If the reaction he received at last week’s UFC “Unstoppable” press conference in Las Vegas was any indication, the MMA community is ready to forgive Jon Jones.
The man known as “Bones,” who was often villainized by fans during his dominant reign atop the 205-pound division in recent years, was greeted with hearty cheers at nearly every turn during Friday’s event at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The former light heavyweight king will return to the Octagon for the first time in more than a year when he faces Daniel Cormier at UFC 197 on April 23. Jones’ extended absence came when he was suspended indefinitely and stripped of his title for fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run accident in Albuquerque, N.M., last year.
After entering a plea agreement and demonstrating that he would fulfill the terms of his probation, Jones was reinstated by the UFC. He was later booked to rematch Cormier, giving the Jackson-Wink MMA product a chance to regain the belt that was never taken from him in the Octagon.
More importantly, Jones says, he has a new outlook on life.
“We’re all on different journeys. Sometimes people mature faster than others. Sometimes it takes a few more mistakes to realize what they have and what they’re messing up,” Jones said. “For me I felt as if the last situation really brought me to my knees. I lost my respect nationwide. I lost my endorsements. I lost my job. I lost so much.
“For me this was rock bottom. Over the last year I’ve had the opportunity to be alone and work on my character outside of being an athlete. Today I stand here five months sober, feeling amazing and rejuvenated. And I’m excited to get back in here, get on the right track and put on some exciting fights for you fans.”
The Jones adulation seemed to visibly upset Cormier, who was jeered repeatedly as he questioned the thought process of those in attendance. That contrast wasn’t lost on Jones, who couldn’t resist taking a few jabs at his rival while explaining that he is ready to move on from his transgressions of the past.
“I had no clue what [Cormier] said over all those boos,” Jones said. “There’s no secret I’ve had a lot of issues in my career. I think DC he wants me to sit up here with my head held low with a quitter attitude. I’ve went through my depressed moments and now I’m ready to get out of that and hold my head up high, forgive myself for some of the ways I’ve made mistakes and to move forward. He wants me to sit here all mopey; it’s not gonna happen.”
While there is no love lost between Jones and Cormier, the New York native claims that, at least on his side, the animosity is not as strong as it was leading up to their first meeting at UFC 182.
“I’m on a mission to prove to the world that you can get back on your feet after almost anything if you don’t give up on yourself. That it’s all about continuing to fight,” he said.”I know in order to prove that defeating Daniel Cormier is going to be a big part of that. I have no reason to not like him right now. I took his undefeated record. I’m gonna take his belt. I’m gonna take my belt back. I’ve got no problem with him.”
Jones defeated Cormier via unanimous decision at UFC 182 in a clear-cut verdict that marked his eighth successful title defense, the most in UFC light heavyweight history. This time, Jones claims that he will be fighting with a different intention in mind.
“Last time out I was fighting just to win. This time I’m fighting to kick his ass.”