By Matt Erickson, USA TODAY
In a perfect world, UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones would like to fight three or four times a year, retire when he's young and healthy, and explore other avenues unrelated to MMA.
He's not sure some fans understand that bigger picture.
"I really can't let that weigh on me," said Jones, who fights Dan Henderson next week at UFC 151. "But at the same time, I just want them to be educated, and to know that this is a business."
After earlier this week telling MMAjunkie.com that he saw little logic in a rematch with ex-champ Lyoto Machida, Jones said he caught flack on Twitter for keeping an eye on the pay-per-view numbers of the hypothetical fight. Fans questioned whether he was simply in fighting for the money, and not for love or competition.
Critics, of course, have shadowed the 25-year-old Jones (16-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) at every move. While Jones stressed that he was focused on his upcoming fight with Henderson (29-8, 5-2), which takes place Sept. 1 at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Events Center and airs live on pay-per-view, he nonetheless felt obligated to respond.
"In the original days, yeah, guys did fight because they just loved it that much," Jones said. "And I truly just love it that much. I really do. But I don't want to have to fight when I'm really old. I want to be done at a certain age."
To do that, Jones has come up with a plan, one informed by his upbringing. The middle child of three brothers, he picked up MMA, in part, to support an expecting girlfriend. Then he watched as his brothers found success in football and was motivated to match that in his sport.
It changed again when he found coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, N.M., and yet again when he became a champion, star and lightning rod for controversy.
Jones recently made another inroad to commercial success when he signed an endorsement deal with Nike. But he said there are many other aspects of life that drive him, including the need to make savvy business decisions.
"I try to keep the martial arts spirit alive as much as possible," Jones said. "At the same time, I'm a 2012 warrior, and I fight to provide for my family.
"This is a sport where we don't have a retirement plan. We don't have insurance for the rest of our lives. So the money that I make today is the money I'll draw from when I'm 80 years old if I ever get sick. Or, I have to pay for several colleges already because I have a lot of kids.
"Thinking about the business aspect, the fans are so upset. They're like, 'Oh, what does being the best have to do with pay-per-views?' I think people have it all twisted. Right now, I'm on the phone with you reporters because you want to make money. You want to write the best stories so you can make money. I fight to make money, quite frankly. If I was to not evolve with my time and be completely ignorant to my finances and pay-per-view sales, taxes, investing, it would be a shame. I refuse to be a broke athlete when I retire."
In kind, Jones also refused to apologize for speaking out about Machida, whom he defeated this past December to defend his belt a second time.
"It's 2012, and there's a lot of broke guys out there right now who were famous at one point," he said. "It wasn't something that I originally came into the sport with, but realized that I'm evolving and changing and growing as a person, and I can't apologize for that. If I was the same person when I came into the sport, I would be failing."
Henderson, a former champ who soon turns 42, admitted that he keeps an eye on pay-per-view numbers, as well.
"Of course you always pay attention to them," he said. "It's something (where) you always hope the numbers are going to stay up there, especially in the last few years with the economy being lower. Obviously, the pay-per-view numbers could always be better, no matter how many you sell."
Estimates on the success of UFC 151 are purely speculative at this point, though most observers expect the pay-per-view event won't outgross Jones' last title defense, which took place at UFC 145 against his former teammate and heated rival, Rashad Evans. Jones defended the belt with a unanimous decision.
Henderson, who enjoys a four-fight win streak coming into the fight, is widely considered to be Jones' last test in the division before former opponents are recycled, though he is a massive underdog in betting lines.
That rarely equates to a box office smash, but Jones is forging ahead with his plan.
"My ideal is to fight four or three times a year, despite how big things get," he said. "I always put my belt on the line, and try to conquer records. I'm creeping up on Tito [Ortiz's] record in almost a year-and-a-half's time.
"I'll never be a champion that sits on the belt. And even thought I've been choosing fights lately doesn't mean that I'll sit on the belt. It doesn't mean I won't fight people. I'm just throwing matches out there that I think are right."