread so thin, but in a fight all of the eyes in the house are focused squarely on you and another guy.
Marcus Jones: All eyes are on you. You know, I think Rampage put it best when he told me that he still gets nervous when he walks into the cage. Those jitters are just natural. It wakes you up, and you have this adrenaline dump, and you feel alive!
FiveOuncesOfPain: Of course there have been plenty of guys that have described the house to a prison in the past. Did you get a sense of that at all, or did it not really affect you as much because of your experience in a team environment for so long?
Marcus Jones: You know, I was kind of used to it but I’m going to tell you this: Prisoners had more privileges than we did. I’m going to be honest. At least when you’re in prison you have a television. At least when you’re in prison you get magazines and letters. We didn’t have anything! We had no television, we didn’t have any magazines, you just had nothing. So you really didn’t know what was going on in the outside world.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Yeah, I talked to Roy Nelson a little while ago and he told me that you get to a point where you want to train when you’re not supposed to because you can get so stir crazy just being in that house all the time.
Marcus Jones: There’s nothing else to do. It would be a Sunday, which is supposed to be your day off, and the guys would be like, “Man, I don’t want to just sit around here all day. Can we at least go to the gym?”, you know. And Roy’s a really cool dude. I think so much of him. He’s a great fighter, and he’s also a great person. He’s just an awesome dude.
FiveOuncesOfPain: I know you’ve spent the majority of your time training with Rob Kahn down there at Gracie Tampa, but have you spent any time training outside of Florida at all?
Marcus Jones: Yeah, I went to the Miletich camp once, and got the dog snot beat out of me, literally [laughs]. I try to travel when I can if it’s feasible, but we have a really good team down here in Tampa. We’ve had some really good heavyweights that have come down here. Like recently we had Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz come down here. He’s one of the best heavyweights on the ground, so I can just train with him on the ground and get a lot better.
FiveOuncesOfPain: That was actually one of the things I wanted to ask you about. Do you generally have a problem finding training partners with the size necessary to push you in practice? Do you find yourself having to force yourself not to power out of techniques when rolling with smaller men?
Marcus Jones: Yeah, what I do now is, if I’m rolling with someone who’s smaller, I’ll use absolutely no strength. I’ll just try to focus n my technique, and I get tired. But that’s the only way you’re going to get better when you’re a big guy.
FiveOuncesOfPain: If you were going to compare you’re current style of fighting to one guy currently competing in the UFC, who would it be?
Marcus Jones: Man, I really don’t know. I haven’t been in the business long enough to really develop a specific style, but I lean more towards the grappling and Jiu-Jitsu. I always feel like if I can get my hands on somebody, my chances of winning increase greatly. So I think I would have to say that I would be more of a Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira type where I want to get you to the ground. You know, like the old Nogueira when he was in PRIDE.
FiveOuncesOfPain: With that being said, I know the bulk of you’re wins have come by either knockout or TKO. Do you have a preference for pounding your opponents out?
Marcus Jones: No, it usually depends on what the other person is doing. Like if I’m having a hard time trying to get the fighter to the ground, I’ll usually stop wasting the energy and go into my striking. Some of my wins have come from me just mounting the guy and pounding them out completely.
FiveOuncesOfPain: I’ve heard that your hands are absolutely enormous. Did you end up having to special order some gloves, or did the ones they’ve made for guys like Brock Lesnar or Shane Carwin fit you?
Marcus Jones: We had a really hard time getting my hands in the gloves. Every single time I fight, I think they use the 3X or 4X gloves, and I’d have a really hard time with it. I have to Vaseline my hands up just to get them in the gloves.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Alright man, I really appreciate you taking this time with me. Last question. A really vague question. What can fans expect from Marcus Jones in the future?
Marcus Jones: Honestly, you can expect for me to be in the best shape of my life after this season of The Ultimate Fighter is over. I just want to get better. I want to go places to train. I’m constantly trying to improve. I really want my ground game a staple of every fight I’m in. It’s like I said earlier, if I get you to the ground, my chances of winning increase dramatically.
FiveOuncesOfPain: And even though you’re in the UFC at this early point in your career, do you feel like you still have a tremendous amount of room to grow?
Marcus Jones: Oh man, I’ve only been in this sport for two years. I took my first fight after training for about five months. I may me in my mid-thirties right now, but I’m only nineteen when it comes to learning the game. I just dove into the ocean and I’m ready to swim. I’m ready to expand and get better.