2015 was a tumultuous year for Jon Jones, as his hard-partying ways came back to haunt him and ultimately cost him his spot atop the light heavyweight division.
When the Jackson-Wink MMA standout finally did return to the Octagon, he cruised to a unanimous decision triumph over short-notice foe Ovince St. Preux in April that left more than a few observers feeling underwhelmed. After all, before he was suspended and stripped of his title for injuring a pregnant woman in a hit-and-run accident in Albuquerque, N.M., “Bones” was arguably the most dominant champion the sport had ever seen.
That Jones could be criticized for sweeping scorecards against a gifted opponent like St. Preux is simply a testament to the lofty standards he himself set. While some might chalk up Jones’ performance to ring rust, UFC 200 foe Daniel Cormier believes his rival’s lifestyle choices over the years have led to a diminished fighter.
“The Jon that showed up against Ovince St. Preux is the guy that’s going to be in the Octagon on July 9. That is who he is today. Nothing’s free, man. All the other stuff, all the partying -- you have to pay for that,” Cormier said during a recent conference call. “It’s time to pay the cost. He’s paying for all the outlandish living and burning that candle at two ends. And now we’re getting to the middle where it starts to die out. So we’ll see the same guy. That’s just who he is today. He’s not the guy before. He may be 28 years old in reality but he’s lived on this earth much longer with the long nights and the other stuff that he’s done.
I’ve lived life and I’ve been here longer. So yes, in age I’m 37 but I’m 37,” he continued. “I haven’t burnt it at both ends to become a middle-aged man at 28 years old. That’s you today. You’re that slow guy that was in the Octagon April 23 that looked like garbage.”
Jones seemed merely amused when asked to address Cormier’s comments at a press conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday to promote their UFC 200 headlining bout. Since returning to the UFC, Jones has claimed a life of sobriety has made him a changed man.
“DC said that because I used to be such a party animal that I burned my candle out on both ends. I’m 28 but really I’m 40 or whatever. I think misery loves company,” Jones said. “I think it’s apparent you look at me and you look at him, he’s having a hard weight cut. Look at his face: he’s all drawn-out looking. He just got over a knee injury. I feel fine. I’m not even sure if his knee is 100 percent. I doubt it; I’ll test that on Saturday. I feel great. How can you convince someone that getting sober and living more healthy will make you older? I beat him in the prime of my partying. So we’ll see that he’s the 40 year old on Saturday.”
Jones’ partying prime, as he puts it, certainly put a blemish on his career: Shortly after Jones took a five-round verdict over Cormier at UFC 182 on Jan. 3, 2015, it was revealed that he tested positive for cocaine in a pre-fight drug screening. He spent one night in rehab before leaving the facility to watch his brothers play in the AFC Championship game. A few months later, the hit-and-run incident that changed everything occurred.
For his part, Jones believes there is more at stake for Cormier in their rematch. While a loss won’t be permanently damaging for the 28-year-old interim champion, Cormier might have a tough time getting back to the top of the division with two losses to Jones on his resume.
“I really don’t envision losing this fight. But I’m also aware this fight isn’t a make or break for my career type situation. I’m 28 years old. I have maybe just under maybe 10 years left to fight in me,” Jones said. “A lot of the great champions in sports have taken ‘L’s’ before. Losing is not really in my psychology. I’m just aware if it were to happen, my career isn’t based off one fight when I have so much more to go. Where in his situation at his age and the fact that he lost to me once already another loss to me it would really do some devastation to his legacy.”
Jones is well aware that he has something to prove against Cormier. Some doubters might have emerged after his win over St. Preux. At the highest level of competition, finishes don’t come easily -- hence the four straight decision triumphs by Jones.
“I don’t like the fact that I’m going to decision a lot. It’s my maturity and martial arts; I just play the game really smart. I know that Ovince St. Preux was the fight I should have finished. I’m gonna try to make up for that on Saturday by finishing DC,” he said. “I really feel like I can do it.”