Although Jon Jones is now associated with the elite Jackson MMA team in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Southern Tier fight fans are proudly aware that the UFC light heavyweight champion’s roots are based here in the Binghamton-Ithaca area. And when training for his most recent title defense last September against Alex Gustafsson, Jones reunited with one of his earliest striking coaches, long-time Ithaca boxing trainer Patrick O’Connor.
O’Connor spent the hot summer months in New Mexico with Jones, helping the champ prepare for an opponent who had a distinct edge in experience when it comes to the Sweet Science. Gustafsson started boxing at 10 and is a former Swedish amateur champion. On September 21 in Toronto, Gustafsson pushed Jones to the limit. And while the champion prevailed by unanimous decision, it was by far the toughest test of his career (Jones’s next match has been pushed to March to give him more time to recover).
With a successful defense in the books, O’Connor returned to Ithaca to make up for lost time in his first love: painting. In November he opened his own gallery in Ithaca’s West End neighborhood, on Buffalo Street near the Cayuga inlet.
I make no claims to being an authority on the fine arts, but I did spend some time around visual artists during my post-army years as a student. The self-taught O’Connor’s technical prowess is obvious and the breadth of his style impressive. The landscapes on display in his current gallery run from boldly abstract to impressionistic to near-photographic realism. His catalogue incorporates acrylics, water colors and mixed media.
O’Connor has been passionate about painting for over 40 years, since he was 13. His work has been shown and collected across the country and some of his most enthusiastic collectors probably don’t know a right cross from a rosary bead.
There is no obvious evidence of O’Connor’s other life in his artwork. But some of his most bleakly beautiful winter landscapes, while reminding me of Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Snowman,” also captured the kind of rugged, individualistic spirit that so often finds itself at home in the combat sports.
Like any proud trainer, O’Connor was happy to talk a little bit about his fighter’s most recent success. “Jon beat him on his feet, where Gustafsson is at his best and Jon is most out of his element,” said O’Connor, with pride. “And he made it hurt, which is the mark of a champion.”
O’Connor noted that Jones was cut early in the fight. “It was a nothing punch,” he said, demonstrating by brushing my forehead lightly with his fist. “But the glove pulled the skin back and for Jon to see his own blood like that was a new thing. And his foot was broken. It was a real survival moment. He showed he could dig in and fight back.”
View info on Patrick O’Connor’s gallery at pjogallery.com.
Gladius Fights Returns to Ithaca on December 7
This weekend mixed martial arts is back in Ithaca, as Gladius Fights Promotion returns to its headquarters at the Ultimate Athletics Gym at the Ithaca Mall.
The card will feature some of the top amateur fighters from Binghamton, Ithaca and Rochester. Check back at this site early next week for a complete card report.