Once upon a time, Jon Jones was tentatively planning an early exit strategy from mixed martial arts.
Jones addressed the topic shortly after edging Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 in the toughest test of his stellar professional career. Back then, “Bones” expressed a desire to retire by age 30.
“I’m 26 now. I think a man can be in his fighting prime until his mid 30s,” Jones told CBS Baltimore in November 2013. “Saying that though I would like to retire by 30, so a few more years.”
These days, however, Jones has a different vision, and he attributes much of that to the lifestyle changes he has implemented during the course of the past year. The former light heavyweight king, of course, has been on hiatus for more than a year after injuring a pregnant women in a hit-and-run accident in Albuquerque, N.M., last April. After he was suspended and stripped of his title, Jones not only found a new diet and powerlifting-based workout, but he claims to have stayed away from the alcohol and drugs that fueled him at his partying peak.
All of the above leads Jones to believe that he can fight and succeed at a high level well past 30 years old.
“Things have changed. My main reason for wanting career longevity is I see that it’s possible,” he said. “It’s more possible than ever because of the new lifestyle I’ve been living. I’ve been eating clean for about half a year now. I’ve been sober. I just feel better. I’m watching my workout. I’m doing things that I couldn’t do when I was 23 when I won the belt the first time. I’m stronger and I’m more coordinated and I know my body better. I’m doing better as an athlete.
“I’m starting to think maybe I’m aging well. Maybe I’m becoming a better athlete with age,” he continued. “I think about guys like Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather, and they talk about sobriety and that being a big part in their longevity. I’m really starting to wrap my head around that and thinking maybe that type of lifestyle is for me. Maybe I can go on to rack up lots of money, quite frankly, and do this for a long time.”
Mayweather retired last year at age 38 with his unblemished boxing record intact, and was the sport’s top draw in the twilight of his career. Hopkins, meanwhile, turned 51 in January and recently still had his eyes on challenging for more gold before calling it a career. In short, both Mayweather and Hopkins laid the blueprint for aging gracefully in combat sports.
At the moment, a belt is what Jones lacks. The youngest champion in the history of the Las Vegas-based promotion will be facing Ovince St. Preux for the interim strap at UFC 197 on Saturday in Las Vegas. Should he win there, as he is heavily favored to do, a rematch with current 205-pound kingpin — and bitter rival — Daniel Cormier looms. If Jones can return to the top of the division, a large part of his identity will be restored.
“I’m definitely really hungry. I feel like getting the belt back will be a big part of getting my life back the way I’ve been used to being,” he said. “I’ve been a champion since I was 23. The last five years of my life have been fighting the toughest dudes in the world. High level fights, high pressure, people calling me the champ. That was my nickname. Now I don’t have that and I want it back.
“I’m anxious to get this interim championship and eventually get my championship back as well. It’s a big part of how I identify myself as a person.”
If all goes as planned, Jones the champ will be hanging around the UFC for quite some time.