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No Bones About It: Inside Jon Jones’ Training Camp

As he prepares for his return to the Octagon, the UFC star says he’s fighting for much more than a title

Jon Jones; MMA; Training; 2016

Photograph by Jen Judge

Jon Jones is about as close to an unstoppable fighter as UFC has ever seen – a rare talent gifted with size, speed and a supernatural reach, winning was almost too easy for him. Which is part of the reason why he turned to drugs and alcohol. If anyone was going to beat the man known as Bones, it was going to be him.

In 2011, he became the youngest champion in UFC history, though with each successful title defense, he says he was slipping further into a haze of liquor and marijuana. Last year, his hard-living ways finally caught up with him, as he was involved in a hit-and-run accident that nearly sent him to jail…and forced UFC to strip him of his Light Heavyweight crown.

Now, with his legal problems (mostly) behind him, Jones is training for his return to the Octagon at UFC 197, where he'll fight Oliver Saint Preux for the interim title. But as Rolling Stone learned when he invited us to his camp at Jackson-Wink MMA, Bones is actually fighting for much more than a championship. He's fighting for his life.

Jon Jones; MMA; Training; 2016

Jen Judge

Shadowboxing With the Past

Jones trains at Jackson-Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he admits his biggest challenge has been making amends for his previous ways.

"A lot of the guys used to see me and envy the fact I could party and still win," he says. "I knew the guys who had a little hate in their blood, like, 'This motherfucker got everything I want as a fighter, and he's coming to practice high and shit.' Those guys now, they got nothing to say. It's not that they hated me; they hated what I got away with."

Jon Jones; MMA; Training; 2016

Jen Judge

Jones Delivers an Air Strike

"My vision for myself when I'm 30 is for people to see me and be like, 'Man, look at him now. This guy is sober, he's on the cover of every magazine, he's on the cover of Wheaties boxes, he's looked up to, he has charities. What a freaking turnaround story that guy is. If Jon can do it, a guy who was a total fuck up, then dammit, my life isn't over either.'"

Jon Jones; MMA; Training; 2016

Jen Judge

Jones Tapes the Toes of the Trade

"I'm still on a journey to get back the belt I never lost. After I fight Ovince, me and Daniel's story picks right back up where it left off," Jones says of his UFC 197 opponent. "I know what it feels like to be a champ already. To be sober doesn't compare. This is the happiest I've ever been, without the belt. Now, to be sober with the belt – that's going to feel like heaven."

Jon Jones; MMA; Training; 2016

Jen Judge

Down, But Not Out

"I'm only at the doorstep of earning my second chance," Jones says. "Doing community service was court-ordered. That's not earning a second chance. Being sober when you're on probation isn't earning your second chance. I got a lot of proving to do. It's a matter of actions. It's about my effort. I feel like I have a lot more work to do. The people who still hate me, they have every right to.

Jon Jones; MMA; Training; 2016

Jen Judge

The Walls of Jackson-Wink MMA

"I'm not officially team captain, but to a lot of guys in here, I'm their captain," Jones says of his training partners at Jackson-Wink. "They see me doing the right things and working my ass off."

Jon Jones; MMA; Training; 2016

Jen Judge

These Kicks are Meant for Cormier

While Jones was awaiting trial on his hit-and-run charge, his rival Daniel Cormier stepped in and won the now-vacant Light Heavyweight belt. And he had a message for Bones: "Jon Jones, get your shit together. I'm waiting for you."

Jones says Cormier better be careful what he wishes for: "It lit a fire under my ass to be better than ever before."

Jon Jones; MMA; Training; 2016

Jen Judge

A Meeting of the MMA Minds

After years of partying during training camps, Jones says he's clean, sober and focused for UFC 197:

"I was being a wild boy. I did not train. I was at this point in my life where I just felt like I wasn't meant to lose a fight. I just thought, 'If I can do all this shit and keep winning, we'll see how good I really am.' I was smoking pot all day. Most people don't look at pot as a problem. 'Oh, it's just pot. It's going to be legal soon. How can you be a pot addict?' The truth is, you can be a pot addict. If that's what you do when you wake up, before you play video games, before you train, before you study footage, before you go to sleep, you're smoking weed all day long."

Jon Jones; MMA; Training; 2016

Jen Judge

A Blurry Back Elbow

In 2011, Jones defeated Mauricio Rua to become the youngest champion in UFC history – thanks in no small part to his ferocious striking ability. But outside the Octagon, he wasn't preparing for his fights like a professional.

"Pretty much my whole career I wasn't living like a champ," he confesses. "Fighters that look up to me would go out with me on weekends and see me get blackout wasted, weeks before a fight. Then they'd think, 'Jon Jones can do it. Maybe I can.'"

Jon Jones; MMA; Training; 2016

Jen Judge

Available for Birthday Parties

Jones laughs during a break from sparring – but he wasn't always this happy.

"I wanted to retire. I wanted to quit. I wanted to go away. I wanted to move to Mexico. I wanted to erase my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook so no one would be able to see me," he says of life after his hit-and-run arrest. "I wanted to never do an interview again. I wanted my fans to think, 'What ever happened to Jon Jones?' I wanted to disappear from celebrity life all together."

Jon Jones; MMA; Training; 2016

Jen Judge

Determined to Do Better

"One of the moments that really messed me up was when my daughter came home from school and said, 'Mommy, such-and-such said daddy killed a baby,'" Jones says of the days after he was answered to hit-and-run charges. "That was one of those moments where I felt so bad. Like, 'Man, I'm fucking up, and now I'm dragging my family into this.' My fiancée didn't sign up for me getting in trouble and having to explain to our kids that their dad got into a car accident. My family didn't sign up for this shit."

In This Article: sports, UFC

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